For Eljero Elia, the on-loan Dutch forward whose career flat lined after impressing as the Netherlands reached the World Cup final in 2010, a brace on his Premier League debut against Newcastle provided a certain sense of redemption. The relief expressed on his face as he ran towards Southampton manager Ronald Koeman and embraced him, almost like a son with his father, told its own story for a footballer with obvious talent who has been given a chance to impress in England after a frustrating few years at Werder Bremen.
Elia’s excellence proved to be the difference between two sides experiencing opposite fortunes so far this season. The win elevated the Saints to third place while Newcastle’s resolve to find a new manager became ever so slightly more desperate, despite a credible performance and, had a penalty been awarded against Jose Fonte for a handball deep in stoppage time, could have ended in a deserved draw. It was not to be and a second successive defeat for Newcastle adds to the worrying record of just two wins in the last eleven games in all competitions, neither of those wins coming under the reign of caretaker manager John Carver. The St. James’ Park faithful looked visibly frustrated by the match’s end, the toll of a poor run and the club’s increasingly dragging pursuit for a new manager getting to them more and more.
The Tynesiders came into the contest with the joint-top highest injury list in the league, missing nine players, a state that was compounded by the below-par performances from some of Carver’s players. Right-back Daryl Janmaat and captain Fabricio Coloccini, historically reliable defenders, were particularly deficient in their attempts to contain Southampton’s attacking unit of Elia, Dusan Tadic, James Ward-Prowse and Graziano Pelle. Newcastle could have taken the lead in the opening minutes however, had Yoann Gouffran’s ferocious volley from 25 yards gone anywhere other than straight at Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster. Saints boss Koeman, missing the influential midfield duo of Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama, fielded an under-strength side that still contained invention and solidity.
It was Ward-Prowse’s incisive pass that led to the game’s first goal, finding the incoming Elia who then held off pressure from Janmaat and fired under goalkeeper Tim Krul, an effort against the run of play that really should have been saved by the Dutch stopper. This was Elia’s first of the campaign in both England and Germany and his celebration showed how much it meant to him. Ward-Prowse was at the heart of another golden opportunity for Southampton, his bending free-kick from the right finding defender Fonte who headed just over the bar. Despite going behind Newcastle remained resolute, playing with a vigour, flair and urgency that was evident in their last Premier League match against Chelsea.
Their persistence paid off in the 29th minute in the most fortunate of circumstances; Remy Cabella’s through-ball into the box was intercepted by Florin Gardos but the defender’s clearance smashed against Gouffran’s knee and ballooned into an empty net. A freakish, but warranted outcome for Newcastle’s tenacity and the French striker’s first goal in over 47 hours of league football. The home side upped the ante thereafter and could have found themselves in the lead when Cabella’s pinpoint pass found striker Ayoze Perez, whose half-volley unluckily flew just wide of Forster’s left-hand post.
Gouffran really should have given his side the lead 15 minutes into the second half but his tame header from a Cabella ball into the area was well wide of the goal. Newcastle were left to rue the missed opportunity just a minute later when Southampton substitute Shane Long’s flick on found Elia whose shot deflected off Janmaat and past Krul into the net. Another Southmapton goal slightly against the run of play but one which showed the gulf in quality between the two sides. Graziano Pelle was extremely unfortunate not to add to his side’s lead and score his first league goal since December when his header from right-back Nathaniel Clyne’s cross rattled against the bar.
The Saints’ second had knocked the stuffing out of the home side and they struggled to find their rhythm thereafter, but had a chance to equalise when a corner from Jack Colback reached defender Paul Dummett, who headed wide of Forster’s right-hand post. Scrambling for a last minute leveller, Newcastle pressed and substitute Emmanuel Riviere struck towards goal, an attempt blocked by the hand of Southampton captain Fonte. Newcastle’s angry appeals were dismissed by referee Robert Madley and Fonte could count himself very lucky not to have conceded a penalty. In the end, Newcastle were swept aside by two impressive efforts from the debutant Elia, who marauded the pitch with zip, energy and purpose and deserved his two strikes.
The win means Southampton remain an unlikely contender for a place in next season’s Champions League, ahead of the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool, putting to bed fears that the pre-season exodus of the club’s best players would threaten its Premier League status. The victory also means that the South Coast side have been unbeaten in all competitions since 16th December. They will be aiming to extend that record in their next game against Swansea.
As for Newcastle, defeat leaves them in 11th place, the absence of a manager having a detrimental effect on results. With a degree of uncertainty concerning when a new man will be appointed, morale at St. James’ Park is understandably low. John Carver has frequently stated he would love the job, but the delayed decision suggests the Newcastle board may not have long-term faith in their temporary manager, especially after admitting a manager may not be appointed until the summer. An away day at Hull is Newcastle’s next Premier League assignment and, with a number of players due to return from injury, and with Hull’s poor form as of late, the North East side will be hoping for better fortunes next time out.
Man of the Match Eljero Elia (Southampton)