09/08/2015: Newcastle 2-2 Saints
Saints picked up a point in a back and forth season opener at St James' Park. The visitors were largely awful during the first hour or so, and were slightly fortunate not to be further behind. Saints somehow hung in there and could have even added a winner late on, finishing the game strongly.
Saints made a poor start to the game. The visitors struggled to maintain any meaningful possession. There seemed to be a real lack of cohesion going forward, with a lot of hit and hope balls. Newcastle pressed more aggressively and had better control of the ball. Maarten Stekelenburg held on to the ball after Moussa Sissoko had flicked on from a free-kick on the left hand side on 3. A few minutes later Steven Davis blocked Georginio Wijnaldum's shot.
Saints created their first real opening on the 15 minute mark, with Cedric breaking down the right before smashing the ball straight at Tim Krul. Papiss Cisse then immediately tested Stekelenburg at the other end. On 18 Dusan Tadic tried his luck from distance, shooting wide via a deflection. The away side took a surprise lead on 24. Graziano Pelle nodding in from Cedric's cross.
Unfortunately the goal did nothing to settle the away side. Saints' play was still littered with mistakes. Newcastle looked slick in possession and had the visitors' defence on the back foot. Davis cleared off the line after Coloccini had flicked on from a corner. On 39 Stekelenburg did well to cut out Gabriel Obertan's cross. The pressure eventually told, with Newcastle levelling on 42. Cisse chested the ball in from a few yards from a deflected cross.
Saints had a great chance to retake the lead at the start of the second-half; With Krul saving well after Maya Yoshida had headed down from a free-kick. Saints' play was still littered with mistakes, and it was no surprise when Newcastle took the lead seconds later. Obertan got beyond Matt Targett on the right wing, before crossing for Wijnaldum, who headed into the far post.
Saints gradually got into the game during the last half-hour, taking a more patient approach to their build-up play as Newcastle tired. Krul made another good save with his legs after Mane had taken down Rodriguez's ball over the top on 63. On 72 Pelle hit the side netting after shooting well on the turn. The equaliser came with Saints firmly in control of possession. Dusan Tadic's perfectly weighted cross was nodded in by substitute Shane Long in the penalty area.
Both sides went for it during the last 10 minutes, but Saints looked the more likely to score. In stoppage time Mane had a shot blocked from Davis' excellent through ball. The same player then went on an excellent solo run before firing agonisingly wide.
Given how badly Saints played in the first half and for parts of the second, it's difficult not to be pleased with a point. It could so easily have been three at the end, however. Worryingly, Saints just didn't click as a team for much of the game. Perhaps that was due to the lack of preparation time, tiredness from all the travelling or the fact the Ronald Koeman was absent. Either way there is major room for improvement. Saints don't look anywhere near the level they were at twelve months ago, but there is still transfer business to be done and players to come back.
Stekelenburg: 6. Fairly solid. A bit unlucky for the first Newcastle goal
Cedric: 6. Strong going forward, with some excellent crossing. Made too many needless fouls, which meant he had to be substituted at half-time having picked up a yellow card
Fonte: 6. A few good last ditch clearances, but looked a bit uncomfortable on other occasions
Yoshida: 5. Very sluggish. Made quite a few individual mistakes and passing was often wayward. Unlucky not to score
Targett: 5. Could have done with more support, but often beaten by his man
Davis: 7. Some good defensive work throughout. One of the few decent performers in a Saints shirt during the first half
Wanyama: 6. A few good moments, but nowhere near his best
Rodriguez: 5. Didn't offer a lot going forward. Naturally still quite rusty
Mane: 6. It just wasn't happening for him early on. Made one near disastrous back-heel in the first half, but finished the game strongly. Just missing that finishing touch
Tadic: 7. Looked sharp in spells. Some great delivery at times
Pelle: 6. Displayed a decent eye for goal on the rare occasions he received the ball in dangerous areas
Martina: 5. Kept it fairly basic
Long: 6. Yet again made a great impact from the bench
Newcastle: Cisse (42) Wijnaldum (48)
Saints: Pelle (4) Long (89)
Attendance: 49,710 (1,250 Saints fans)
Referee: Craig Pawson
Newcastle line-up: Krul, Janmaat, Mbemba, Coloccini, Haidara, Anita (Tiote 68), Colback, Sissoko, Wijnaldum (de Jong 81), Obertan, Cisse (Mitrovic 75)
Subs not used: Darlow, Aarons, Perez, Taylor
Saints line-up: Stekelenburg, Cedric, Fonte, Yoshida, Targett, S Davis, Wanyama, Tadic, Rodriguez, Mane, Pelle
Subs not used: Gazzaniga, Caulker, Reed, Ward-Prowse, Juanmi