Premier League match-week 8 started with the much-anticipated clash at Anfield between Liverpool and Manchester United. Both teams had scored in each of their previous league games this season so naturally, it ended in a goalless draw. Elsewhere, the Premier League saw 28 goals scored in the other nine games as Manchester City thumped Stoke City 7-2, Tottenham Hotspur got their first league victory at Wembley thanks to Christian Erikson, Watford surprisingly beat Arsenal and Crystal Palace’s wait for a league goal ended as they surprised Antonio Conte’s Chelsea at Selhurst Park; coming out 2-1 winners.
Newcastle United travelled to St Mary’s to play Southampton in the late Sunday kick-off (the third time in as many league games). Rafa Benitez made two changes to his starting 11 from that which drew 1-1 at home to Liverpool. Isaac Hayden replaced Mikel Merino who was on the bench having played for the Spanish U21 side in midweek and had signed for the club permanently. Florian Lejeune started alongside Jamaal Lascelles while Ciaran Clark was on the bench having featured for the Republic of Ireland during the International break. It was the Frenchman’s first start since the opening day of the season.
Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino played for Benitez at Valencia and Liverpool before being a first-team coach at Anfield under the Spaniard and followed him to Inter Milan. The Argentine was able to call on defender Virgil van Dijk for the first time after his protracted transfer row with the club during the summer. The Netherlands international lined up alongside Maya Yoshida, Ryan Bertrand and Cedric Soares in defence with former Newcastle United goalkeeper Fraser Forster in goal. The only other change to the line up was a start for Manolo Gabbiadini for his first league start since August. He replaced Steve Davis who was on the bench as he lined up in an attacking two alongside Shane Long. In the midfield four was Dusan Tadic, Oriel Romeu, Mario Lemina and Nathan Redmond.
From the start, Newcastle were prepared to sit deep defensively and allow Southampton possession of the ball. The hosts had early chances with Tadic on the right wing being the early danger man. The Serbian international had a header go over at the far post having been picked out by Redmond’s cross from the left wing. Despite that Southampton possession, Newcastle found the side netting in the 9th minute through Christian Atsu and came into the game more after Tadic’s glanced header. They took the lead minutes later when Ritchie’s cross from the left was deflected into the path of Atsu. The winger’s shot was blocked by Yoshida but only so far as Hayden hit a low volley past Forster to open the scoring.
Van Dijk came closest to equalising for Southampton in the first half. The defender got up for a corner first and headed wide despite Newcastle keeper Rob Elliott being stranded in no man’s land. Upon the restart, Joselu could have made it two for Newcastle when he got his foot to Perez’s central cross first. However, the luck he had against Liverpool evaded him and the effort had Forster beat on its way off the crossbar. Moments later, Southampton were level. Gabbiadini controlled Redmond’s forward ball well and when Manquillo had his path to goal blocked, the chance looked like it had gone. Gabbiadinin had other ideas as he kept the ball and Manquillo at arm’s length before slotting a low effort through the defender’s legs and past Elliott at his near post to level the scores.
Parity was restored for Southampton but not for long. A well worked Newcastle move from the kick-off saw Matt Ritchie pick out Ayoze Perez’s excellent run into the penalty area. The Spaniard saw his first effort stopped by Forster but he got to the ball first to fire it past the inside of the keeper and into the net from an acute angle. Newcastle’s lead was restored after just 87 seconds.
Southampton pressed for a second equaliser and could feel hard done by that they weren’t playing against 10 after DeAndre Yedli was not shown a second yellow card for a late challenge on Redmond in the 54th minute. Newcastle’s defence stood firm but a late challenge on Shane Long from Lejeune saw referee Kevin Friend point to the spot. Gabbiadini hit the resulting penalty high to the keepers left, Elliott guessed the right way but could not get there. Southampton were level again!
Both teams had chances for a winner in the final 10 minutes but it was Newcastle who came closest. Lejeune got up highest to meet Ritchie’s corner deep into injury time but Steve Davis was there on the line for Southampton to clear.
Overall, it was a game that could have gone either way. Whilst it was not a victory for Newcastle United, there are certainly positives to take from the performance. However, it will start with the negatives…
The obvious negative to start with is the penalty. Just what Lejeune was thinking when going in for that challenge only he will know. It was needless as Long had already lost the ball which would otherwise have gone out for a goal kick. Former Premier League referee Keith Hackett felt Long fell over Lejeune’s leg and should have been retrospectively banned for it. That is certainly a big allegation (simulation) to make. If the FA agreed with such an assertion I think he would have been banned. Simulation or no simulation Lejeune should not have put himself in a position where Friend could make the decision and to me, it is, unfortunately, a penalty.
The Newcastle defence did not seem convincing when dealing with aerial balls defensively at Southampton. Generally, when the Southampton players ket the ball on the ground in their attacks, the defence was solid. They were equal to everything the home side could throw at them but when they played high balls is when Newcastle seemed most vulnerable.
By all accounts, yes Newcastle could have won on the south coast but they could easily have lost it all the same. This was a good point for Newcastle on the road especially considering their awful record on the road in the Premier League. Newcastle United went into the game having only won once on the road in the top flight since the start of 2016 and that win came at Swansea City last month. Whilst the record as a whole is abysmal, it is clear it is something Benitez is working on with his side as prior to the game as St Mary’s, his side had not conceded more than once in a single away game this term.
A number of Newcastle United fans were slightly disappointed when they saw the former Arsenal midfielder on the team sheet ahead of new permanent singing Mikel Merino. That was slightly harsh on Hayden but the midfielder justified his selection by opening the scoring with his first Premier League goal in only his 8th top flight appearance (he never made a Premier League game for Arsenal) and put in a good defensible display in holding midfield. He linked up well with Shelvey as demonstrated in the early build-up to Perrez’s goal and reminded all of the fans there are two quality central midfielders under the age of 23 at the club which gives Benitez a good headache to have.
Ayoze Perez has shown determined performances for Newcastle United under Benitez and against Southampton he eventually got a reward for it with a goal. Yes, the accusation can be thrown around that his shooting has not been the best this season but his work ethic is unquestionable and that was optimised by his goal. Having made the run into the area which was excellently picked out by Matt Ritchie and after seeing his initial shot palmed away by Forster got there first to follow it up with the rebound. It was the Spaniard’s first goal for Newcastle since they beat Barnsley on the final day of the Championship season in May and his first in the top flight since March 2016.
Florian Lejeune was a relatively surprising addition to the starting line-up at Southampton. Benitez felt it was the right time to put his £8.7 million Summer signing back into action after his injury he sustained 34 minutes into his debut. For the most part, Lejeune played well. He tracked his men back well getting in the way to make a number of important blocks and challenges as he formed a good partnership with Lascelles. I was quite satisfied with his performance and the additional option he provides Benitez now fit. The only negative on his performance was conceding the penalty and even then he so nearly redeemed himself in injury time if not for Steve Davis on the line.
No clean sheet but not a defeat
This makes it sound like my expectations were low for this game but such is Newcastle’s away record against Southampton that it had to be. Prior to the game, Newcastle’s Premier League record on the south coast read; played 16, won one and lost 12. Historically, that record is worse having only won at Southampton five times in 49 prior visits in all competitions. Additionally, Newcastle have not kept a clean sheet at Southampton since a goalless draw in February 1969. Considering those records, going in at half time 1-0 up and even though they let that slip, it was crucially not a defeat showing this side is improving.
Referring inconsistency: lucky Yedlin or unlucky Hayden?
This was arguably a case of inconsistency from the referee benefiting Newcastle and was a point raised by the Sky Sports commentary on the game. DeAndre Yedin avoided a second yellow card after going in on Nathan Redmond late in the 54th minute while Isaac Hayden saw his name go into the book for a similarly late challenge later on in the game on Mario Lemina. Were they both fouls; yes. Former referee Dermot Gallagher insisted, ‘it isn’t up for a debate, it’s a second yellow card…The easiest decision there was to award a second yellow card – it’s obvious to everyone. Maybe he’s not seen it correctly?’ Hayden was not so much as unlucky but rather Yedlin was one lucky boy.
It is fair to say I have been heavily critical of Spanish full-back Javier Manquillo and in particular, his stamina going up and down the flank leaving Newcastle exposed to the counter-attack. Against Southampton, this was not the case. The former Spain U21 International may have been too narrow at times when Redmond’s cross was headed over by Tadic bought he generally met those crosses well making a number of key blocks, interceptions and clearances. His defending was culpable for Gabbiadini’s first goal as he lost just a yard on the striker as he forced him away from goal before he produced a clinical finish through his legs and into the net. Overall though, Manquillo’s performance was pretty solid minus a few off first touches.
Resilience in an improving squad
Last time Rafa Benitez and Newcastle United made the journey to Southampton, they lost 3-1. On that day, Jamaal Lascelles infamously spoke out at his teammate’s performance and attitude in the dressing room at half-time. It was a moment that propelled him into Benitez’s plans and the captaincy. It was fitting then that Newcastle showed the progress they have made as a squad since that day in 2016. Despite conceding early in the second half for the third time this season, the squad showed their resilience in scoring again 86 seconds later to regain the lead. Yes, unfortunately, they could not keep it but still, the signs are there that this team under Benitez are showing real character.
In the week preceding the game, there were newspaper reports of a training ground bust-up between captain Jamaal Lascelles and midfielder Mohamed Diame. Benitez stood by his captain in his pre-match press conference insisting the whole incident was ‘nothing’. In the match, Lascelles retained his place while Diame was an unused substitute. The only evidence of the bust-up was the blue cast on peacemaker Shelvey’s left wrist. Given that is where the pair have spent the majority of the season though, I doubt there is anything in it as if there was, Benitez would surely have left one of them in Newcastle.
Apprentice vs the Master
Mauricio Pellegrino started his coaching career under the tutelage of Benitez and came against js mentor as a manager for the first time; something Sky Sports milked in their build-up to the game depicting it as the apprentice vs the master. In that case, on the basis of this game, the apprentice seems to have learnt well which is reflected in the game ending in a draw.
Match Stats and Facts
|Shots on Target||2||5|
|Shots off target||6||8|
|Clear cut chances||2||0|
|Pass completion rate||84.9%||74.9%|
• The 2-2 draw at St Mary’s was only the 7th time in the pairs 33 Premier League meetings to have ended in a draw; Southampton have 15 wins to Newcastle’s 11.
• Southampton have still won more Premier League games and scored more goals against Newcastle (55) than against any other Premier League side
• This was only the second home game in their previous 10 that Southampton have managed to score
• Manalo Gabbiadini’s two goals against Newcastle were more than he had scored in his previous 15 Premier League appearances
• Ayoze Perez had played 1,135 minutes of Premier League football since he lost got on the scoresheet
• Isaac Hayden’s goal was his first in 11 appearances since scoring against Cardiff City in the Championship.
• Hayden’s goal was Newcastle’s first away goal in the first half of a Premier League game since November 2015
Table and what next?
The 2-2 draw at St Mary’s leaves Newcastle on 11 points in the Premier League and are 9th. A victory would have lifted the Magpies to 7th and above Burnley by virtue of goals scored. However, considering Newcastle’s abysmal record on the south coast against Southampton, I would have taken the draw before kick off.
Next up, and I dare say this, would have been an easy three points prior to this weekend. Crystal palace waited 713 minutes of league football this season before Wilfrid Zaha scored their second against Chelsea as they humbled the reigning Champions. Roy Hodgson’s side will be looking to build momentum when they travel to St James’ Park for a traditional Saturday 3 o’clock kick off on Saturday; I remain confident of the win though…