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Crystal Palace 1 Southampton 0: Wilfried Zaha fires Eagles to opening day victory at empty Selhurst Park

A MARKED penalty spot one week, a marked man the next.

James Ward-Prowse discovered that his new life as a football irritant comes with its own challenges.

The Southampton skipper was accused of kicking lumps out the penalty spot before Iceland missed their last-gasp pen against England in Reykjavik last week.

Yesterday the Palace players tried to kick lumps out of him as they got their season off to a winning start.

It should have served as a reminder to the midfielder that rubbing up opponents – and penalty spots – is not always a clever idea.

Ward-Prowse’s turning from Saint into sinner will surprise those who watched his early career when he would not say boo to a goose.

But the kid with the choirboy looks has added some devilment to his game in the last 18 months.

And that has coincided with him winning his place back in the Southampton team and the England squad.

There were signs of what was to come when Saints won 2-0 here in January and JWP, playing in an unfamiliar right-back role, spent nearly all of the game winding up Wilfried Zaha to such an extent the Eagles winger poked him in the eye as they walked off the pitch at half-time.

Then at the final whistle, Ward-Prowse wound up the home fans by pointing to a pretend pocket in his shorts – as if to say that is where he had kept Zaha.

The Ivory Coast international got his revenge here by firing’s Palace ahead with a well-taken side-footed volley in the 13th minute – before a couple of his team-mates also got their own back on the Saints man.

First Jeffrey Schlupp received a yellow card for a wild kick that would have taken JWP’s head off had it connected.

Then James McCarthy spent the run-up to the interval getting his opponent’s face and pushing him – before he was booked for another bad tackle on him after the break.

If the Eagles’ tactics were designed to put Ward-Prowse off his game then they just about worked as Zaha’s neat finish – the 50th League and play-off goal of his career – turned out to be the winner in what was a truly awful encounter.

Saints pair Nathan Redmond and Che Adams both had second half shots saved by Palace keeper Vicente Guaita.

The visitors thought they had been reduced to 10 men in the 53rd minute when ref Jon Moss showed Kyle Walker-Peters a red card for a high-footed challenge on Palace left-back Tyrick Mitchell.

As the decision went to VAR, the official went to the side of the pitch to check the monitor and the decision was reduced to a yellow card.

Now that is the way to use the technology. At last it seems commonsense has finally prevailed.

Zaha then had a second goal ruled out for offside by the VAR in the 81st minute.

He then blasted an identical chance into the side-netting in stoppage time – before Saints went straight up the other end and forced Guaita into a brilliant save from Danny Ings’ glancing header.

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