We never do things the easy way, do we!
After missing several HUGE chances from open play seeing Ritchie have a penalty saved against a 10-man Southampton side, Allan Saint-Maximin stepped up late on to seal all three points.
Our first league win since mid January, a goal that ends our 4-game drought and a vital 3 points that takes us EIGHT clear of the drop zone after results went well for us elsewhere.
To a few people’s surprise, Bruce made a few changes in attack, dropping Joelinton (despite his best game in months on Tuesday) for Gayle and bringing Ritchie back in at Lazaro’s expense – who must also feel hard done by to miss out after his eye-catching all round display in midweek.
We stuck with 4-2-3-1, but Fernandez replaced Schar, Bentleb and S Longstaff made way for Shelvey and Hayden and Manquillo was passed fit to start at right-back.
The game kicked off and Southampton had an immediate spell of pressure, putting a few too many dangerous balls into Dubravka’s box and winning several early corners.
Then, the first of a whole host of first-half chances for Newcastle United arrived in what was to be one of the most entertaining yet frustrating 45 minutes we’ve seen this season.
Shelvey prodded a clever pass across the box with the outside of his foot, but Gayle’s close-range strike was straight at McCarthy. His save then fell to Almiron and a goal seemed certain, but he too also fired straight at the Saints stopper, and even forced a THIRD save in as many seconds on the resultant rebound.
It was a huge chance missed, yet just one of several we were to spurn in the coming 40 minutes.
Then to the first of TWO VAR incidents. Moussa Djenepo came in late on Isaac Hayden – who looked in some pain – and the referee brandished a yellow.
VAR then took a second look and it was a clear red, with the Saints winger late and high, giving Graham Scott no option to send him off after being instructed to watch it again on the pitch-side monitor.
10 vs 11 and we were well on top, with Shelvey pulling the string and Saint-Maximin having the beating of him man every time, but there was one issue – our woeful finishing in the final third (or should I say Dwight Gayle’s woeful finishing).
The former number 9 got on the end of an exquisite cross from Shelvey, but his point-blank header was straight at McCarthy AGAIN, and he fired another golden chance wide moments later after a brilliant run and cut-back from Saint-Maximin.
Another big VAR incident then came, with Sofiane Boufal adjudged to have handled the ball in the box. The video assistant referees took their time, but it was clear he leaned his arm into the ball and a spot kick was given.
Matt Ritchie stepped up and a pretty tame effort was saved once again by an inspired Alex McCarthy, who’d picked the perfect day to play like Oliver Khan in his prime!
We should’ve gone into the break at least 0-3 up, but instead made it another 45 minutes in the league without a goal – and more importantly gave Southampton that slight glimmer of hope they should have NEVER had going into the second period.
They gave as good as they got for the first 15 minutes of the second half, with neither side creating many clear chances, and Steve Bruce made a change on the hour mark as a result, bringing on Joelinton for Ritchie; who’d missed a penalty, been booked and failed to capitalise on our first half dominance despite all his best efforts.
Shelvey then began to go off the boil, misplacing more passes in a 2-minute spell than he had in the previous 60 and Jamaal Lascelles then had a stupid 30-yard effort sail over – which was proof a resilient Southampton were starting to frustrate us.
Lazaro then came on at right-back for the solid Manquillo to give us a greater threat down that side, but we weren’t creating much and the game threatened to fizzle out into another 0-0.
Then, the man of the moment stepped up. Allan Saint-Maximin.
His winner came via some awful indecisive defending from Valery – who failed to deal with Longstaff’s chipped ball in behind – but Saint-Maximin got in ahead of him, burst into the box and poked the ball in off the post past a previously unstoppable McCarthy.
The celebration that followed and resultant scenes in the away end were brilliant, with the goal not only securing a big 3 points in a game we had several huge chances to win, but taking us WELL clear of the drop zone after today’s results went in our favour.
With Bournemouth losing in the early kick off at Anfield, Watford being beaten at Palace and West Ham losing it late at Arsenal, we’re now 8 points clear of the bottom three and have leapfrogged Southampton in moving up to 13th.
A game that should’ve been MUCH more comfortable than the scoreline suggests, but a huge win all the same and improved performance – even if most of it was against 10 men!
Sheffield Utd next up at St James’ Park.