Southampton qualify for Europe thanks to victory over Crystal Palace
Southampton have secured a top-six finish and qualification for next season's Europa League with a convincing 4-1 Barclays Premier League defeat of Crystal Palace.
Julian Speroni's record-equalling appearance for Palace proved a disappointing one after his error led to Sadio Mane scoring Southampton's opening goal, and thereafter Graziano Pelle, Ryan Bertrand and Steven Davis added further goals to secure the comfortable victory that takes them up to fifth place. Jason Puncheon notched for the Eagles.
Manchester United can yet overtake Southampton by defeating Bournemouth in their rearranged fixture, but the guarantee of European competition unquestionably represents success for Ronald Koeman's team.
In preparation for next week's FA Cup final against Manchester United, Alan Pardew rested Wayne Hennessey, Scott Dann, Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye, Yannick Bolasie and Connor Wickham, the players who this season have represented the core of his team.
The Palace manager had spoken in the week of having half an eye on their fixture at Wembley, and also of selecting Speroni on sentiment to allow him to level John Jackson's club record, for a goalkeeper, of 388 appearances in all competitions.
His starting XI, however, suggested he had both eyes on next week, and similar could be said for Speroni when his error gifted full-strength Southampton the lead.
Dwight Gayle had already threatened when forcing a save from Fraser Forster while shooting from a half-chance, but the hosts created further chances when Shane Long had headed over, and Virgil van Dijk had unexpectedly curled a free-kick against the top of the crossbar.
Amid Palace's superior intensity, Southampton made greater use of the ball, but there was little predicting the 43rd-minute goal from Mane that highlighted the collective absence of Hennessey and Dann.
When Bertrand crossed into the penalty area, Speroni leapt over Damien Delaney's attempted clearance to unconvincingly punch the ball to Mane, fall over his team-mate, and allow the forward to routinely finish into a near open goal.
With Southampton pursuing a fifth-placed finish and Palace's priority unquestionably being the cup, it appeared likely they would soon extend their lead, and so 16 minutes into the second half it proved.
Cuco Martina sent a right-wing cross into the area and substitute Pelle - making what may yet prove to be his last appearance for the club - leapt to powerfully head beyond Speroni and into the back of the net before running to celebrate with reserve keeper Kelvin Davis, whose Southampton testimonial is imminent.
To their credit, Palace's response was almost instantaneous. Forster's ineffective punch led to Puncheon controlling possession from close range in the 64th minute before, with as fine a finish as he will have ever produced, powerfully curling a left-footed shot into the top left corner and beyond Forster's considerable reach.
Long had just headed over the crossbar when the athletic Mane launched another attack, and was brought down on the edge of the area between Adrian Mariappa and Delaney.
The challenge appeared to take place outside the area, before the forward fell inside, but referee Michael Oliver pointed to the penalty spot, and Bertrand placed the 75th-minute penalty beyond Speroni and into the top left.
Victory effectively secured, Southampton played with the freedom that comes on the last day of the season with the knowledge European football has been secured.
Davis add their fourth and final goal with a powerful, low, close-range finish in the 87th minute when Palace, their minds elsewhere, again failed to clear another cross, improving their goal difference and safeguarding against results elsewhere.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
"Congrats to staff, players and supporters at @SouthamptonFC for a fantastic achievement. So impressive. Possible to do even better?" - Former Saints striker Egil Ostenstad is delighted with his former club's effort.
Fraser Forster: 7
Cuco Martina: 8
Jose Fonte: 7
Virgil van Dijk: 7
Ryan Bertrand: 8
Steven Davis: 8
Victor Wanyama: 7
Oriol Romeu: 6
Sadio Mane: 7
Shane Long: 6
Dusan Tadic: 6
Graziano Pelle: 8
James Ward-Prowse: 7
Charlie Austin: 5
Julian Speroni: 5
Joel Ward: 6
Adrian Mariappa: 6
Damien Delaney: 6
Pape Souare: 6
Mile Jedinak: 6
James McArthur: 6
Jordon Mutch: 5
Jason Puncheon: 7
Dwight Gayle: 6
Emmanuel Adebayor: 6
Martin Kelly: 6
Lee Chung-Yong: 5
Sullay Kaikai: 6
Cuco Martina. Southampton's attacking full-back proved a frequent threat in a game that was won by his team's collective performance more than one individual being particularly impressive. The overlaps and fine crosses he regularly provided did much to limit Palace's ambition, and to provide Southampton with the balance that was so key.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
From a 35th-minute penalty, Southampton's Virgil van Dijk unexpectedly curled a cultured free-kick against the top of the crossbar that had Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni beaten. The central defender is far from recognised for his ability as a footballer; there was little predicting he was capable of that.
VIEW FROM THE BENCH
Despite his team leading at half-time, Ronald Koeman impressed in making a positive substitution, removing midfielder Oriol Romeu for Graziano Pelle, a striker, in his pursuit of all three points. It showed a manager with conviction, and he was rewarded by an improved second-half performace that secured all three points, and crucially European football next season. There can be little blaming Palace's Alan Pardew for resting so many crucial players ahead of next season's FA Cup final against Manchester United. His team were as a consequence poor, as would largely have been expected, but if they win next week no one will care.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
With the score at 2-1 to Southampton, and Palace having scored the most recent goal and therefore having some momentum, Southampton were awarded a penalty when Sadio Mane was brought down on the edge of the area. It appeared the wrong decision, and effectively settled the result in Southampton's favour when it remained in the balance.