There was a moment during Newcastle United’s flawless first-half performance when the ball careered off a Southampton boot and looped unpredictably towards the touchline – only for the ball-boy stationed on the Milburn Stand side of St James’ Park to kill it dead with a peach of a first touch.
Thirty-nine minutes gone, an upbeat United one up and on the cusp of the top four: that deft bit of skill seemed like the perfect metaphor for a home side increasingly confident in their own skin.
What followed was proof that, for all the progress made over the past two months, the Premier League is no place to sit back and feel satisfied with what you have achieved.
Southampton’s stirring, Adam Lallana-inspired comeback showed the sizeable challenges which still lie ahead, as well as laying bare the need for further improvement.
A proud Pardew reflected afterwards: “It was important to keep the momentum going.
“I cannot say to the boys in the dressing room they should have done this or that, that we made errors or didn’t work hard enough, or that we didn’t deserve to win. I actually thought they gave everything they could.”
Pardew’s pride was justified: a point in the context of United’s flying form was a positive outcome.
However, it would be remiss to ignore the issues posed by a second half dominated by Southampton and the most glaring of misses from the most unlikely source.
Loic Remy’s mis-step in front of goal revealed a bigger problem for Pardew - one Newcastle must address in the New Year if they are to continue to mix it with the Champions League contenders.
For all the threat coming from their re-energised midfield, up front they are over-reliant on the free-scoring Remy.
Some will argue Yoan Gouffran, the breakout star of this black and white campaign, is a forward but he has not been deployed in an orthodox striking role by Pardew this season.
Cutting in and drifting off the shoulder of the last man Gouffran is making hay, but Newcastle’s new system needs strikers playing through the middle to produce.
For all that Shola Ameobi is in fine fettle he is yet to find the back of the net. The less said about Papiss Cisse – whose half-hour contribution was far from threatening – the better. Between them they have racked up 1,312 minutes this season without a Premier League goal and that means the goalscoring burden lies squarely on Remy’s shoulders.
This is where the need to stay one step in front of their rivals becomes apparent.
Intriguingly, January is fast approaching for a club who have previously shown themselves to be shrewd operators in a market skewed by desperation and the determination of rivals to alter the course of their season.
To make the most of their autumn advance, Newcastle should import a goalgetter to inject fresh impetus into their forward thinking. It might well have been the difference here.
Given the financial philosophy of Mike Ashley, it seems a mite unrealistic to think Newcastle would add another marquee striker signing to their wage bill without jettisoning someone else first.
More likely than lavish spending is a reshuffle of what they have, with perhaps Cisse falling victim to United’s pursuit of the missing element of this pleasing season.
It might be the difference between grasping the opportunity which has opened up this season and letting it escape them.
Because, elsewhere, Pardew and his team look as comfortable as they ever done in his three years in charge.
With Cheick Tiote leading from the middle and Vurnon Anita proving a capable replacement for Yohan Cabaye, the United midfield which has been so impressive of late purred pleasingly for 45 first-half minutes.
It is difficult to find fault with the balance of the Magpies’ engine room at the moment, which has also benefited from the terrific work-rate of Gouffran and the direct, barnstorming runs of Moussa Sissoko.
In that first half Southampton had the possession but Newcastle had the intentand they notched a deserved opener just after the half-hour mark when Gouffran profited from sloppy Saints defending to latch on to Mike Williamson’s knock-down and befuddle Paolo Gazzaniga before rolling home.
It was his sixth goal of the season from a deep-lying position and that is a really smart return from Newcastle’s modest investment.
“Astonishing,” was what Pardew called him afterwards.
“Not too much was made of him when we signed him but we had played against him in the Europa League and we were very impressed in the two performances he gave against up. We could see as a player he was really committed and he had the quality to play for Newcastle and he’s proved us right.”
Their supremacy was not to last, which was testament to the ability of Lallana – a player Pardew had lobbied Newcastle to bring to the back when he first took over in 2010.
Lallana has poise and composure and given the quality of his cameo performance, it was a surprise he was left out of Maurico Pochettino’s starting XI. He made up for lost time and helped to tilt the midfield battle in the visitors’ favour in a second half that the Saints dominated.
Steven Davis cracked the post with a wonderful volley two minutes before Jay Rodriguez’s excellently worked leveller.
Southampton seemed on top but it was a testament to Newcastle they responded well, something Ameobi said they had worked on.
He said: “When we have had set backs this season we have really dug in. We have worked hard to get back into the game.
“Even if we lose we have won the next game and if you want to do well in the Premier League it is something you have to be good at, not dwelling on the bad points and moving forward as a team.”
Indeed, Newcastle’s feisty response was the signal for a contest brimming with enterprise and excellence and producing chances for either side.
None was better than Remy’s, however, and there was disbelief around St James’ Park at the standard of his finish after Gazzaniga’s awful clearance presented him with a clear-cut opportunity.
Although there was pace on the ball as it spooned off the Southampton goalkeeper’s boot, Remy’s first touch was good enough to tee him up for a very presentable chance at goal. He didn’t even hit the target.
The game ended with two moments of mirth. Referee Mike Jones crashed to the ground after Moussa Sissoko inadvertantly flicked him in the eye and required treatment for a black eye. Then the two benches clashed after Morgan Schneiderlin’s heavy tackle on Massaido Haidara. “Panto stuff,” Pardew said.
It was not comparable to the genuine drama which had gone before it.