“That was no surprise, was it?” Roy Hodgson said, shrugging his shoulders ever so slightly. There was an air of inevitability that Danny Ings would play a key part here given the Crystal Palace manager spent much of the buildup to this match highlighting the striker’s predatory instincts inside the box. It was under Hodgson in Lithuania four years ago that the in-form Southampton striker won his sole England cap and here Ings, who turned his nose up at a move to Palace in favour of a return to his boyhood club last year, seized on a sloppy Martin Kelly pass to score his 12th goal of the season, cancelling out James Tomkins’s headed opener to earn a revived Southampton a point. Ings’s equaliser came just as things seemed to be getting away from them but in the end Palace, who had a first-half goal disallowed by VAR owing to a marginal offside decision, were grateful for a point.
The Southampton substitute Moussa Djenepo assumed centre stage from Wilfried Zaha for the final half an hour and the winger would have snatched a winner but for a brilliant left-handed save by Vicente Guaita after Ings’s goal had galvanised the hosts. “The fact is that is what he does,” Hodgson said of Ings. “He is a goalscorer, he was alert to the misplaced back pass and then, of course, when he gets through to the goalkeeper you know he has the technique to score the goal. After the goal, they really took advantage of that Southampton. It gave them a lot of wind in their sails, they brought on fresh players to run at our defence and, to be honest, the last 15 minutes were a lot hairier than I’d have liked them to be, and maybe they needed to be.”
Pantomime season is in full swing and Zaha relished the role of the villain but the opening stages were more slapstick than anything. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg patrolled the Southampton midfield with his back bare for a minute or two after tussles with Zaha and Luka Milivojevic left his shirt in tatters, flapping like a cape before a replacement was located. Zaha is Palace’s talisman and Southampton sought to stop him at source. When Djenepo entered, a panicking Palace back-line were faced with a similar problem, with Guaita denying the winger before keeping out fine efforts by Ings and James Ward-Prowse, the latter from a free-kick.
But poking and provoking Zaha supercharged Palace’s protagonist. Zaha fooled Cédric Soares at the byline, wringing the Southampton defender inside out before supplying a cross for Max Meyer to sweep home. Zaha roared at the Southampton support before joining the celebrations. They were short-lived, though, with Andy Madley indicating the video assistant referee was taking a closer look as Palace rejoiced on halfway. Replays showed it was a preposterously tight offside call by the VAR, Andre Marriner, and presumably one that had those at Stockley Park poring over every angle. Zaha’s left armpit was adjudged to be millimetres beyond Jack Stephens’s right armpit. “We didn’t have the VAR God on our side,” Hodgson said.
That disallowed goal galvanised Southampton but rankled Palace, though it was forgotten five minutes after half-time when Nathan Redmond upended James McArthur and Tomkins glanced Milivojevic’s free-kick in off the crossbar. The deft delivery seemed to catch Southampton cold, as Tomkins breezed past a flat-footed Stephens to send a header beyond the former Palace goalkeeper, Alex McCarthy. Southampton had spurned chances, too, with Redmond cornering Mamadou Sakho before Jan Bednarek blazed over when left unmarked from a brilliant Ward-Prowse free-kick.
Moments later Guaita spilled a Ward-Prowse corner and another mistake went unpunished but Palace were not quite so fortunate when Kelly gifted the ball to Ings 16 minutes from time. “The strange thing is that he is always the person in that situation,” Ralph Hasenhüttl, the Southampton manager, said. “It means he feels and smells where the opponent can get problems or into trouble. I think it is the third or fourth time this season where in a pressing situation he is in the right spot, getting the ball and then scoring. It is not a coincidence.”