They say every next match is the most important. I don’t agree. This promises to be one of the season defining games of 2017/18 for Newcastle United, and quite possibly Southampton too.
Just one point separated the sides before kick off with Newcastle holding that slender advantage. Goal difference too may come into the play at the end of this campaign and the distinction between the two sides was just as close as -13 Newcastle and -12 Southampton before a ball was kicked.
Opinion was divided in the ground as the Newcastle fans entered St James Park with a mixture of nerves and expectation. Was this a ‘must not lose’ or a ‘must win’. They needn’t have worried.
Inside two minutes and a moment of true Premier League quality would set St James park alight and set the tone for what would prove a thoroughly enjoyable day at the office for everyone in black and white. A moment of vision and a majestic pass from Shelvey. A unbelievably deliberate touch and turn of his chest to take out his marker and a finish of equal poise and skill from Kenedy were quite simply breathtaking. The goal shows just what is possible when adding a sprinkle of class and guile to a well organised, hardworking and honest side.
Shelvey had broken onto a loose ball in midfield with one thing in mind, to find one of his runners in Gayle or Kenedy. The looped ball was perfect for Kenedy although the Brazilian still hand plenty to do. But in leaping to control the ball he managed to chest it onto his left, completely wrong footing his marker, before firing the ball past McCarthy in the Southampton net. Wild early celebrations for the Newcastle faithful.
With clubs up and down the land seemingly imploding under the pressure of potential relegation Rafa has guided his troops through back to back wins at St James Park, past the 30 point mark and up to 13th in the Premier League table. There is obviously still such a long way to go with 8 games left but at least everyone on the pitch and in the stands are pulling in the same direction.
And whilst the early goal settle Newcastle you could feel tension coming from a healthy contingent of away fans that seemed to weigh heavy on those in red and white.
Whilst the visitors had plenty of the ball the early goal played right into the hands of Rafa and his men. Happy to concede territory and a share of time on the ball in favour of being compact and clinical on the break, the danger signs were there for Southampton.
And Newcastle could have been in front well before the second goal was scored. Two chances in particular fell to Gayle. The first following being played clean through, again by Shelvey, only for his touch to let him down before getting a shot away. The second a steal from Diame allowed Gayle to race to the edge of the 18 yard box only to see a half decent effort well saved.
But just before the half hour mark Newcastle had the goal they so wanted. A corner for Southampton was cleared to the edge of the box and when the receiving Southampton player slipped just outside the Newcastle box the race was on. Perez it was, generally disappointing in this one, who would this time make the goal. His run well into the Southampton half was matched by the sprints of Gayle and Kenedy. Perez would pass to the former, who’s body shape looked all the world like he would shoot. Instead Gayle would square to the now unmarked Kenedy for his second of the game. Yet more celebrations!
Into the second half and it was more of the same. And whilst Newcastle were in charge there was always a feeling that a third goal would be critical which ever end it went in. Thankfully it was Newcastle that would strike again. Shelvey, outstanding throughout, this time squaring to Ritchie and his pass into the corner of the net from outside the box would seal all three points.
Newcastle excellent. Southampton a shambles and booed off by their own.
A massive, massive three points for Newcastle. #InRafaWeTrust (of course).