Newcastle Away Lost 3 – 1
Vestergaard has been suffering from injury off and on for a little while so it was no surprise to see him miss out at Newcastle: time will tell if this was just a precaution to make sure he’s fit for what is likely to be a physical encounter midweek. With Valery on sick leave, Stephens came in at full back as Saints started with a back four, but they were already looking second best by they time they were architects of their own downfall on 27 minutes, with Pérez Gutiérrez the scorer of what always looked a preventable goal from our unhelpful vantage point on a ridiculously proportioned ground; the telecast showed a poor ball out of defence by Yoshida, bad control by Højbjerg and a suspicion that Gunn might have done better with the shot. Within five minutes the side were really up against it as collectively they let Rondón have too much of a run on the left while Bertrand didn’t seem to be aware of the presence of Pérez who forced the ball in at the far post. To those errors we must add an earlier incident which revealed a familiar failing – Newcastle broke swiftly and in numbers from a Southampton corner and only a desperate body check by Ward-Prowse prevented a third goal being conceded from such a situation in the Ralph era. Despite the yellow card (which might easily have been red), JWP started the second half in defence as Armstrong and Lemina came on for Stephens and Sims, whose only contribution had seemed to be to take the kick offs (too many of those, of course). Saints improved immeasurably during the second half, although they were close to conceding a third that might have led to a further change to ensure damage limitation. As it was, Sung-yeung’s shot came back off the post, and then the visitors pulled one back: Armstrong seeming to heed Lemina’s call as he let his colleague strike a delightfully clean shot past Dūbravka. All of a sudden the Mags looked decidedly nervy as Saints pressed meaningfully for an equaliser, but they were undone by Pérez again in the closing stages, the Spaniard deliberately diverting Ritchie’s header into the net via his own head for a hat trick. It meant that a strong Southampton finish, during which Yoshida was foiled by Dūbravka, was always going to be in vain.
LSSC Man of the Match: Oriol Romeu. A difficult one, this – I was going for Yoshida until I saw his part in a crucial first goal.