Miguel Almirón helps nine-man Newcastle add to Southampton’s misery
The forbidding Tyneside sky hinted at heavy snow to come, but as Ralph Hasenhüttl’s demoralised players hunched against the bitter chill, nine-man Newcastle moved with the freedom of a team on cloud nine.
Depleted by the second-half sending off of Jeff Hendrick and then the loss of Fabian Schär on a stretcher after Steve Bruce had used all three substitutes, they somehow clung on to record only their second win in 13 Premier League games.
In contrast Southampton have now lost five successive league fixtures and the manner of this latest defeat will have done nothing to repair the self-esteem battered by last Tuesday’s 9-0 dissection at Manchester United.
Granted, only some stellar defending from Isaac Hayden denied the visitors a late point but by then Allan Saint-Maximin, Joe Willock and Miguel Almirón had already highlighted Hasenhüttl’s very real defensive problems.
“We need to hit the reset button,” said the Southampton manager. “We concede too easily, we made it too easy.”
Saint-Maximin, upping Newcastle’s creativity quotient by starting his first game since contracting coronavirus in November, unselfishly created the first goal, making the truest of connections with Schär’s floated pass. Having turned Jan Bednarek with consummate ease, the Frenchman promptly squared for Willock to mark his debut by placing a perfectly weighted shot into the bottom corner.
As the Arsenal loanee – who impressed immensely in an attacking midfield role – celebrated, Southampton faced a significant test of their psychological robustness.
It became an appreciably sterner challenge when Bednarek scored his second own goal of the week after getting his feet in a horrible tangle and diverting Almirón’s cross-shot into his own net. At that moment, the defender could have been forgiven for wishing his red card at Old Trafford had not been rescinded after all.
Perhaps anxious not to be entirely eclipsed on his Southampton debut, the Liverpool loanee Takumi Minamino temporarily seized the limelight and briefly shifted the power balance. A wonderfully assured touch enabled the Japan international to not only control Ryan Bertrand’s fine pass but use his left foot to lash the ball into the roof of the net and reduce the deficit from a dauntingly awkward angle.
The loss of Callum Wilson – who had earlier seen a strike chalked off for offside – to injury left Almirón’ redeployed as a false 9, a challenge the Paraguayan more than proved equal to. Southampton’s goalkeeper Alex McCarthy attempted to play sweeper-keeper to disastrous effect by underhitting a pass to Bertrand, which permitted Almirón to pick-pocket possession before sweeping Newcastle’s third goal home from the edge of the area.
But when James Ward-Prowse sent a fabulous free-kick arcing beyond Darlow’s reach to make it 3-2
and Hendrick collected a second yellow card for an ill-timed challenge on Minamino, Hasenhüttl’s side sensed the opportunity for atonement.
As rain turned to sleet and the ball began sticking on a sodden pitch, leaving jets of water spurting into the air whenever it was kicked, Nathan Redmond increasingly worried Newcastle’s backline. Darlow performed wonders to keep Jannik Vestergaard’s header out, Danny Ings hit the woodwork and Che Adams saw an effort disallowed for offside.
The last thing Bruce needed was the sight of Schär being carried off with his left knee in a split after collapsing when challenging for the rebound from a free-kick, but his depleted band did him proud.
“It’s not often you can handle playing with nine men for 25 minutes,” said the Newcastle manager. “But our resilience, commitment and effort was tremendous.”