The McLaren era started with a decent point with a lot of positives and a few causes for alarm for good measure. Mbemba and Wijnaldum both made their debuts, with fellow new boy Mitrovic on the bench along with Perez, De Jong and Aarons with the new manager favouring a more defensive midfield featuring both Anita and Colback.
I don’t think anyone truly knew what to expect from the new look side but early impressions in the first half were that Mbemba was a million times better than Williamson (not difficult) and that Gigi was very decent. We missed a bit of a trick against the visitors though who looked very week on the occasion we got down the flanks, but with only Obertan recognised as a wide man, our threat was sporadic as he laboured through the first half. In the middle, Colback looked confused with his role as he ran around lost in the middle with Anita sitting deeper. Our main attacking threat came through Sissoko, looking interested, driving us forward with Gigi looking to get into the box and seeing a decent effort blocked.
We fell behind though half way through the first period when a simple floated cross found the head of Pelle, whose effort beat Krul at the near post. The goal was poor from many angles – the cross came over far too easily, Pelle was virtually unchallenged and Krul could have done much better for me too. To our credit though, neither fans or players let their heads dropped and we deservedly equalised shortly before the break with a slightly fortunate goal. Haidara, who had looked good going forwards but suspect at the back put over a looping ball which caught Stekelenberg out completely, giving Cisse a chance to chest the ball in from about an inch out.
We had arguably our best spell in the quarter of an hour after the break and took the lead shortly after the restart with an absolute cracker. When a ball was lofted down the wing for Obertan to chase on to, I sarcastically nudged my mate to say ‘Watch this’ but to my and a dare say a few others’ surprise, the Frenchman knocked over a fantastic ball on the run straight onto the head of Wijnaldum who duly buried it. A really good goal and one which we merited on the balance of play.
The pendulum only really started to swing against us when Anita picked up a nasty looking injury and was carried off to be replaced by Tiote. I’m no fan of the diminuative Dutchman but he was a mile better than Colback and a hundred miles better than his replacement. Was it Tiote or his fatha that came on? He looked absolutely paggered from the word go and the ahem, ring rustiness from the bench wasn’t exclusive to him as Mitrovic came on, was given a yellow that could have potentially been a red within ten seconds and then huffed and puffed through the final quarter of an hour. Cisse’s wave to the fans looked like a goodbye one to me and if he goes, we have a massive hole to fill – a hugely important player for us over the past two years and one we will struggle to replace in the short term, I hope I’m wrong with his gesture.
Southampton equalised with ten minutes to go and it was similar to the first when Long got up ahead of Janmaat to nod a cross home – poor defending again and clearly something we will have to work on over the coming weeks. All of a sudden the visitors looked sharper with a few competitive games under their belt as we tired and Mane had two chances to win the game for them, the first when he delayed a shot and the second a shot put wide when he had done the hard work to beat a couple of defenders – decent player though but.
In the end, a draw was pretty much spot on – we’d played well for large spells but defended poorly in crucial moments and realistically created little for ourselves other than the goals, as did they. Most people were happy enough with what they’d seen though – the Saints are no slouches and I think we saw enough of the two starting debutants to have liked what we saw. Swansea is the first in a run of very tough looking games but we at least look like competing again and that counts as progress in my book.
Keep the Faith
Newcastle United – Krul 5, Janmaat 7, Mbemba 7, Coloccini 7, Haidara 6, Anita 7 (Tiote 4), Colback 5, SISSOKO 8, Wijnaldum 7 (De Jong 4), Obertan 7, Cisse 6 (Mitrovic 4)
Ref – Pawson – 7 – No complaints
Our Fans – 7 – More of an optimistic air
Their Fans – 5 – Mediocre turnout, mediocre crack.
Gareth Harrison – Follow Gareth on @truefaith1892