Unlucky Saints out of cup
St James's Park
Saints travelled to St James's Park with little to lose in this televised FA Cup match. Despite the shock of relegation and the monumental rebuilding job undertaken by new manager George Burley, the cup run has provided respite from the lacklustre league campaign. The progression to the round of 16 against Newcastle has given Saints a reminder of the big match atmosphere the club should be playing in every week.
Both teams were forced into changes at the start of the match. Due to Saints frantic transfer activity some of the new signings were cup tied, including the impressive midfielder Richard Chaplow, new striker Gregorsz Rasiak and stalwart Danny Higginbotham.
Newcastle had their own problems up front, Alan Shearer failed a fitness test so Kieran Dyer made his first start since August, alongside Shola Ameobi in attack.
In the first half Saints started with an unfamiliar formation of three centre backs, made up of Powell, Lundekvam and Cranie. The defensive formation meant they were on the back foot for long periods during the first half, but the defence dealt really well with the Newcastle attack and the home side failed to make a breakthrough.
On the several occasions Newcastle did create a clear shooting chance 18-year-old keeper Bartosz Biiaklowski was on hand to save the day, the young Pole further enhancing his reputation with a fine first half display. His best save, a world-class tip over from only 12 yards after Ameobi's very powerful drive.
Saints were playing some good approach play of their own in the spells they got forward, the new team just frustrated with a clear lack of understanding in the last third; although this was through no fault of strikers Peter Madsen and Kenwyne Jones, both worked tirelessly. Jones came close several times in the half, once with a header which went just wide and then after he forced Boumsong into a mistake, the Frenchman rescued by Titus Bramble as Jones broke into the box.
At half time George Burley was forced into removing the outstanding Lundekvam due to injury and the Saints boss showed his tactical nous to totally change the pattern of the match during the second half. Rookie Newcastle bosses Glenn Roeder and Alan Shearer were probably expecting Southampton to play the same effective system that had served them well in the first half, but Burley removed Pahars for the pace of Nathan Dyer, brought on Potter for Lundekvam and reverted to a 4-4-2. Newcastle were forced to defend as Saints had an excellent spell at the start of the half, with scoring chances falling to both Jones and Madsen. The closest Saints came was when Given produced a fine save to tip over Jones's drive from inside the box and moments later Madsen hit the top of the bar from a similar chance; both should have scored.
After failing to score in their sustained spell of pressure Saints paid the price as the Toon broke forward, the impressive N'Zogbia drove through the Saints midfield and slid a ball into Kieran Dyer who'd beaten the offside trap and was clean through to slot past Biaklowski with 20 minutes to go.
The game was finished as a contest just 10 minutes later when Biaklowski misjudged a jump and landed awkwardly, jarring his knee. The keeper had to be stretchered off but Saints had used all their substitutions so striker Dexter Blackstock had to don the keepers shirt and gloves, which were way too big for him!
It made for a farcical final ten minutes, Dexter looked like a school kid playing 'rush' keeper in the playground. Saints had little outlet with their target man in goal and the defence looked understandably shaky. Newcastle fans urged their team to shoot as soon as they got the ball.
To his credit Dexter made a heroic effort, producing a string of unorthodox saves and punches for the TV cameras, to proudly keep a clean sheet for the final ten minutes.
It was a shame Saints were denied the chance at a grandstand finale by Biaklowski's injury but they can be proud of their positive display. In the end they were undone by a moment of quality by N'Zogbia and Dyer but otherwise matched Newcastle and were very unlucky not to have earned a replay.
Saints are definitely looking better than a few months ago and can build on this performance, despite the league position the futures still looking promising for George Burley's new team, with his attacking style now staring to become evident on the pitch.
Though Dexter Blackstock deserves a mention for his entertaining goalkeeping cameo, and he kept a clean sheet.