St James’ Park was red, white and blue yesterday. It has been going that way for some time.
Things used to be more black and white. It was French Day. Seven of Newcastle’s 18 players were born in France. Newcastle fans wore berets. It did not seem like Tyneside at times, but no one seemed to care, not by full-time anyway, by when Newcastle had moved a significant step towards remaining in the Premier League.
By then two of the French players had scored. Two of the four goals had been set up by French players. Yohan Cabaye, the captain in waiting, who had the flu, was excellent. Even Southampton’s opening goal came from a Frenchman, their only one. Morgan Schneiderlin scored in the third minute, with the strains of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, still drifting over the Gallowgate End. That felt more like Newcastle.
It was never a truly comfortable afternoon for them from that point. The two- fisted salute from their manager, Alan Pardew, which greeted his side’s fourth goal, a fairly calamitous own goal by Jos Hooiveld, was testimony to relief and, though he would not admit to it afterwards, an added delight at beating Southampton. Not his former players, but the powers that be, led by the executive chairman Nicola Cortese, who almost wrecked his managerial career. Emerging from that dismissal, back in 2010, was not easy. No bitterness, as Pardew insisted, but extra delight with the victory.
Pardew’s re-emergence as a manager has taken fight. His side has rediscovered that same quality at a crucial time. “The win was very important because of our position in the league and Southampton’s position in the league,” he said. “The quality of the opposition shouldn’t be underestimated. They were as good as Chelsea and Metalist. We had to be at our very best to win that. Of course we are delighted with the victory. We’ve put ourselves in a position to attack 10th [place]. That is the importance of the win. I said to [the players] we should attack the top 10 and we can now. There has been a difference from six weeks ago. Even when we went a goal behind we didn’t panic.”
That could have happened after Schneiderlin had taken advantage of sloppy defending by Steven Taylor to open the scoring so early. Instead, a driving run from Yoan Gouffran helped Newcastle to equalise. Racing onto a Cabaye pass, he toyed with Jack Cork before hitting a shot that clipped the leg of Artur Boric and rebounded into the path of Moussa Sissoko, who scored from close range.
Sissoko’s arrival in January has had a huge impact. “We’ve needed a really natural number 10, I’ve been saying that since I arrived here,” said Pardew. “You need to have that link player and Moussa is a better link player than Demba [Ba]. They’re different. Demba is a striker. He plays that number nine role for Chelsea but we had Papiss [Cissé] here. It balances us up nicely. Moussa gives us nice options. He gives the wide players freedom to attack because of his natural defensive attitude when we need it. I think it’s a better combination than I’ve had before.”
Then came the goal of the day. Rob Elliot, who will deputise in goal for Newcastle for the seven games Tim Krul is expected to miss with an ankle injury, launched a free-kick from the left-back position. At that point Cissé looked offside. Jonas Gutierrez distracted Luke Shaw and when the ball fell to Cissé he smashed a 30-yard shot past Boruc off the underside of the crossbar.
“It reminded me of that goal of the season here for Alan [Shearer] many years ago,” said Pardew. “That dipping volley. As soon as he hit it you sensed it was in. He’s got that in him, Papiss. It was a really great one today, fantastic.”
Southampton could have buckled. Instead they forced Newcastle onto the back foot. By the 50th minute they had equalised. The excellent Adam Lallana crossed from the right and Ricky Lambert stole in ahead of Taylor to fire past Elliot.
Defensive mistakes, however, derailed the fightback. In the 67th minute, Cabaye found Mathieu Debuchy with a cross-field free-kick and the right-back’s cross struck the falling arm of the hapless Danny Fox. It was the third appeal of the afternoon for handball and Chris Foy finally relented. Cabaye calmly put Newcastle back ahead.
With 11 minutes to go, Davide Santon crossed from the left, Fox again erred, hitting the ball off Hooiveld into the Southampton goal. It was Hooiveld’s third own goal of the season, equalling a Premier League record.
“I do have confidence in my team,” said the Saints manager Mauricio Pochettino. “We played a very good second half where we deserved to win the match, but the small details make it that we leave St James’ with empty hands. It is obvious that we will stay in the Premier League.”