Say what you want about being a Newcastle United fan. It’s never dull. Galatasary fans once held a banner up, saying Welcome To Hell. Perhaps Wor Flags could make one when fans return, saying Welcome To Purgatory. Nothing is simple in the crazy world of NUFC, and this was the latest chapter in a season full of bonkers goings on. A 3-2 win sounds like it could be a fun afternoon for the Toon Army, but this was was anything but. 

The mighty Mags lined up with a diamond formation for the third game in the row. Issac Hayden dropped into defence to cover another injury for Jamaal Lascelles, which gave Joe Willock the opportunity to make his debut. This forced tweak meant the diamond also required some rejigging, with Hendrick sitting, Shelvey on the left, Willock on the right and the perpetually moving Miggy at the tip. As the game progressed it seemed Willock had been given more license to roam and that seemed to pay dividends both with and without the ball. If we lost the ball, Shelvey and Hendrick retreated straight away to be a holding two, giving young Joe the chance to get back in and pressure from the front. 

Sixteen minutes in and we reaped the rewards of a positive start. Wilson had a good chance from a volley, and then (rightly) had a goal disallowed. It was more like the front foot action we all want to see. I have been critical of Schar’s long range passing in the last two games, as he seems desperate to give the ball away at times but here, his ball down the left hand side gave ASM the chance to skip by his man and drive toward the box. The headband wearing hero drew in a defender leaving Willock to be able to run into the box and into space. As you’d expect from a man of Allan’s ability, he picked a perfect pass to Willock. It was an easy enough chance for the debutant but he accurately steered the ball home to put NUFC 1-0 up. Great to have a midfielder arriving late in the box and scoring – his signing is seemingly validated. 

Eight minutes later and it was two. I had thought that Manquillo having to be withdrawn due to injury may have an effect on us, but it didn’t disrupt our positive attacking momentum. One nil became two nil, and it all began with some great Hendrick pressing to break up play in midfield. The Irishman drove forward and picked out a super ball to Saint Maximin, across and behind the Saints back four. A lovely touch to Miggy from the Frenchman gave Almiron the chance to have a shot on goal. He struck the ball across the keeper only for the strike to get deflected and past the helpless McCarthy in goal. Great build up play rewarded again.

The trip to paradise didn’t last long from a black and white perspective as we gave Saints a route back into the game, and ourselves a trip back to purgatory. It became 2-1 after Bertrand was given too much space on the left. He played a good ball to Minamino, who left Issac Hayden on his heels a little. Great first touch from the Liverpool loanee to do so, and lovely finish into the roof of the net. Our two goal advantage lasted just three minutes. 

The game continued to twist and turn after about 35 minutes when Callum Wilson went down with what look like a hamstring injury. Joelinton was readied and sadly the lumbering “forward” came on. You’d have thought that Gayle’s pace would have continued to threaten a Saints defence which looked leaky, but instead Bruce brought on the Brazilian. This made us look visibly less threatening and limited our ability to keep the ball in attacking areas too. 

Warning signs began to show what Saints were capable of soon before half time as Bertrand had an opportunity from a set piece. Thankfully he blazed over and very quickly we were to capitalise, in time added on. 

Four minutes  after the 45 was up, we witnessed great pressing again from ASM who was more than justifying his inclusion from the start. His energy put pressure on the keeper who played a poor ball out to the left hand side, which Almiron anticipated and picked off. He drove forward and showed great composure with a measured finish into the open corner of McCarthy’s net. A perfect time to score and 3-1 up at the interval. Surely this was three points in the bag and an uncomplicated win incoming. It was the first time in five years we’ve scored three in a first half. Things seemed to be clicking on the break and a win was in our hands. 

Or not.

The game twisted in five second half minutes. From Shelvey (who again seemed listless) missing a guilt edged chance to go 4-1 up, to James Ward Prowse pinging in a stunning free kick to make it 3-2. Whilst it was a stunning goal, the game should have been over. The game was over just moments later for Jeff Hendrick. A needless pull on Minamino saw him get his second yellow card, with 40 minutes to play. He can have no complaints for a lazy challenge, and it came at such a key time, straight after the Saints goal. On the upside, at least he’ll be suspended for a few games. 

Conditions began to worsen and it had the same effect on the pitch as it did on Danny Ings’ attempt to cover up his receding hairline. Messy. It seemed to affect the game and Southampton’s rhythm as the sopping pitch held up the ball and slowed their passing approach. It meant that whilst Saints had a lot of the ball, they couldn’t do much to break down our stubborn defence. Darlow did make one stunning save from a Vestergaard header though, and we rode out luck when Ings should have scored, but hit the post, and saw the rebound fall straight into Darlow’s hands. Perhaps this was a sign it would be our day after all, especially when Adams too had the ball in the net, but the goal was chalked off for a foul on Darlow. 

Difficult became disastrous when ten men became nine after an awful few moments. In a rare foray forward, Miggy broke through the Saints backline and was fouled giving a great shooting chance from the resulting free kick. Schar for some reason stepped forward and he hit a dreadful effort straight at the wall but the follow up shot from the Swiss resulted in an awkward jarring of the knee after a clash with the advancing wall. He looked like he’d suffered an ACL injury and was in a lot of pain as he was stretchered off. The last thing that that Newcastle and Bruce needed given the current injury situation at the back. This was also a nightmare in the short term too, with three subs having already been made, Newcastle were down to nine men for the last 15 mins or so. 

We’d earlier become a back five after Bruce had brought on Dummett, which I did think was a good decision given the circumstances at the time, and the potential liability Saint Maximin can be off the ball. When Schar was forced off, the five now became four at the back and four in midfield and the battle to take something, anything from the game, really began. 

It was actually a pleasure to watch nine players put bodies on the line and do everything they could to win the game. Say what you want about the flock of Stevegulls (credit – Rob), but this was a side who were playing for the shirt. The fans. Most importantly, the manager. Dummett was excellent when he came on and made some great defensive headers and really led the rearguard action by example. Southampton didn’t really create too much which is credit to the way we saw out the win. Whilst there was six minutes of nerve jangling added time, I thought to myself it was great to feel something again watching Newcastle. After months, arguably years, of dull anti football, this was something to be proud of. Some heart in mouth moments, some nerves, some angst. All preferable to resignation of another impending defeat. This is why we support the club we do. This is all we demand from our team. If we could show this desire every week, I think I’d be a happy man. 

The context of the three points is huge, and that must not be forgotten. Games in hands may play a part but for now we are 11 points away from the relegation zone. We have a team which is showing signs of grit and a mini revival. We will need those attributes more than ever with an injury list growing further as bad injuries are reported for all three players who left the pitch today. 

Let’s forget reality for a few minutes though, revel in the win, drink a beer as we relax, and temporarily step out of purgatory and into a muddy windswept paradise. 

Dai Rees – @colemans_dream