A week after Newcastle took on Liverpool, they were presented with an opportunity to regain confidence and earn maximum points at home against Southampton. For Newcastle, two points above the drop at kick-off, this was a match that needed to be won to remain in the Premier League. Southampton has drawn many times for a club near the bottom, and without care, Newcastle could easily have lost out on maximum points.
Needless to say, however, all doubts were put to rest early as Kenedy (on loan from Chelsea) scored his first Newcastle goal—netting after just 90 seconds. He made a darting run into the box and was picked out eloquently by Jonjo Shelvey. A lucky chest away from danger provided Kenedy with the space to finish. Southampton then settled into their typical game plan of holding the lion’s share of possession. And it seemed like it would indeed wear the mighty Toon down—but for the cruelty of the Premier League Gods.
After Southampton midfielder Mario Lemina slipped outside the box, Ayoze Pérez jump-started a fast break with Kenedy and Dwight Gayle in tow. The 70-yard, lung-bursting run didn’t end fruitlessly, as Pérez, Gayle, and Kenedy performed in perfect synchronization, ending with Kenedy scoring his second on a tap-in. A beautiful second-half finish by Matt Ritchie, from outside the box in the 56th minute, put this one away early.
Newcastle United, despite only holding 37% of possession for the match, looked the more competent side. Saturday’s match seemed to be a carbon copy of the first 70 minutes of the Bournemouth match, with Newcastle seeing out the full match this time. They held shape defensively—frustrating Southampton all afternoon—to the point where it seemed like Rafael Benítez’s game plan was to make Southampton their own worst enemy. You could see the frustration all afternoon in Southampton’s XI: errant passes, miscues, constant yelling at teammates. Newcastle looked a side destined to clinch survival early, while Southampton looked like a club with one eye on the trap door.
Who showed-up for Newcastle:
Jonjo Shelvey: In his last two games, it almost seems like Jonjo Shelvey has realized his potential. For someone who orchestrates from midfield, it was amazing he hadn’t had an assist on the season until Saturday when he notched two (first goal to Kenedy, Ritchie’s goal). On Saturday, his long-ball was working and this was largely set-up by the simple passes he played. In the last two games he’s played, Shelvey has used his vision to get Newcastle out of immediate pressure and to advance the Newcastle attacking position. He’s learning that using his vision and playing the simple pass, instead of always going after the sexy pass, is just as effective. This ability, plus his continually improving work-ethic and effectiveness on the defensive end, make him my Man of the Match.
Jamaal Lascelles: Here’s a fun stat: Martin Dúbravka made his first save Saturday in the 60th minute. This fun fact was brought to you by Florian Lejeune (excellent in his own right on Saturday) and Lascelles. Lascelles once again displayed the leadership we expect of Newcastle’s captain in important matches and the play to back it up. It’s performances like this which make him a target for clubs like Chelsea—and an outside candidate for the England World Cup squad.
Want more Lascelles fun facts? Here’s some: Newcastle has not won a match in which Lascelles didn’t appear. Furthermore, Lascelles missed five games during the torrid 9-game losing streak, resulting in a draw (at West Brom) and four losses. At the rate which Newcastle acquire points with Lascelles on the field, if he had played in all 30 Premier League matches to date, Newcastle’s current table position would’ve been 9th instead of 13th. His weekly contributions are invaluable.
Kenedy: This is the type of performance Rafa thought Kenedy was capable of, and the type of performance which highlights why Chelsea is so keen on him. While scoring twice will always put someone on this list, Kenedy also ran his socks off as a key cog in Rafa’s defensive scheme. He was excellent in ensuring Southampton’s wing play never penetrated the middle and earned a hero’s sendoff when subbed for Christian Atsu towards the game’s conclusion.
It is unusual to have one lull this time of the year, but the Mighty Toon are faced with a second lull in their schedule. The squad’s off to Spain for four days as part of an expected 3-week layoff. Originally slated to face Tottenham, they are likely to reschedule this match, either later in March, or in May, due to Tottenham’s FA Cup duties. It is expected that Newcastle’s next match will be against Huddersfield at home, which is another great opportunity for Newcastle to earn maximum points. Rafa will be sure to have his men ready for the Terriers, who’ve recently run out of steam and will have a match in-between against Crystal Palace. Let’s hope the squad can maintain the momentum in the downtime before playing seven consecutive weekends leading up to the final day.
Enjoy the win, and Howay the Lads!