This week Ralph Hasenhüttl said he likes to go under the radar, but it will get harder and harder after Southampton leapt to the top of the Premier League, moving to the top of the English top flight for the first time since 1988.
Che Adams opened the scoring by sidelining Newcastle to extend their unbeaten six games. Southampton, who this time last year worked in the relegation zone, outclassed and outclassed Newcastle.
On the sideline, Hasenhüttl choreographed another fine performance from Southampton, cajoling his supercharged players from first kick to last. Newcastle, on the other hand, were decidedly flat and finally the pressure said it, when Stuart Armstrong secured the points eight minutes from time.
All Southampton players joined in the celebrations and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy had so little to do until he saved superbly from late substitute Joelinton he might as well have joined the clique.
For Southampton, the big question was how, or maybe even if, they were going to cope without Danny Ings, their talisman who is expected to be missing around six weeks after undergoing minor knee surgery on Thursday.
The simple answer was clever, with Adams clicking seven minutes, seconds after forcing Karl Darlow to make a smart save. Darlow pushed Adams back the first time around, but was overwhelmed by the attacker’s first volley moments later.
Adams ended flatly on Theo Walcott’s net cross, but it was the kind of goal that had Steve Bruce tearing his hair out. Rather than cleaning up Newcastle’s lines, Miguel Almirón chose to try to twist and get out of trouble. But, guilty of playing on possession at the edge of the 18-yard penalty area, Kyle Walker-Peters put pressure on the Newcastle midfielder and Walcott grabbed the ball to feed Adams.
The Ings may have been their main source of goals over the past two seasons, but there is more substance in this Southampton side below the surface. They worked their way through a one-sided first half, with Walcott, who replaced Ings in attack, nearly doubling Southampton’s advantage three minutes before the break. Moussa Djenepo’s deft blow knocked out Fabian Schär and found Walcott, who cut inside Newcastle captain Jamaal Lascelles before attempting to fold a shot in the far corner. Just before the break, Adams, breathing into Schär’s neck from inside the box, was penalized for a foul, which saw Newcastle win.
Seconds after kick-off, a few fireworks splashed across the sky behind the Northam End, which is usually home to a robust contingent of travelers. Here Newcastle have played in sparkling yellow, as the kit makers say, but other than Allan Saint-Maximin who comes to life every now and then, Bruce’s side have struggled to give Southampton a lot to think about. Newcastle were swarmed in midfield, with Jeff Hendrick and Sean Longstaff overwhelmed by the ferocity of Oriol Romeu and tenacious Southampton captain James Ward-Prowse making some timely interventions.
He bit after Jack Stephens, playing left-back in the absence of injured Ryan Bertrand, played a loose pass that gave Callum Wilson a rare opportunity to pounce on goal and later grabbed the ball. ‘a marauding Jacob Murphy. Romeu, meanwhile, passed the mark by roughly stepping on an accelerating Saint-Maximin halfway through, as he was about to ignite the afterburner. Newcastle’s only goal in a disappointing first half came when Longstaff headed straight for McCarthy after meeting a Jamal Lewis cross.
At times Southampton played for Newcastle and when a single pass was overcooked for Saint-Maximin, a frustrated Bruce scratched behind his ears and put his hands to his face.
Southampton looked for an elusive second goal but Darlow saved Romeu superbly, going from the edge of the box with his fingertips to a piledriver. Moments earlier, Lascelles cleared the line after Jan Bednarek snagged the goal of the ball after center-back partner Jannik Vestergaard hit a corner in his path.
“Keep it there, let them run,” Hasenhüttl said, as Bednarek took possession in the heart of the defense. For much of the night, Newcastle chased shadows.