Shock win at Southampton will revive Newcastle hopes – and here’s why

Dieumerci Mbokani scores Norwich's second goal

Dieumerci Mbokani scores Norwich's second goal

0
Have your say

Has it come to this?

Newcastle United’s six-year stay in the Premier League looks set to come to an abrupt end.

Aleksander Mitrovic shows his dejection at Norwich

Aleksander Mitrovic shows his dejection at Norwich

The club, six points adrift of safety, is hanging on in there.

But for how much longer?

And if its fate hasn’t been decided by the final game of the season, it will be a good thing.

As it stands, second-bottom Newcastle could be down long before Tottenham Hotspur come to St James’s Park on May 15.

It’s now must-win territory.

Last weekend’s game against 17th-placed Norwich City was a must-not-lose game. But they did lose.

United were beaten by an injury-time goal at Carrow Road.

Next up are Southampton, a team that has scored 10 goals without reply in its last three home games against Newcastle.

The last two visits there, which both ended in 4-0, have been particularly embarrassing.

Had it not been for goalkeeper Rob Elliot, the first of those defeats would have been much, much worse.

This time, Elliot, recuperating from knee surgery, won’t be able to do anything to help his team.

United haven’t been embarrassed in Benitez’s three games in charge.

They should have taken a point from league leaders Leicester City in his first game as manager.

And Newcastle fought back strongly against Sunderland and Norwich after poor first-half performances.

But small mistakes have had big consequences.

The margins are fine at both ends of the table.

Norwich’s opening goal came from a brainless foul, and having got themselves level with four minutes of normal time to play, United should never have conceded in added time.

Take the point, move on.

Yet Newcastle, in pressing for a winner, left themselves open to the counter-attack.

Benitez must finalise his plan for Southampton over the next 24 hours.

United must be compact and competitive.

And Benitez, without Paul Dummett, Massadio Haidara and Jack Colback, must find a left-back from somewhere.

Vurnon Anita, given no protection by Moussa Sissoko in front of him, had a torrid afternoon at Carrow Road. Sissoko might just be a better option in defence, though it’s not ideal.

Captain Fabricio Coloccini could be available, though he is short of match fitness.

Up front, the return of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ayoze Perez to the starting XI should be a no-brainer along with the demotion of Georginio Wijnaldum to the bench.

Wijnaldum was anonymous for 45 minutes against Norwich.

The 25-year-old, without a goal since January, scored against Southampton in the club’s season-opening game, which ended 2-2.

The optimism of that August afternoon is long gone.

Back then, there was hope the club, which spent close to £50million last summer, could make a fresh start under Steve McClaren.

It didn’t take long for things to go stale.

Week by week, Benitez is finding out more about the players he inherited from McClaren.

And week by week, his teamsheet should be more telling.

The 55-year-old is minded to lean on the more experienced members of his squad, as shown by his starting XI for the Norwich game.

Yet many of the more senior players have been found wanting in recent seasons.

Benitez needs energy and enthusiasm.

He also needs wise heads, and those are seemingly in short supply at the club.

Benitez is an infectious character.

That should rub off on the players.

But even he was weary after watching Olsson condemn the club to another defeat at Carrow Road.

So too were the away fans, many of whom will be at the St Mary’s Stadium.

But a win – just one win – could be the start of something.

There’s time yet for United.