A nightmare introduction for Danny Fox saw Southampton defeated 4-2 by Newcastle in a thrilling match in which Saints began both halves brightly before fading away and allowing a resurgent Newcastle to gain a valuable, and deserved, three points.
Pochettino made two changes to the previous starting XI for Saints, bringing in Shaw and Lallana for Fox and Puncheon. Although at first it seemed a strange decision to leave out Puncheon, whose recent form has been exceptional, it was understandable when you consider that Newcastle’s Left-Back Davide Santon is very right footed, and Puncheon’s natural inclination to cut inside onto his stronger left foot would seem to suit the French full back, and so giving in-form Jay Rodriguez the chance to play on the right side, attempting to use his pace to trouble Santon while forcing the Newcastle player onto his left foot, seemed worth the gamble. As it transpired, Rodriguez produced a performance more in tune with those under Nigel Adkins, rather than the resurgent displays seen from him under Pochettino, and though he worked hard as usual, he lacked the quality to trouble Santon, with Lallana causing more problems when he switched flanks with Rodriguez.
Saints began the game in the same vein that they played in their last game, the sensational 3-1 victory over Manchester City, and made Newcastle uneasy with their high energy, high pressure football, scoring almost instantly, a superb cross field ball from Jack Cork, cushioned by Rickie Lambert into the path of Morgan Schneiderlin who finished sublimely on Newcastle’s ‘French Day.’ For the next 10 minutes or so after the goal, Saints looked very comfortable, controlling possession and giving Newcastle very little time to impact upon the game when they did get the ball. However, once the away side’s passing began to become uncharacteristically sloppy, Newcastle were able to get a foothold and started to dominate proceedings.
Our main problem seemed to stem from Newcastle’s pace down the flanks, and they particularly looked to trouble Nathaniel Clyne on our right side. Ironically, given the opening goal, it was long range diagonal balls that caused our defence the biggest problems, with Shaw and Clyne’s lack of height being ruthlessly exploited by the increasingly impressive looking home side, and Southampton found themselves on the back foot for most of the last 30 minutes of the first half, conceding twice, Gouffran’s pace on the left side allowing him to ease past Clyne before his shot rebounded to Sissoko six yards out, and the a diagonal ball from a free kick falling to Cisse, who appeared to come back from an offside position, who struck a wonderful half volley to give the Toon the lead.
It was a lead Newcastle had warranted, but it did ask serious questions of the Saints defence, and of the need for a Plan B when things aren’t going well. We huffed and puffed off the ball, but were unable to put the sort of pressure on the opposition than has become expected of Pochettino’s side in his short reign. Newcastle pulled and probed and found space with relative ease, and it was interesting to see how Saints would react at the start of the second half. The answer was much the same as they had at the beginning of the first half. They came out rejuvenated and put Newcastle under concerted pressure, leading to the equaliser from Lambert and looked like we could, at the very least, get a very good point.
The introduction of Fox changed all that. On because of a booking to Shaw, he proceeded to show us why he has been so widely criticised by Saints fans this season. Slightly unlucky with the penalty he gave away, no intent but a clear penalty as a result of the position of his arm, he naturally kept coming inside the pitch, freeing up space for Newcastle on the right, which was exploited by the impressive Debuchy, and his inexplicable clearance straight at Hooiveld for the fourth summed his day up.
Generally, I think Saints were a little off key all round, with the exception of Cork and Schneiderlin who worked hard throughout. However, much credit has to go to Newcastle for their performance as they made most of our players look off key for large passages of the game, beating us at our own pressing game, and showing the advantage of pace and height going forward. There are some positives to take from the game though, and if we can just keep performing how we did at the beginning of both halves then I would expect us to have too much for QPR in next week’s crucial fixture. We didn’t have the consistent performance that we needed to have to get a result from a tough trip on this occasion but with home comforts next week against a weaker team than today, I believe we will iron out the creases of today’s performance and pick up a valuable three points.