SOUTHAMPTON and Alan Pardew have moved onto bigger and better things since their 2010 divorce but if both were hoping to show off how well they were doing with new partners, only the Saints managed it.
The separation was swift rather than messy, but even now Southampton could not bring themselves to acknowledge Pardew anywhere in the match programme, whereas he made a point of clapping all sides of the ground before kick-off.
While Newcastle United’s manager rarely wants for self-belief, the same cannot be said of his players right now. That was painfully obvious as their run of winless games was extended to six by a 2-0 defeat.
Newcastle are starting to feel sorry for themselves. In his pre-match Press conference Pardew (pictured right) cited 11 injured players but when his team lined up at St Mary’s on a horrible day of sweeping wintry showers, only two first-choice starters were unfit.
It is confidence more than players Newcastle lack, whereas Southampton have belatedly found theirs. So it was that the name echoing around the stadium for much of the match was that of their new beau, Nigel Adkins.
The “Pardew give us a wave” chants in added time were ironic and although he raised a cursory arm in response, he could not look his old flames in the eye. It took 35 minutes for Southampton to score, but it neatly encapsulated the growing problem Newcastle had been giving themselves by defending too high up the pitch. It came courtesy of a player Pardew tried to sign, and one he did.
Whereas Papiss Cissé was often isolated at one end, a pacey Southampton looked dangerous whenever they attacked the other.
The Magpies defenders were on the halfway line when Rickie Lambert released Jason Puncheon. With Tim Krul rushing out of his area to clear – not for the first time – summer Newcastle target Nathaniel Clyne tried his luck from distance.
Mike Williamson did well to head away, and was not to know it was missing the target. Newcastle’s inability to properly clear allowed the dangerous Gaston Ramirez to square for Adam Lallana to tap in.
Lallana was just one of those brought to the South Coast when Pardew managed what was then a League One club.
Shane Ferguson – ironically a left-back – soon switched sides with Jonás Gutiérrez so the latter could give Davide Santon more protection, but the horse had bolted and it did nothing to calm nerves in the last ten minutes of the half.
Even when Newcastle finally dropped deeper, Lallana in particular sliced through them at will. Ferguson had long since made way by then.
Just before he swapped wings, Gutiérrez attempted a pass with the outside of the boot and rather than pick out Steven Taylor or Ferguson, found right-winger Puncheon. Luckily for Newcastle it came to nothing.
A minute later Taylor – watched by a 2,019-strong away contingent which included namesake Ryan – had to throw himself at Morgan Schneiderlin’s shot after Santon failed to track Puncheon. Eventually Taylor limped off hamstrung, another name to add to the list of walking wounded.
Krul was called upon after 19 minutes, racing and sliding out to stop Lambert getting on the end of an underhit backpass from midfielder Vurnon Anita. He made a plunging save from Ramirez’s 25th-minute free-kick.
As the pressure began to build Krul saved with his legs from Ramirez, but was helpless from Lambert’s free-kick which struck the junction of crossbar and right post.
The closest Newcastle came was a problem of Southampton’s own creation – or rather Paulo Gazzaniga’s, who lingered long enough with the ball at his feet for Cissé to close him down, but caught it as it popped up.
Perhaps after liberal use of Pardew’s hairdryer at half-time, Newcastle started the second half brighter, but quickly fizzled out.
Anita was more willing to get forward and looked better for it, Schneiderlin doing well to intercept a Cissé-bound cross. Demba Ba pulled to the back of the box from the corner, but was unable to generate the power or direction to trouble Gazzaniga.
Cissé played Anita through from Krul’s long ball, but his shot was at the goalkeeper. Cheick Tioté also showed willing to get forward, but both are better doing legwork for the injured Yohan Cabaye or Hatem Ben Arfa.
An Anita mistake forced Krul into another save, from Lallana, as Southampton reasserted themselves with the hour approaching.
Even Krul blotted his copybook, unable to hold the slippery ball Puncheon crossed after being played into the byline by neat Lallana skill. Ramirez pounced to double the advantage. It was no coincidence almost all Krul’s saves came with his feet rather than his soggy gloves.
On another day, Southampton might have been content to settle for that, but since every time they went forward it looked as if they might score there was no point holding back.
Puncheon and José Fonte hit the woodwork, while Krul denied substitute Steven Davis and Lallana. An offside flag cancelled out Jay Rodriguez’s goal, wrongly replays suggested.
EMF’s ‘Unbelievable’ greeted the full-time whistle on the tannoy. When Pardew sat in the home dugout results like this were, but it was no cause for satisfaction yesterday.