Newcastle United travel to St. Mary's Stadium on Thursday night to face Southampton with just seven points and five places separating the sides and a win for Newcastle would continue Eddie Howe's side's ascent up the table & a potential top half finish.
After beating Brighton 2-1 at the weekend with two quick-fire goals from on-fire Scot Ryan Fraser and Switzerland international centre-back, Fabian Schar in the opening 15 minutes of the game at St. James' Park, Newcastle are 14th in & a run of four away games at Southampton, Chelsea, Everton & Spurs will be a big test of Magpies mettle.
Eddie's Eagles have already crashed the Top 2 not just the Top 10 of the Premier League Form Table and are on the coat-tails of Championship-chasing Liverpool in second place with five wins and a draw in the last six games:
Yet Eddie Howe is remaining ultra-realistic and keeping his feet on the ground having experienced the snakes and ladders nature of The Premier League at Bournemouth and said this when asked about it:
"That is nice to hear but when you are in our position and you have come where we came from, you have got to remain very grounded and humble and know there is still a lot of work to do."
Howe has admitted relegation from The Premier League and time out of the game has changed him as a coach and his Newcastle's side's defensive steel and stranglehold on leads in games when they have one is evidence adversity is often the best teacher.
Saints' March Running Out Of Steam Again?
Southampton were rocked at the weekend after a 4-0 mauling by Aston Villa, Ralph Hassenhuttl's men's joint biggest defeat of the season after Liverpool dispensed with The Saints by the same margin in November, and whether it is the start of a second half of the season decline like last season or a one-off blip remains to be seen.
The Saints have been in good form in 2022 with four wins, two defeats and a draw so far including an excellent 3-2 win at Spurs but, encouragingly for Newcastle, took 4 games to get that Liverpool beating out of their system & history may repeat itself.
When the two sides met back in August, Southampton faced an entirely different Newcastle side, managed by Steve Bruce, and stole a point at the end of the game when ex-Magpie Adam Armstrong was fouled for a penalty by Jamaal Lascelles:
& last season, although Southampton beat Newcastle 3-0 in an excellent peformance at St Mary's in October, The Magpies had their revenge in a 3-2 victory at St James' Park:
Both games in 2020/21 were played behind closed doors due to Covid-19 and Newcastle were the victors the last time Newcastle played at St. Mary's with fans in the stadium thanks to a great game & super winner by French talisman Allan Saint-Maximin:
Saint-Maximin was a second-half substitute last Saturday when Newcastle beat Brighton and Jacob Murphy proved a more than able deputy setting up the first goal for Ryan Fraser with a shot that came off the post into the Scotsman's path to finish and winning the free-kick that Fraser delivered for Fabian Schar to head home and Howe paid tribute to the Newcastle fan winger in his pre-match Southampton presser.
Yet Saint-Maximin's blistering bursts and dribbles in the second half were so essential:
and the exciting sight of The Saint in full flow latching onto fellow substitute Bruno Guimaraes's through balls showed a glimpse of what could be a potent weapon for Newcastle - the French wizard and Brazilian international combining - and the pair who will play a part in Newcastle's future long-term are already developing an understanding.
Howe revealed Saint-Maximin is still struggling for full match fitness after being out for a few weeks so may well be an impact sub again and that he was reluctant to change a winning team as it sends the wrong message to the victorious players:
yet he qualified that by not ruling out changes for tactical reasons and rotation:
Newcastle have two games in four days against Southampton on Thursday then away again to Chelsea on Sunday at 2pm so its likely that Eddie Howe will make some changes to his team this week to keep his sides fresh & firing on all cylinders.
Of his midfield trio, it was the tireless "machine" Joelinton - a nickname given to him in Germany at Hoffenheim by now Blues boss Thomas Tuchel - who excelled again on Saturday against Brighton with both Joe Willock and JonJo Shelvey looking slightly off the pace for which the latter apologised to Newcastle fans via social media:
So expect a change in the middle in the park with Joe Willock being the midfielder to make way for Bruno Guimaraes' first start in a black and white shirt as Newcastle slowly transition to that more possession-based game Eddie Howe desires in order to gain the 'control' of the match that he felt Newcastle lacked somewhat against Brighton when playing a Southampton side who like to pass and press in a similar fashion to their South Coast neighbours.
Howe announced his Newcastle squad has no new big injuries and welcomes the return of Matt Ritchie to training:
Howe claimed he was unaware of any controversy surrounding the rearranged fixture which was originally due to be played on January 2nd when Newcastle asked to postpone the game due to Covid-19 related injury problems and cited his own club being forced to play against Man United with injuries resulting in a 9-0 defeat:
Essentially accusing Newcastle of foul play postponing games until the club bought new players in the January window, Howe dismissed it saying the club had followed the rules but said he was "delighted" to be be able to play the club's new signings:
Howe was relishing the match and chance to extend his side's unbeaten run and winning streak and all three points will put Newcastle on 31 points for the season which will a great platform for the remaining 11 games of the campaign to survive and thrive.
Prediction - Newcastle 2 Southampton 1