Ayoze Perez fires Newcastle United to safety with stunning hat-trick
Ayoze Perez fired Newcastle United past the 40-point mark with a stunning hat-trick at St James's Park.
Rafa Benitez's side beat Southampton 3-1 this evening thanks to the club's first Premier League hat-trick since Georginio Wijnaldum netted four goals against Norwich City in October 2015.
The strikes took Perez's Premier League goal tally for the season to 10 with three games left to play.
And the result took the club, on 41 points, up to 12th place in the league, though the win came at a cost, as Benitez lost Miguel Almiron and Fabian Schar to injuries in the second half.
Manager Benitez had named an unchanged side following the club's 1-0 win over Leicester City eight days earlier – and United took the game to their visitors.
Referee Anthony Taylor waved play on after Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg handled a ball from Alimiron, who also forced a save from Angus Gunn with a cross-cum-shot in the 10th minute.
The game's moment of controversy came in the 24th minute, when James Ward-Prowse cynically blocked Almiron.
Taylor, however, only showed Ward-Prowse a yellow card, despite it having been a two-on-one attack from Newcastle.
Benitez and his players were furious, and assistant Mikel Antia was sent to the stands by Taylor for his protests.
The injustice brought St James's Park back to life, and United were ahead three minutes later.
Isaac Hayden won the ball in midfield and quickly played it forward to Perez, who broke into the box and scored with a low shot across Angus Gunn.
Four minutes later, Perez did it again, this time from a Rondon ball from the left.
Sign up to our daily newsletter
Perez, waiting at the far post, beat Gunn to take his goal tally in all competitions to 10.
Newcastle attempted to press on after the break, and Ki Sung-yueng struck the inside of the post with a low shot.
A reorganised Southampton, however, pulled a goal back just before the hour-mark through substitute Mario Lemina, who beat Martin Dubravka with a shot from just outside the box.
Things soon got worse for United, who lost Almiron to an injury in the 64th minute. The midfielder – who had been fouled by Oriol Romeu – left the field in tears.
Defender Schar was forced off in the 69th minute – he was replaced by Federico Fernandez – and Mohamed Diame came on in a final change. Jonjo Shelvey, again, was left on the bench.
United rallied late in the game, and Ward-Prowse stopped a Rondon header on the line.
Gunn, however, couldn't stop Perez scoring his hat-trick. The 25-year-old redirected Matt Ritchie's diving header past Gunn with four minutes left on the clock.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Dubravka; Manquillo, Schar (Fernandez, 69), Lascelles, Dummett, Ritchie; Perez, Ki, Hayden (Diame, 77), Almiron (Atsu, 64); Rondon. Subs not used: Darlow, Shelvey, Muto, Yedlin.
SOUTHAMPTON: Gunn, Bednarek, Yoshida, Stephens (Lemina, 46), Bertrand, Hojbjerg, Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Sims (Armstrong, 46), Redmond, Ings (Long, 76). Subs not used: Forster, Austin, Slattery, Ramsay.
Goals: Perez 27, 31, 86, Lemina 59
Bookings: Ward-Prowse 24, Romeu 62
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe)