Miles Starforth's match analysis: Southampton 3 Newcastle United 1
Why did it have to take a 22-year-old to say it?
Newcastle United, right now, need actions not words.
But the club also needs leadership.
And only Jamaal Lascelles showed any kind of leadership on or off the pitch at the St Mary’s Stadium on Saturday.
Jonjo Shelvey wore the captain’s armband against Southampton in the absence of Fabricio Coloccini.
But the midfielder was again fitful in his contribution during the game, which ended in a 3-1 defeat for Newcastle, a rotten club which now seems destined for the Championship.
It could well rot there.
There’s a responsibility off the pitch that comes with the captain’s armband.
Win, lose or draw, the skipper mustn’t hide.
It’s his responsibility to say what needs to be said, and a lot needed to be said after the Southampton defeat,
However, Shelvey – whose former club Swansea City reached the 40-point milestone on Saturday with a win over Chelsea – had other ideas.
Yet again, the 24-year-old England international strolled through the post-game mixed zone, where journalists interview the players, with his head down and his mobile phone glued to his ear.
No acknowledgement. Nothing. He couldn’t get on the bus quick enough.
What kind of example does that set to the rest of the team?
If he is going to hide after a defeat, why should anyone else put their head above the parapets?
Unlike Shelvey, Lascelles didn’t hide on or off the pitch.
The defender had watched Newcastle’s abject and appalling first-half performance, which was littered with mistakes, from the bench.
Lascelles, sent on for the second half, was committed and competitive.
And he didn’t hold back after the game when asked to speak to BBC Radio Newcastle.
The solution to the club’s many problems can only come from within the four walls of the dressing room.
“We had Steve McClaren who is a great manager and now we’ve got Rafa Benitez, who is a great manager so it’s clearly not that,” he said.
“It’s the players and we have to take full responsibility.
“It’s ourselves who need to change it and not the manager.
“We need to play with more heart. We’ve got flair players, tricky players, players with loads of talent.
“But we need more heart, we need more desire.
“We need bigger characters on the pitch, players who care and who are going to get after each other.
“We have lacked it this season and no matter how good you are, if you don’t have that fight and hunger and desire, it doesn’t matter.”
Lascelles was spot on.
Those are qualities United have lacked all season.
And those qualities will be needed in abundance if the club, should it be relegated, is to get out of the Championship, a division Lascelles knows all too well from his time at Nottingham Forest, at the first attempt.
But on the evidence of the last eight months, too many players simply do have the heart and courage needed to play for Newcastle, a club with some hugely-talented footballers on its books.
No team is simply going to let United play.
No, Newcastle have to earn that right, and that’s what Southampton did at the St Mary’s Stadium.
They played with an infectious energy and enthusiasm.
They passed. They ran. They tackled. Above all they played as a team and they worked for each other.
United were quite the opposite.
Rafa Benitez’s side got off to the worst possible start.
In the fourth minute Shane Long breezed past player after player, the last of which was a wrong-footed Steven Taylor, before rolling the ball past Karl Darlow.
Southampton’s got their all-important second goal before the break.
A slip from Daryl Janmaat let Dusan Tadic run towards goal, and Long’s heavy touch gave Graziano Pelle a chance, which he took.
An embarrassed Janmaat limped off the pitch before the game restarted, and Taylor – who had attempted to play on after suffering an injury – was replaced at the interval.
Newcastle, as against Norwich City and Sunderland, were better in the second half, but Victor Wanyama added a third goal for Southampton early in the second half.
Wanyama’s deflected shot beat Darlow, who had stopped an effort from Pelle with his legs.
Andros Townsend’s stunning 65th-minute strike wasn’t even a consolation for Newcastle.
After the game, Benitez, having previously praised the efforts of the players he inherited at the club, struck a different tone in his assessment of what he had seen at the St Mary’s Stadium.
But Benitez can only do so much.
The club’s fate, if it’s not decided by Sunderland or Norwich, is in the hands of the players, who must win four or five or the last six matches.
United’s players haven’t been able to take any responsibility up to now, so how can we expect that to change between now and the end of the season?