SOUTHAMPTON, England, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Southampton's speeding juggernaut is set for collision with a momentum-gathering Crystal Palace on Saturday, in an FA Cup fourth round clash that looks sure to produce fireworks.
The south coast Saints are in seemingly unstoppable form, having won three consecutive matches last week, including a morale-boosting victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford.
They would appear strong favourites for the visit of Palace: not least because they saw them off comfortably in the Premier League at Selhurst Park on Boxing Day.
But Palace are flourishing under new boss Alan Pardew, and are building momentum of their own. Since that 3-1 league defeat at the hands of Southampton, Palace are unbeaten, counting league victories over Tottenham and Burnley in their last two outings.
"They have a new manager and they've bought some players, so the team is a little bit different," Southampton manager Ronald Koeman said.
"I think the difference is that the team at the moment has more spirit because they had a good start with the new manager. That brings a new feeling to the club, and it will be a very difficult game."
Certainly former Saints boss Pardew will be hoping for a happier return to St Mary's than he endured on his last visit as manager of Newcastle, when his side were soundly beaten 4-0 in September.
"That was a difficult afternoon for him (Pardew) -- not only about the result or the game but we remember the fans at that time weren't happy about the manager," Koeman said. "It's now a different situation for him -- more comfortable for sure."
The Palace fans are behind Pardew, but still the manager has endured a miserable run of results at St Mary's since his dismissal by Southampton. In three return trips with Newcastle he suffered three defeats without his side scoring a goal.
Undeterred, Pardew said: "I always look forward to going back to an old club, I have fond memories at Southampton and I have a lot of good friends there too."
Saturday's sell-out also sees the return to Southampton of winger Jason Puncheon. Palace could also welcome back striker Marouane Chamakh who may be recovered from a hamstring problem in time to feature.
Koeman will again be without injured midfielders Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama; and defender Toby Alderweireld. (editing by Justin Palmer)