The involvement of Southampton in the Europa League had given hope for some Newcastle fans that the Saints might arrive at St James Park at a major disadvantage.
What looked a tricky two-legged tie against Vitesse Arnhem, including a second leg away in Holland less than 72 hours before facing United.
Thursday night saw Southampton take a two goal lead in the first half and as the second period went on, it looked increasingly that both sides had settled for that scoreline. The two goal cushion meaning the home team had the advantage but still offering hope to the visitors.
A poor defensive mistake though six minutes from time led to a third goal from Shane Long and what looks now a formality in Holland next Thursday, especially as Southampton had looked by far the stronger team on the night.
Ronald Koeman can now approach the second leg in a much more relaxed manner and with the emphasis on Newcastle on the following Sunday.
Something which Koeman all but admitted after the final whistle:
“It’s never over in football, but the final score tonight is a very good one for us.
“I wasn’t happy with the second half. We were a bit lucky to get a third goal with a mistake from Vitesse late on.
The idea that Newcastle would have had any advantage, whatever last night’s scoreline had been, isn’t really that convincing in my opinion anyway.
Is having a ‘proper’ competitive match against decent opposition like Vitesse Arnhem, really a disadvantage compared to playing two almost completely different starting elevens against lower league Sheffield United and York City?
Especially when they come in quick succession after a trek to, and around, America with the players still jetlagged according to Gini Wijnaldum, with Steve McClaren making clear just how unhappy he has being with the pre season schedule he has been landed with?
When you go back to 2001/02 season, Newcastle actually started their season on 14 July in the Intertoto Cup, fully five weeks before the Premier League season started.
The rest is history as United had a magnificent season as they finished top four and qualified for the Champions League, with Sir Bobby Robson later saying that playing competitive matches pre season had been a massive help in preparation for the Premier League.
Newcastle were beaten home and away last season by Southampton and I have a feeling that there are few more difficult oppositions Steve McClaren could have been landed with for his first competitive match.
Let’s hope these next 9 days really see United’s pre season come together and new signings & injured players join the squad to transform what has so far looked an uninspired team, with a defence in particular that is desperate for confidence and organisation.