Newcastle United desperately need a win as they strive to gain the points that will propel them to Premier League survival, but there is still plenty at stake for opponents Southampton, who still have Europe in their sights.
It was a frustrating afternoon for the Saints last time out as they had a lot of good possession and territory upon their visit to leaders Leicester City, but came away with nothing as the odd good chance was missed and two optimistic penalty claims fell on deaf ears, leaving manager Ronald Koeman none too happy. Just one defensive lapse cost them, and as a result they lost ground on the top six; a fact that is all the more notable as the games begin to run out.
This game has an altogether different meaning as this time Southampton come up against a side that is fighting for its life at the other end of the table, but with a defensive unit that has continually shown itself to be vulnerable up against pace and swift passing. For this reason Sadio Mane could thrive, just as he did after coming off the bench in the last home match against Liverpool before the international break.
There is no margin for error as far as Newcastle are concerned – they simply must take the three points here in order to close the gap that exists between themselves and the safety line and prevent it from widening even further. Six points is a chasm at this stage of the season, and their week has been made all the more difficult by the need to put their agonising defeat at relegation rivals Norwich City behind them. Losing it so late after having the better of the second half was such a cruel blow.
For anybody associated with the Magpies is hard to be positive at present, but that sort of fight they showed in East Anglia was very rarely seen during the previous regime and indeed during the tenure of several managers in the club’s recent past. The arrival of Rafael Benitez may turn out to be a case of too little, too late, but the Spaniard has instigated an improvement in the performance levels of Aleksandar Mitrovic, who has looked a totally different player in recent weeks.
Steven Davis made his 150th appearance for Southampton at Leicester, but begins a spell on the sidelines here. Meanwhile, Shane Long should be fit again after injury.
Defenders Fabricio Coloccini and Paul Dummett are likely to miss out for Newcastle, who are also unable to call upon Jack Colback because of suspension.
Last Meeting: It was no contest in September 2014 as Southampton breezed past Newcastle by four goals to nil in a completely one-sided affair. The first two were scored by Graziano Pelle, who headed in the first before capitalising on an error by Mike Williamson, who was also at fault for the third as Jack Cork found the net. The cake was iced by Morgan Schneiderlin, who expertly curled a ball beyond Tim Krul in the dying stages.