IBO Reporter : channonite
|The match started in reasonable conditions, although heavy rain was forecast and straight away Newcastle were at Saints, with Saint-Maximin in particular proving a thorn in the side of the away sides defence. Operating on their left wing, he was up against Jack Stephens in the unfamiliar right back position. Vestergaard was playing his first game since Christmas and after the match Ralph admitted that the Saints CB had only had one training session before the game.
It did not take that long for Saints defensive formation to get caught out, when Stephens was upfield and a long raking pass from one of the Newcastle defenders found Saint-Maximin in the space where a right back should normally be and with Bednarek scurrying across to cover. The Newcastle player shrugged off the challenge and ran into the penalty area, squaring to meet the onrushing Willock, who gave McCarthy no chance and with 16 minutes gone it was 1-0.
Newcastle had to use the first of their subs at this point, when the full back Manquillo had to go off with an injury.
Ten minutes later it got worse. Another deep cross-field pass found Saint-Maximin goal side of Stephens. He went to the byline and passed back to Almirón who looked up and shot. It looked as though McCarthy was in line to save, but on it's way to him it clipped the back of Bednarek's heel and diverted the ball past his now wrong-footed keeper into the net. 2-0 and an own-goal by Bednarek.
This wasn't what we were all hoping for, after the hiding at Old Trafford earlier in the week and thoughts began to turn to how many Newcastle might score now. Before those thoughts could take hold Bertrand went steaming down Saints left wing and slotted a pass through the massed ranks of Newcastle defenders to Minamino, who for an instant looked as though he had lost his balance, but no, he ran on and from a really narrow angle fired a shot into the roof of the net for a really impressive debut goal for Saints. Half an hour gone and it was 2-1 to Newcastle. Saints were back in it.
Newcastle then had to use their second sub, when their forward, Wilson had to go off with what looked a potential long-term injury.
The game ebbed and flowed without producing anything clear cut, until we were thinking that with a 2-1 score at the half, Saints could still get something out of the game. Except that this is Saints we are talking about here and sure enough, they managed to shoot themselves in the foot. Deep into first half injury time Saints were playing the ball around, retaining possession. Ward-Prowse played back to McCarthy, with the keeper under no pressure at all, then mishit a pass to Bertrand. Almirón nipped in and gleefully took the ball on, cracking a low shot beyond the flailing McCarthy to make it 3-1. A real 'head in hands' moment.
So, half-time and 3-1 and the game seemingly out of reach. As the first half wore on the rain came down with increasing intensity and as the second half started, the pitch was noticeably wetter underfoot. This was to become a real issue for Saints later on.
There were other things to worry about first as, once again Newcastle carved the Saints defence apart. Shelley had the simplest of chances right in front of goal, but somehow managed to sky his shot over the bar. A definite let-off there.
Then, out of the blue, Hayden unceremoniously hacked Adams down just outside the penalty area and in the centre of the pitch. You know what happened next! Ward-Prowse stepped up and lifted the ball above the wall and curled it into the top corner, beyond Darlow's reach. 3-2 and Saints were back in the game, with more than 40 minutes to go.
The rain was really heavy by this point and even watching on TV, you were constantly aware of it. As I was watching the rain lashing down, Hendrick pulled back Minamino in a pronged foul. The referee, Craig Pawson, thought about this for a few seconds and then showed a yellow card. That was Hendrick's second yellow of the match, having been booked in the first half, so a red card followed from Mr Pawson's pocket and Newcastle were one man down for the rest of the match.
Saints were all over Newcastle now and Redmond found himself in possession wide on the right. He squared the ball to Danny Ings, who volleyed and his shot cannoned back off the far post straight into Darlow's no doubt grateful arms. Unlucky.
At this point Steve Bruce used his final sub, taking off Saint-Maximin and replacing him with a defender, to contain what had become one way traffic towards the Newcastle goal. That would have been a reasonable decision, but for the fact that Shär went down after heavy contact in the penalty area and clearly could not continue, having to be taken off on a stretcher, so Newcastle were now down to nine men. Surely Saints would get the better of them now?
There was one moment when Ings almost had the ball in the net, but it was cleared off the line and anyway, Craig Pawson had already indicated a foul on the keeper.
The conditions were appalling now, with the pitch looking more like a paddy field somewhere in Vietnam. This made it almost impossible to move the ball with any speed around the massed ranks of the remaining Newcastle players. The ball was almost stopping dead in some parts of the pitch where there was so much standing water.
Eventually time just ran out and the nine men of Newcastle were justifiably ecstatic, having held on for the win.
Man of the Match
Two obvious choices in this match, Minamino scoring a glorious goal on his debut and Ward-Prowse scoring another perfect free kick, together with being everywhere on the pitch. On balance I give it to James Ward-Prowse for another outstanding display on a day where things just didn't go their way, but in spite of the result, the team did go some way to putting the Manchester United game behind them.