Charlie Austin bagged his fourth goal in three matches as Southampton beat Crystal Palace 2-0 at St Mary’s.
The striker, recalled to Claude Puel’s team having scored the winning goal against Swansea on Sunday, gave Saints a first-half lead from the penalty spot in a timely statement to his manager.
He had been dropped despite his two finishes in last week’s 3-0 Europa League defeat of Sparta Prague securing their first win of the season and his first goals since January. The impressive Jake Hesketh added their second and his first senior goal in the second half to ensure victory.
Both managers made eight changes to the teams they had named for Premier League victories at the weekend.
Alan Pardew’s Palace starting XI featured many of those who were regulars during the past season in a team which reached the final of the FA Cup. Southampton’s appeared more disjointed, but with a dangerous front two of Shane Long and Austin.
It was only when Palace captain Scott Dann was substituted with a suspected hamstring injury in the 19th minute that the balance swung in the hosts’ favour.
A previously uninspiring affair became one in which Palace’s makeshift defence – Martin Kelly replaced central defender Dann to leave only Joel Ward of the back five that started against Stoke in his natural position – was then consistently under threat.
In the 32nd minute, Cuco Martina’s right-wing cross was clumsily touched into Long’s path by Kelly, and the defender responded with an equally poor challenge that brought the Republic of Ireland international down and conceded a penalty.
The in-form Austin – showing composure and confidence and this time not arguing with Dusan Tadic as against Sparta – stroked his fourth goal in a week into the bottom-left corner as Wayne Hennessey went right.
Shortly before half-time, Southampton should have increased their lead. Hesketh’s through-ball sent Austin one-on-one with Hennessey but the recalled goalkeeper excelled in smothering his low shot away.
Another Hesketh through-ball then sent Long clear in stoppage time, but after the forward rounded Hennessey and sent his shot goalwards, Damien Delaney raced back to slide in and clear.
The same promising midfielder, making his first appearance since December 2014, scored Southampton’s second goal in the 63rd minute. Fine build-up play put Long through on goal, but when the striker’s shot was saved by Hennessey, Hesketh collected the rebound and confidently finished into the near-open goal.
At the half-empty stadium where victory in the third round of last season’s FA Cup proved the start of Palace’s run to the final, former Southampton manager Pardew responded by sending on club-record signing Christian Benteke and Jason Puncheon as substitutes.
His team, however, was by then already beaten, and even a consolation goal proved beyond them.