Newcastle 2 Southampton 2 Sunday 9 August 1.30pm
Newcastle – Cisse 42, Wijnaldum 48
Southampton – Pelle 24, Long 79
So finally, here we are then.
A new season, a new era and perhaps a new sense of optimism around SJP?
It may have been tinged with the air that things could still go horribly wrong, but there was definitely a better feeling about the place than in recent seasons, as we welcomed one of last season’s better sides for an opener that would test the resolve for the season to come.
If I had to sum this up overall, it was a bloody good game that everyone seemed to enjoy, and it’s not often you’ve been able to say that round these parts in the last couple of years.
United started strong, with the team shape set up to keep the ball nicely and build attacks from all parts of the field in a welcome departure from the hoof it and hope style seen not so very long ago.
Sissoko, looking better on the right as always, carved out the first opportunity by blaring into the box and squaring for Wijnaldum to shoot, only for a Saints defender to block the goal-bound effort.
At the other end, Krul had to be out quick to block a Soares effort when the defence seemed worryingly sleepy. Mbemba made a solid debut and could become a fan favourite, initially seeming to be a Philippe Albert- style ball playing centre half.
However, it was vulnerability from the high ball that proved to be our undoing, another age old problem rearing its ugly head. Newcastle had bossed the opening 20 minutes and had a decent penalty shout turned away before Saints broke and Soares fine cross was headed home by Pelle, despite the attentions of two United defenders.
Krul failed to keep the ball out at his near post when he could have done better, but take nothing away from a great finish from the Southampton striker, who proved a handful all afternoon and is sure to be on Brendan Rogers’ radar……
It would be a test now to see if the new NUFC had the gumption to come from behind, or still retained the awful habit of folding. Happily it was the former, as United re-established their hold on the game and went in at half time level. There was a touch of fortune as Haidara’s cross deflected over the keeper for Cisse to simply nudge over the line, but it was no less than we deserved.
Within three minutes of the restart things had got even better, as a magnificent strike took the roof off. Breaking quickly, Cisse sent Obertan flying down the right hand side. His cross was excellent and Wijnaldum’s flying header gave him a memorable debut goal.
The best chance to put the game to bed then came, once again on the break. Sissoko went marauding through the middle with a 3 on 2 advantage, but elected to pick out Obertan when the unmarked Cisse seemed the better option.
With 70 minutes gone and victory sensed, a moment occurred that possibly dictated the eventual outcome. Anita fell heavily from a header and needed to be stretchered off with a back injury.
Big Vurn had been a busy player in the middle of the park, playing at times as a sweeper and quietly doing a lot of dirty work and ball winning.
His replacement by the out of sorts Tiote seemed to lose some of that impetus, as well as robbing United of a potentially more attacking substitution.
There shortly followed two more notable substitutions.
First, Mitrovic replaced Cisse to a thunderous reception. It clearly got him fired up, as within 5 seconds he had completely halved the Southampton left back for a record quick booking. The ref was a lenient type of bloke, as some characters may have thrived on the chance to dish out an instant red.
Unfortunately, it was the Southampton substitution that had the direct impact on the scoreline as perennial pain in the arse Shane Long found a late equaliser.
United seemed a bit stand offish and static as Saints played the ball up the left, had their attack repelled then swiftly walked it back up the right to cross for the loosely marked Long to head in. The weakness at crosses again cost us, but if this spurs the board to bring in a ball winning centre half then it’s two points well dropped.
Southampton had the better of the closing stages as the off colour Mane wasted two good chances to win it. Perhaps this was down to the visitors having sharpened themselves on Europa league games while we were fussing around America, or possibly the substitutions took away some momentum, but overall a draw looked like a fair result by the end.
Some real positives, although defensive concerns have perhaps increased as opposed to dissipated.
Some tricky games ahead which hopefully the team can use to gel more (perhaps strengthen even?) but we can still retain hope of better times ahead.
These are the key stats as provided by BBC Sport;
Possession was 56% Newcastle and 44% Southampton
Total shots was 9 for Newcastle and Southampton 15
Shots on target was Newcastle 4 and Southampton 5
While corners was Newcastle 6 and Southampton 6
Player ratings totals below from fans so far, add yours and then press submit.
(*Apologies – the system that provides the data has missed Mitrovic coming on for Cisse in the 75th minute, so the Serbian striker isn’t included).
Full match report to follow.
Team: Krul, Janmaat, Mbemba, Coloccini, Haidara, Colback, Anita (Tiote 68), Sissoko, Wijnaldum (de Jong 81), Obertan, Cisse (Mitrovic 75)
Unused Subs: Darlow, Taylor, Aarons, Perez
Ref: Craig Pawson
Crowd: 49,710 (1,250 Southampton)
You can follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf