United bask in Spanish sun!
Newcastle United climbed to 12th in the table, for 24 hours at least, after Ayoze Perez helped himself to a memorable hat-trick that confirm beyond any real doubt that it will be Premier League football again for the Magpies next season.
Two goals in four first half minutes from the Spaniard had United in command with just 31 minutes on the clock, a job that would have been made much easier had James Ward-Prowse been shown a red card for a cynical last man clear out of Almiron earlier in the half.
Southampton looked a different team after the break though, and despite Newcastle hitting a post the visitors deservedly got their reward as Lemina struck just before the hour mark.
But with a little under 5 minutes left a brave header from Ritchie was guided past Gunn in the Southampton net to give Perez and United their third and seal the game.
Overall a deserved win and one that will make the last three games of the season that much more enjoyable.
STARTING XI: Dubravka, Manquillo, Lascelles, Schar (Fernandez, 69), Dummett, Ritchie, Hayden (Diame, 78), Ki, Pérez, Almirón (Atsu, 64), Rondón
Newcastle came into the game having already achieved their first target of 38 points, something Benitez had set for the team a few weeks ago. And whilst it is expected that would be enough for safety, a win in this one would move the Magpies over the magic 40 point mark and move the focus onto the future of the manager himself.
And Rafa’s men came flying out of the blocks with an early chance for Ritchie following a corner and good pressure from United.
On 23 minutes an incident that left Newcastle fans, players and management apoplectic. Defending a corner, Newcastle would hit a long ball forward to just short of the half way line where Almiron would push the ball past last man James Ward-Prowse. Ward-Prowse, knowing he was beaten all ends up and facing the wrong way, stepped deliberately into Almiron’s path, cleaning the Newcastle forward out in the process. Whilst the foul was on the half way line it was also crystal clear that Almiron would have got onto his own ball, leaving he and Rondon clear of any other Southampton player by at least 20 yards and with a clear run on goal. Inexplicably, referee Anthony Taylor only showed a yellow card. A disgrace of a decision.
Furious, the decision lifted an already ‘fuelled’ atmosphere, and just four minutes later Newcastle had their goal. A fantastic challenge from the impressive Hayden fell into the path of Perez who ran at the Southampton defence before firing through the legs of a defender and in off the inside of the keepers right post. A lovely strike.
Give it another four minutes, and on 31 minutes it was 2-0. This time Rondon the provider with a good run down the left side of the box before squaring right across the box for Perez to double his own tally, this time sliding in at the back post.
The lead was no more that United deserved and whilst the pattern stayed the same for the remainder of the first half the home side couldn’t find a way to stretch their lead further.
The second half was a different story however, Hasenhuttl making two changes at the break which seemed to stir the visitors into life. His side being far the better after the break and it was no surprise when Lemina fired home to get one back on 59 minutes.
Newcastle were still creating the odd chance at the other end. Indeed the game could have been wrapped up just before the Southampton goal, Ki the unlucky man on this occasion when his fierce effort stuck the inside of Gunn’s post and running across the keepers 15 yard box to safety.
As the game ticked on it did feel as though there would be another goal. Newcastle starting to look leggy and in need of inspiration.
That inspiration would come from Ritchie, who’s work effort and leadership was outstanding throughout. Run ragged in the defensive third and driving his teammates on, this time he would put his head on the end of a cross where the boots where flying. Brave. His header was goal bound and probably comfortable for Gunn only for Perez to once more get one of those deft flicks to head home his third.
86 minutes on the clock. 3-1. Game over!
The only down side of the result would be what looked like a season ending injury for Almiron, who left the field in tears after 64 minutes, whilst Schar also had to leave the action with an injury.
A good job then that our season looks done in terms of safety at least.
Just the small matter of effecting the league title now.
For today. All hail outstanding Ritchie and clinical Perez who bagged a first Newcastle hat-trick since Wijnaldum scored four in 2015.