Wilfried Zaha came off the bench to score a stoppage-time winner for Crystal Palace as they snatched three points at Southampton. Palace looked to have secured a draw when Eberechi Eze scored his first goal of the season to cancel out Oriol Romeu’s early goal, but a moment of magic from Zaha meant Palace left St Mary’s victorious.
The result lifts them above Southampton and within touching distance of the top half of the table with four games remaining.
Zaha started on the bench after a bruising encounter at Leeds in Palace’s last outing on Monday, but he came on for the final 25 minutes to remind everyone just how indispensable he is.
Romeu opened the scoring from James Ward-Prowse’s inswinging corner in the ninth minute. The Spaniard rose above Joel Ward at the far post to head in off the crossbar.
Palace struggled to find openings in the early stages but they did threaten after 25 minutes as Eze and Jeffrey Schlupp combined to create a chance for Jean-Philippe Mateta, whose near-post shot was saved by the legs of Fraser Forster.
With the primary objective of survival already achieved, the pressure was off both sides, making for an open game.
Conor Gallagher broke well towards the end of the first half and Ward-Prowse did just enough to deflect his dangerous cross on to the roof of the net and prevent the ball from reaching the unmarked Mateta.
Forster, soon to be out of contract at Southampton, was then needed to make a smart save as Jordan Ayew headed Eze’s corner towards the top corner. After a slow start, it was Palace who looked the more threatening and they deservedly equalised when Ayew fed the former Saints full-back Nathaniel Clyne and his deep cross was volleyed low between Forster’s legs by Eze.
Vieira introduced Zaha from the bench as Palace looked for a winner and they had strong penalty claims waved away when Gallagher went down under Romeu’s awkward challenge.
Ralph Hasenhüttl responded by bringing on Armando Broja and Stuart Armstrong and the latter might have won it when he blazed over after Romeu’s flick had found him in the six-yard box.
It was the first time this season Palace have won after going behind, and Vieira said: “I really enjoyed it because going in 1-0 down at half-time, we didn’t deserve that. We came back in the second half a bit quicker in our passing and we managed to score those two goals.
“The game against Leeds was in our legs, especially Wilfried, and the plan was for him to come on and it’s important for players to understand that we are a team and everyone has an important role to play.”
Vieira was delighted for Eze, who has struggled to regain his place since returning from an Achilles tear in November. “It was a long journey for Ebs and I’m really pleased for him because being out for seven months is really challenging.”
The result means Southampton have now won once in 12 games. “When you see how we concede the first goal, how easily you give it away, we are in some positions at the moment lacking quality,” said Hasenhüttl. “Not only for the players who have started, but also for the players that are coming on.
“Always when we are in the position to make this next step we fail, and maybe we fail because we are not good enough.”