Newcastle v Southampton: Bruce's Magpies value to take down the Saints
In-form Newcastle host Southampton on Sunday afternoon with the visitors looking for their third win in-a-row. Steve Rawlings takes a look at the intriguing fixture here...
Newcastle v Southampton Sunday December 8, 14:00
Bruce's Boys surpassing expectations
From the moment Rafa Benitez's departure was confirmed in the summer a weight of money was piled on to Newcastle to be relegated from the Premier League and it continued unabated after his replacement, Steve Bruce, took the helm.
With Bruce almost universally considered an uninspiring replacement by fans and pundits alike, Newcastle were tipped up for the drop before the season began and after a sustained gamble, they were matched at a low of 1.66 to be relegated after they lost their first two games - at home to Arsenal and away to Norwich - but they're now up to 11th and out to 5/1 for the drop.
The Magpies haven't lost at home since the opening day of the season and they've scored in each of their last 14 Premier League games at St James' Park.
They're away record isn't as strong but since narrowly losing to Chelsea 1-0 in October, they've lost only one of their last six in the Premier League (away to Aston Villa) and they'll line-up on Sunday, eight days after foiling the champions and three days after pinching the points at Bramhall Lane.
Manchester City may not have been at their best last Saturday but it was impossible to fault Newcastle's fighting spirit having secured a 2-2 draw after trailing twice and their smash-and-grab against Sheffield United on Thursday was a thoroughly professional performance.
The Blades enjoyed as much as 74% of the possession but the Magpies held firm throughout and took their chances. Tricky winger, Allan Saint-Maximin, headed Newcastle in front on 15 minutes (his first for the club) and Jonjo Shelvey slotted home his fourth of the season after the break after the entire United defence stopped when the linesman incorrectly flagged for offside.
Bruce's Boys now have 19 points from 15 games and the new boss deserves plenty of credit. They were six points worse off in the table this time last season under Benitez and it took until January to burst through the 20 point mark.
Saints alive but only just
Southampton boss, Ralph Hasenhuttl, looked like a dead man walking a few weeks ago. A devastating 9-0 home defeat to Leicester was utterly embarrassing and it was followed by a 2-1 defeat to Manchester City away and a far more damaging home loss by the same margin to a desperately poor Everton side.
Having picked up just a solitary point from their previous seven Premier League matches, the Saints rallied well after the Everton match and they were unlucky to leave the Emirates with only a point after Alexandre Lacazette pounced in the 96th minute to save Arsenal's blushes and since that 2-2 draw, the Saints have recorded back-to-back victories for the first time this season.
Southampton's recent results are encouraging but they have to be put into context. Their two victories haven't been convincing (2-1) and they've been at home against the only two teams trading at odds-on for the drop - Norwich and Watford - so in their last four games, they've lost to Everton, who are now below them in the table, in the relegation places, and now managerless, they've drawn with Arsenal, who have since sacked their manager too, and they've narrowly beaten the bottom two teams in the division.
It's a recovery of sorts and you can only beat what's in front of you but it's very hard to make a case for them here given its three seasons since they last won three Premier League matches in-a-row and they sit fourth from bottom in the table.
Toon too strong for sickly Saints
The hosts are in better form than the visitors, they're unbeaten at home in their last six, they've found the net in each of their last 14 at home in the Premier League and if all that wasn't enough, they have a very decent home record against Southampton, having lost just one of their last 14 Premier League encounters at St James' Park - winning ten and drawing three.
In contrast, the Saints haven't won away from home since they beat Sheffield United 1-0 in September and they've conceded in each of their last ten in the Premier League, home and away, since that win at Bramhall Lane.
Both teams have scored in 57% of Newcastle home games and in 57% of Southampton away matches so far this season and that's accurately reflected in the Both Teams to Score market with Yes trading at a shade of odds-on. Shelvey has started netting for the Magpies and Danny Ings is on hot streak for the Saints, scoring in his last four Premier League appearances but Under 2.5 Goals is still odds-on in the Over/Under 2.5 Goals Market and I can see why.
Newcastle's defence performed admirably last week against City, it held firm on Thursday night and so far this season, only two of their seven home games have seen more than two goals scored. There have been goals when the Saints have played away and four of their seven away from St Mary's have seen at least three goals scored but I'm happy to keep things simple and just side with the hosts in the win market.
Southampton have produced a couple of encouraging results of late but they're generally poor. They've conceded in each of their last ten Premier League matches, they've not won away in four and although back-to-back wins is encouraging, they haven't won three in-a-row in the Premier League since May 2016! Everything points to a home win and the Magpies look a very fair price at around 2.70.