March is a brilliant, uplifting, magnificent month that doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
The miserable wet darkness of the first two months of the year is swept away and evenings become part of life again, as opposed to excuses to count how few things you need to watch on the telly before it’s acceptable to go to bed.
It also tends to be the most vital month of the football season, as pretenders to the throne are ruthlessly exposed and fall away from title/promotion contention, while those who were only ever having a drama about being relegated, safely pull away to be replaced by those that looked comfortable but are embarking on an unstoppable slide, slithering down the deck into the gaping mouth of Jaws.
Saturday’s game against Southampton would go some way into sorting its participants into category a or b. Who had the stomach to stay the course in this multi-faceted relegation battle royale…and who was heading for the shark’s belly? This was a proper six-pointer and the longer it went on, the more nerves would fray and fingernails would be gnashed.
Thank (deity of your choice) then, that things were as good as settled before anyone really got sat down. Shelvey knocked a terrific ball high in behind the defence and Kenedy was on to it. I didn’t really appreciate what an incredible first touch he took until I saw the replay, chesting the ball as he turned before sending a controlled shot past McCarthy. Proper Brazilian this lad.
A period of sitting back followed from United but encouraging signs were there in abundance. Shelvey and Diame in midfield continues to work a treat, as they bossed this game in the way they left off last time at SJP against Man Utd. Lejeune, now injury free, has settled in and is being quietly immense every week and Paul Dummett was once again the owner of anyone daft enough to turn up on HIS side of the pitch. Southampton had a bit of a go as Rafa’s side played it cautious but they were soon undone in part by their own incompetence.
Gayle had a chance when the Saints decided they all didn’t want to accept a pass out of defence and he robbed Hojberg to suddenly create a 2 v 1 on the keeper. Dwight elected to rush his shot when the pass to Perez may have been a better option and McCarthy gathered easily. It wasn’t long before Southampton offered no threat from their own corner, and Lemina elected to spurn the option of returning the second ball, in favour of falling over on his backside. Perez seized the loose ball and advanced up the pitch with Kenedy for company, but the star of this move was Dwight Gayle, who ran from his own six yard box past the whole Southampton team to take the pass from Perez, and still had the awareness to slide it over for the unmarked Kenedy to tap in at the far post. It looked brilliant in real time and gets better with every replay, counter-attacking at it’s silky, brilliant best.
At half time, a stunning realisation dawned that every single other result was going the way we needed it to. This did not stop me having more than one conversation with fellow Mags who expressed in various different vernacular that we had better not exercise our omnipotent capability to nause, fudge or foul this up. Bournemouth maybe still a bit fresh in the mind here I reckon.
The next 45 minutes provided a quiet but emphatic answer. The score was extended beyond doubt on the hour, as Shelvey tormented the opposition with a mazy dribble, drawing enough defenders to allow a simple lay off to present Ritchie with a free shot. He found the corner with his precise shot and an unfortunate fans head with his blootered corner flag.
The rest of the game was a bit of a canter, as Dubravka comfortably gathered Sims speculative drive that must have been Southampton’s only shot on target and Perez headed narrowly over in United’s only half chance. I thought it may have been an opportunity to go for the jugular here and bust the confidence and goal difference of a relegation rival with 3 weeks rest ahead, but 3-0 it was and that would more than do.
Astonishingly, the full times revealed that all results had remained in our favour, and the late kick off only added to that, as Newcastle were the major winners in the bottom half of the table.
As well as our own decent showing though, I have other reasons to feel that today may be the one where relegation became other people’s problem. Jermaine Jenas would later describe Southampton as “borderline disgraceful” on Match of the Day, but I would argue there was no borderline about it, as the Saints failed to instil any concern beyond the inherent paranoia that come with being Newcastle United.
There is clearly a disjoint between Southampton’s players and manager and it may just be too late to correct this, especially given their ominous fixture run in.
Today may have seen the worst opposition that has turned up at SJP this year, which is a pretty poor return for the distance travelled by their fans, and I can see no other destiny for them than joining the Great Pardinho in the Championship.
With West Ham imploding spectacularly and five points the gap now, we may even be able to relax over Easter, especially if we can end this excellent month with more of the same v Huddersfield.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 3 Southampton 0
Newcastle: Kenedy 2, 29, Ritchie 57
Possession was Southampton 63% Newcastle 37%
Total shots were Southampton 6 Newcastle 7
Shots on target were Southampton 2 Newcastle 5
Corners were Southampton 6 Newcastle 2
Referee: Andre Marriner
Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Dummett, Ritchie, Diame, Shelvey (Merino 83), Kenedy (Atsu 78), Gayle (Joselu 69)
Darlow, Manquillo, Clark, Murphy
Crowd: 52,246 (Southampton 1,600)
(Alan Shearer raves about loan signing and Newcastle’s win but admits to mixed emotions. Read HERE)
(Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to the three goal win HERE)
(Mauricio Pellegrino couldn’t believe what he was watching – His reaction HERE)
(3 positives and 3 negatives from Saturday’s match – Read HERE)
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf