Jamaal Lascelles' devastating 2016 critique of Newcastle has been flipped on its head
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong at the St Mary's Stadium two and a half years ago.
Newcastle United’s visit in April 2016 was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
The club was battling to stay in the Premier League, but it lacked fight on the field.
It was a different story in the dressing room, where Daryl Janmaat punched a wall – and broke two fingers.
The 2015-16 team, on paper, was “ridiculous”, according to Jamaal Lascelles, who will lead the team out against Southampton on Saturday.
It had flair. It had talent. But what it lacked, according to Lascelles, was “fight and hunger”. And he was right. There was no escaping relegation that season.
Newcastle, then as now, were in the relegation zone.
Then as now, the club desperately needed a result against Southampton, but the team, second-bottom at the time, was convincingly beaten 3-1.
Janmaat slipped for the home side’s second goal and quickly indicated that he had to come off with a groin injury. Steven Taylor, meanwhile, suffered an early injury, but attempted to play on. He was taken off at the break and replaced with Lascelles, then 22.
The captain that afternoon was Jonjo Shelvey, but the midfielder refused to speak after the game.
An agitated Georginio Wijnaldum, however, did stop to speak in the mixed zone.
Wijnaldum had this to say to the Gazette: “We know if we play without confidence, and if you’re nervous, it’s going to be not good. You’re going to play bad. Why not give your best and try to change things?”
Lascelles went further in his post-match assessment.
“On paper our team is ridiculous, but we need to show more heart,” Lascelles told BBC Radio Newcastle. “We need players who care and will look after each other – we’ve lacked it.
“We’ve got flair players, tricky players, players with loads of talent, but we need more heart, desire and bigger characters on the pitch.
“No matter how good you are, if you don’t have that fight and hunger, it doesn’t matter.”
The team of 2018 has fight and hunger. It also has heart and desire. But does it have enough flair?
United have struggled for goals this season – they had 26 shots in last weekend’s 1-0 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion – and owner Mike Ashley’s decision not to back him in the summer could prove one of his costliest mistakes.
It’s as if Lascelles’ critique has been flipped on its head this season. Nobody would describe this team as “ridiculous”, but it’s honest and has heart.
Rafa Benitez has rebuilt the team since taking charge a few weeks before that fateful visit to the St Mary’s Stadium, but he’s had to do it on the cheap.
Talent costs money – and the club’s net spend since returning to the Premier League is just £100,000.
Lascelles, appointed captain four months after his explosive interview, has helped forge a more united dressing room.
Janmaat didn’t just leave Southampton with a groin problem. The defender also needed surgery on his hand, having struck a wall in frustration following a post-game confrontation with Lascelles.
Some things, however, haven’t changed. Shelvey, an engaging if reluctant interviewee, still rarely speaks.
Lascelles spoke for the team after the Brighton defeat, which left the club propping up the Premier League table. And the 24-year-old touched on the contrast between now and the club’s last relegation season.
Lascelles said: “We’ve got a squad of players who care, and it hurts them when we lose. They aren’t players who aren’t bothered – that’s the difference.”
That is a big difference, but the goals will still have to come from somewhere.