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Southampton march into Europe thrills boss Ronald Koeman

Southampton 4 - Crystal Palace 1

By Nick Szczepanik

The Europa League may have its critics, but qualifying for it remains a coveted achievement and the celebrations at the final whistle of Southampton's 4-1 victory over Crystal Palace confirmed as much.

Saints' win and West Ham's defeat at Stoke guaranteed a second successive season of Thursday evenings in Europe.

Ronald Koeman hinted that he will still be there to lead them despite reports that he is interested in the vacancy at Everton.

"I will speak to them next week," Koeman said. "I have one more year of my contract. If the club wants to talk about the future, okay. That doesn't depend on European football, it depends on the ambition of the club."

Saints finished in fifth place, good enough to give them a bye to the group stages, and although they may drop to sixth after Manchester United play their rescheduled match at home to Bournemouth, Koeman was delighted. He added: "This season is special. We had a difficult January and everyone was worried it was a season to fight against relegation. But we turned it round thanks to the players."

Saints took the lead two minutes before the interval. Palace keeper Julian Speroni could only punch the ball to Sadio Mane, who chipped into the net.

Just after the hour, Graziano Pelle met Cuco Martina's cross with a header that looped in.

Palace pulled a goal back after 64 minutes when former Saint Jason Puncheon sent a hard left-foot shot past Fraser Forster.

But Ryan Bertrand scored his first goal of the season in the 75th minute from the penalty spot after Mane was felled on his way into the area.

Steven Davis, the unsung hero of the Southampton side, scored a well-deserved fourth after Pelle had chested down a cross from the right.

Southampton: Forster, Martina, Fonte, Van Dijk, Bertrand, Wanyama, Romeu (Pelle, 46 mins), Mane, Davis, Tadic (Ward-Prowse, 71 mins), Long (Austin, 83 mins).

Unused subs: Soares, Yoshida, Reed, Stekelenburg

Crystal Palace: Speroni, Ward (Kelly, 82 mins), Mariappa, Delaney, Souare, Puncheon, Jedinak, McArthur (Lee, 78 mins), Mutch (Kaikai, 46 mins), Adebayor, Gayle.

Unused subs: Dann, Campbell, McCarthy, Gray

Man of the Match: Sadio Mane

Match rating: 7/10

Referee: Michael Oliver

 

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