Southampton suffered their fifth defeat in six matches as Newcastle took advantage of Moussa Djenepo’s first half sending off to secure a much-deserved 1-0 win at St Mary’s and move further away from the relegation places.
Yan Valery was the only surprise inclusion in Ralph Hasenhuttl’s team selection; his recall at right-back meant a return to the midfield for James Ward-Prowse. while Moussa Djenepo and top goalscorer Danny Ings replaced Stuart Armstrong and Michael Obafemi.
The Saints have struggled to find consistency this season, picking up just three points since the start of February. Newcastle’s confidence was likewise low after a run of five games without victory in the Premier League. Steve Bruce’s side had also won just one of their last 25 matches on the south coast, so it’s fair to say hopes were not high for a Newcastle win at St Mary’s.
The home side started brightly and would have taken the lead after just 4 minutes, if not for some desperate last ditch defending preventing Djenepo from producing the finishing touch to Sofiane Boufal’s penetrating ball across the box.
Minutes later Southampton were saved at the opposite end by a hat-trick of superb saves from an inspired Alex McCarthy. The keeper heroically kept the scores level, first by blocking a shot from Dwight Gayle with his legs before a full-length dive to his left stopped Miguel Almiron from converting at the near post.
Southampton’s luck soon ran out as Djenepo’s return to the side was cut short after he was sent off on 28 minutes. The Malian international caught Isaac Hayden with a nasty-looking tackle that was upgraded from a yellow to a red card after referee Graham Scott consulted the touchline monitor. It was the third red for a Saints player this season, more than any other side.
The incident changed the complexion of the evenly balanced game as Newcastle began creating chances at will, with Dwight Gayle wasting two glorious goal-scoring opportunities in the space of a few minutes.
Southampton struggled to regain their composure after the sending off, directing their frustration onto VAR once more when Newcastle were given penalty after 42 minutes. Play initially carried on as Sofiane Boufal carried the ball out of the box but the penalty was eventually awarded as replays showed the Moroccan midfielder had used his arm to control the ball.
Matt Ritchie stood up to take it but saw his well-placed spot-kick saved low down to his left by McCarthy, capping a superb first half for the Saints keeper. Newcastle have now missed four of their last five Premier League penalties since their return to the top flight three years ago.
Going into the second half, it appeared that the penalty miss had knocked the visitor’s confidence as Southampton started on the front foot. Hasenhuttl’s tactical decision to move Ings to the left and Shane Long up front in a 4-4-1 formation, were paying dividends as his side suppressed Newcastle’s one-man advantage.
In between half-chances from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Long, the pace of Allan Saint-Maximin momentarily beat the Saints backline, before the recovery run of Ryan Bertrand stopped the Frenchman in his tracks.
As the half reached its final quarter, momentum was firmly with the away side and the Magpies eventually made the breakthrough in the 79th minute. Valery got caught out failing to take decisive action as he faced his own goal defending a diagonal ball in behind. He tried to bring the ball under control but was dispossessed by Saint-Maximin, who scored the winner via the inside of the far post.
Michael Obafemi was introduced late on but failed to make an impact as Newcastle comfortably saw out the remaining ten minutes to take maximum points. The second half was arguably more even than the first, but it was the early dismissal of Djenepo which ultimately proved crucial.
Ralph Hasenhuttl gave his post-match reaction to Sky Sports: “I cannot criticize my team for not doing everything, they left everything on the pitch. It was a good performance on our side.”
“We tried to stop the opponent and we did it for a long time but then one mistake can decide the game. I didn’t have the feeling that they had a game plan, an idea of how they were going to score.”
“We defended well, we were very compact and close to centre. The distances between the lines and the players was very good and it helped us to win a lot of balls in front of our box and had a few counter-attack chances also.”
Back-to-back defeats sees the Saints slip to 14th in the table, only seven points from safety. They can take heart from elements of the performance, but now need results with trips to relegation-threatened Norwich and Watford on the horizon.