Saints show their quality at Palace
Rickie Lambert showed Crystal Palace what they have been missing this season as Southampton left Selhurst Park with a 2-0 victory.
The Championship’s top scorer scored twice as the Eagles huffed and puffed against the Saints but were ultimately outdone by two moments of quality.
It could have been different had Chris Martin not wasted a glorious chance at 1-0 down but it seemed at times Southampton were playing with Palace and could have gone up a gear at any time.
It showed why one team was heading for the Premiership and the other for a mid-table finish.
Palace, who gave Kyle De Silva his first league start in a line-up that included five academy graduates, started at a tempo missing in recent weeks but only had a Kagisho Dikgacoii header, tipped over by Kelvin Davis, to show for it in the first 30 minutes.
De Silva tried to change that as he cut in from the right and hit a ferocious shot to the top left corner that Davis had to be at full stretch to palm away.
A minute later Palace were behind.
They should have known better than to give former Eagle Danny Butterfield time to cross on the right and he picked out Lambert, coming in behind Paddy McCarthy and Nathaniel Clyne at the back post, to head home.
It was harsh on Palace but clinical from Southampton.
They should have been level in first half injury time when Wilfried Zaha’s cross was flicked on by Sean Scannell to Martin in acres of space six yards out but he thumped the ball over the bar.
It was a waste and the best chance Palace were to get all afternoon.
Southampton took control of the game after the break and extended their lead 11 minutes in.
Dikgacoi was caught in possession by Adam Lallana and he fed Lambert, who tricked his way into space too easily and drilled low into the corner for his 30th goal of an impressive campaign.
Ex-Palace favourite Jose Fonte denied the Eagles a goal back when he cleared Zaha’s cross with Martin poised to covert and substitute Dan Harding also denied Martin with a superb last-ditch tackle.
Fonte should have made it three at the other end but was denied by Julian Speroni’s legs as Southampton continued their march back to the top tier of English football.
For Palace, it was a third defeat in a row as a season that promised so much in the early stages continues to end with a whimper.