Ralph? Ralph? You ok, Ralph?..

Picture the scene: Its 10pm on Thursday night, and Newcastle United have just secured a 9th game unbeaten, thanks to a brace from Chris Woodand further goals from Matt Targett, ‘Big’ Dan Burn, and a last minute thunder-bastard from Bruno Guimarães.

An agitated looking Ralph Hassenhüttl is being interviewed on the touchline by Geoff Shreeves, when all of a sudden the most famous Austrian since Hans Kranklenters full on ‘glitch mode’ – the warning signs appear early in the interview as Ralph starts speaking in tongues, before Sky’s intrepid pitch side reporter realises he is in uncharted territory as Hasenhüttl’s unusually large heed then rotates a full 360 degrees. Twice.

The interview then concludes as a scarily red-faced Ralph falls to his knees, repeatedly shrieking “Its not fair. They played their new signings, Geoff…THEY PLAYED THEIR NEW SIGNINGS!!!!” 

As he hurriedly disappears down the tunnel, and out of immediate danger, Shreeve can be heard shouting “Back to you in the studio, David…” 

Wouldn’t it be glorious?..

Anyway, back to the real world. Despite being taken apart by Aston Vile at the weekend, Southampton away on a Thursday night (what the actual fuck, man?), is a stern test of just how much progress we have made in the past 3 months.

Having recently knocked West Ham out of the FA Cup and taken points from Man City (1), Spurs (3) and Man Utd (1) Southampton will pose a real challenge and Eddie and his band of merry Mags who will have to be at their best to have a chance of heading back north with anything more than zero points for their efforts – and that is why thisis a game in which I fully expect Eddie Howe to finally make some changes.

Despite securing the win, some of the players looked leggy at full time on Saturday – unsurprising after being pulled around the pitch relentlessly by a Brighton side that keeps the ball for shit’s and giggles – and wouldn’t be surprised to see ASM come in for Murphy, Manquillo for Krafth and Bruno G who could make a long-awaited full debut in place of Jonjo Shelvey.

This is by no means a reflection on the 3 players I am suggesting Eddie may rest – to a man they have all performed incredibly well and have exceeded even the most optimistic of Mags expectations– however, with 4 games in 13 days, I think now is the time to rotate and freshen up the starting 11.

Do this, and we may just have a chance of seeing Ralph doing his best touchline impression of *Regan MacNeil…

Danger Man: Ward-Prowse – don’t give him anything within 40 yards, eh lads?…

Prediction: A hard fought 1-1 draw, and an angry looking Ralph at full time.

Lee Forster @LeeDForster

*Google it, you’ll get my drift…

Pulling Our Socks Up 

Despite having the shortest socks in the team, Fraser is one of the few players who does not need to pull his socks up after last weekend’s below-par performance.

Burn, Schär, Targett, and Joelinton join him on a rather short list of those who were a credit to the black n white stripes on Saturday. The rest are on the naughty step as far as I’m concerned, barring Murphy and Krafth who clearly don’t have it in them to be any better.

Manquillo made the bench against Brighton and I’m hoping he’s fit enough to slot back in at RB, as the thought of the beast Broja bearing down on Krafth is enough to give me nightmares. However, Murphy might well still start as I expect we’ll set up very similarly to how Howe approached the Seagulls game. Murphy’s raw pace was a real problem for the Seagulls and could prove key to counterattacking again on Thursday.

The Saints were one of the division’s form sides before Coutinho’s masterclass this weekend, and they’ll be looking to get back to winning ways against us. While we’re also sitting pretty in the form table, alarm bells should have been ringing for Howe given how poorly we used the ball for long spells against Brighton. He’s only had a few days to put things right on the training ground but he’s also a bona fide genius so I’m confident he’ll put out 11 players who graft and concentrate for 90 minutes.

Given it’s not on telly I’m predicting a high-scoring draw that would be a feast of football for the Geordie faithful lucky enough to be in the ground. Splitting the points seems fair to both sides at present and it’ll be enough to keep a healthy gap between us and the relegation zone.

Danger man: Ward-Prowse on set pieces

Prediction: 3-3

Dan Jenkins  @PlumsGinger 

 Away days aplenty…only now minus the fear factor.

Southampton away. Always a fixture to send a shiver down the spine for Newcastle over the years with just three league wins since the seventies.

Rarely in any of the games though have Southampton faced a more stimulated United than they will on Thursday. The Mags looking to go unbeaten in nine league matches and win a sixth game in seven.

It’s obvious this unprecedented spell of away games in a row could cause us bother, but at the same time you wouldn’t bet against us in any of those games either, that’s where we are at the moment.

Take away the top two and no one will want to play us at this point in time and these will be no different,  especially after Hassenhüttl’s inane comments in the New Year regarding our signings and playing in this fixture.

Ironically this could be the game when we see the major January buy, Guimarães make his bow especially after a strange post-match admission from Shelvey that he didn’t play well enough.

However, Howe may stick to his guns again and stick with the winning team. This has provided players with massive incentive to make the spot their own and players like Schär, Joelinton, Willock and even Krafth have flourished with that security. I’d take a point right now but can see us sneaking it 1-0 .

Either way it’s nice to be “able to compete with sides like Southampton” these days.

Scott Robson

Permission granted, Ralph?

 So, it’s Southampton away for Eddie Howe’s gritty, battling, unconvincing-second-half-yet-three-points-regardless Mags this week.

 We’re likely to see an unchanged line-up I’d say, with the possible exception of ASM coming in for Murphy, but any signs of a repeat of that second-half display will likely see Bruno deployed sharpish and similarly Saint-Max if he’s not on the pitch already.

Saints are plodding along nicely in 9th place and had been in great form prior to being all over the shop against Villa at the weekend. They’re certainly not a team to stand off and if we get at them from the off, try and recapture the displays of Brentford and the first half against Brighton then we’ll hopefully keep the survival/Champions League qualification mission on track.

We have a strong recent record against Ralph Hasenhüttl’s lads and, provided we’re given official clearance by the Saints boss to field our January signings, I think we’ll sneak a 2-1 win with Jonjo and Wood on target.

Matthew Rogerson @MatthewRogerson 

 Enter the Bruno?..

 I have a funny feeling we won’t win this one.

I think we’ve won once since 2004 away to Saints and it’s never been a particularly happy hunting ground in general. Saints have lost twice since 12th December and in those games they’ve played both Manchester clubs, West Ham, and Spurs twice. The bright spark from this run, is that they did get turned over 4-0 by an Aston Villa side that we found out ourselves are very bearable in their last outing.

The Southampton midfield is its strength with Romeu and Ward-Prowse helping to control possession. As such I think in theory this game could be a lot like the Brighton game for us. Allow the opposition to keep the ball (they had 62% possession against Villa) and hit them on the break. Being clinical is key. They are a bit vulnerable at the back, and don’t score loads either so there is a chance here. With that said and given the games we have had and have coming up, I can see this being a dull goalless draw. I’d take that too by the way. With Everton in freefall, Leeds not dissimilar and Norwich playing Chelsea whilst we head to St Mary’s, it could be a valuable point toward the cause.

Finally, I think we’ll see midfield rotation here. Maybe Shelvey come out as we try to keep the ball more than we did against the Seagulls, and Bruno come in. The boy has got quality and I think it’s his time to shine.

 Dai Rees @colemans_dream