Southampton soar into Europe with Palace win

Southampton (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Southampton booked their place in next season’s Europa League by finishing their Premier League campaign with a 4-1 thrashing of FA Cup finalists Crystal Palace on Sunday.

Goals from Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle, Ryan Bertrand and Steven Davis set up an emphatic win for the hosts, with Jason Puncheon pulling a goal back for Palace at St Mary’s.

Victory left the Saints fifth in the table, although they could yet be overtaken should Manchester United avoid defeat when their re-arranged fixture against Bournemouth, abandoned after a suspect package was discovered at Old Trafford on Sunday, eventually takes place.

But even if they finish sixth, Southampton will still qualify for the Europa League.

Julian Speroni was between the posts as Eagles manager Alan Pardew rested first choice goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey and several other players ahead of Saturday’s Cup final against Manchester United at Wembley.

As well as Wales international Hennessey, Scott Dann, Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye, Yannick Bolasie and Connor Wickham were also missing.

But it wasn’t until one minute before half-time that Southampton went ahead, courtesy of a mistake by Speroni.

The Palace keeper unconvincingly punched Bertrand’s cross to Mane and the forward made no mistake with the simple chance.

Given that Southampton had a European prize to play for and Palace’s focus was on the FA Cup, it was no surprise when the Saints doubled their lead in the 61st minute.

Cuco Martina sent a right-wing cross into the area and substitute Pelle leapt to powerfully head beyond Speroni.

Palace reduced the deficit when Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster’s ineffective punch led to Puncheon controlling and curling a left-footed shot into the top left corner.

Shane Long had just headed over the crossbar when Senegal winger Mane launched another Southampton attack and was brought down.

The challenge appeared to take place outside the area before Mane fell inside, but referee Michael Oliver awarded a penalty and Bertrand placed the 75th-minute spot-kick beyond Speroni.

Northern Ireland midfielder Davis added Southampton’s fourth goal with a powerful close-range finish in the 87th minute.

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