Newcastle United had the chance to go ahead of Arsenal in the Premier League table on Sunday. A win would have taken them to 13 points, joint with the Gunners and Chelsea after eight games.
Southampton had other ideas though and despite going behind twice, they bossed possession and were able to grab a point through two goals from Manolo Gabbiadini.
Isaac Hayden, picked ahead of Mikel Merino in the starting line-up by Rafa Benitez, scored his first league goal, firing home after Christian Atsu’s initial effort was blocked with Fraser Forster diving to make the save.
Gabbiadini equalised in the second half with a great left-foot shot, but Ayoze Pérez needed just two minutes to regain the lead.
Mauricio Pellegrino’s men had controlled most of the game and they were well worth the equaliser when Florian Lejeune took out Shane Long inside the box and the Italian striker dispatched the penalty high beyond Matt Elliot.
Here are five tactical takeaways from Southampton’s 2-2 draw with Newcastle United.
Battle of support strikers
Both managers went with 4-2-3-1 on Sunday with forwards playing just behind the main target man.
It was interesting as both Ayoze Pérez and Gabbiadini could easily lead their line and have in the past.
Early on it seemed like the Spaniard had earned the bragging rights, scoring the crucial second goal for the away side, but the Italian would answer back.
Pérez finished with one goal, two shots on target, but just 28 touches. Playing in that role, you would hope for at least one key pass.
On the other side, Gabbiadini also had two shots on target, but like Pérez, no key passes and just one completed dribble.
Not a glowing recommendation for either in that role, but with three goals between them, perhaps they should be playing further forward.
Jonjo Shelvey looked better in the No.10 role when Mikel Merino came into the midfield, and the Saints forward showed his ability to hold the ball up and create his own chances.
Food for thought for both coaches.
Misuse of Shane Long
Pellegrino’s team before the game threw up some questions. Where would Manolo Gabbiadini play in the attack and could Shane Long finally end his goal drought.
The Ireland international hasn’t scored in the Premier League since February 11 against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
Playing Newcastle was his 18th league game since finding the back of the net.
When you are struggling for goals, just 15 in their last 20 home fixtures and three this season – which all came against West Ham United – you need strikers in form, or need to use them to the best of their ability.
Playing as the target-man, going wide and playing in crosses is not how you help Long find the net.
He needs quick low crosses, or the ball into feet.
Southampton had attempted 13 crosses by half-time, three of which found their target and with the 30-year-old making just 16 touches and no shots on target, it’s clear to see Pellegrino’s tactics weren’t working.
In the end he wouldn’t score, but he did play his part in winning the penalty that levelled the game.
Yet, if Pellegrino wants to help his forward, he needs to find a way to get the ball to him in the right positions.
Toon Army Efficiency
Sky Sports put up an interesting graphic during Newcastle’s 2-2 draw with the Saints. They ranked the away side in the bottom four for everything from possession, to passes, short passes, passes in the opposition half and passing accuracy.
It was shown just before Bentiez’s side took the lead through Hayden, but it asked the question, just how had the North-East side managed to pick up 10 points from seven games and sit ninth going into Sunday’s game.
The results suggest that the Toon Army have just been exceptionally efficient this season.
Seventh in terms of shots per games, sixth in shots on target. Although they only make 329.1 passes per 90 minutes, just 18.4 per cent of them are long balls, which puts them below the likes of Stoke City, West Brom, Leicester City, Burnley and West Ham this season.
They are also eighth in terms of key passes made, just below champions Chelsea.
Far from a direct long ball team, they have just been extremely efficient and perhaps lucky at times.
The only issue for Benitez is that it’s hard to sustain those levels for an entire campaign, but it’s fun while it lasts.
Sunday’s goals had their elements of fortune. Atsu’s shot had Forster jumping to his right before falling to Hayden and Pérez’s shot should never have beaten the Saints’ keeper at his near post.
You do make your own luck though and Newcastle’s style of breaking up the pitch quickly is proving effective so far.
Impressive Defences Performances
In the first half, the Newcastle centre-backs had to be alert and ready for the onslaught of crosses coming from the wings.
Florian Lejeune with eight clearances, was just beaten by Jamaal Lascelles with nine.
However, it was Virgil van Dijk who stole the day with his performance in the Saints back-line.
It was only the Dutchman’s third league game of the season, but at the end of the game, some of his clearances from corners saved a point for the home side.
He finished with one tackle, three interceptions and eight clearances. He blocked three shots and he won an incredible eight aerial challenges.
The 26-year-old would have been gutted to end the transfer window at St. Mary’s but he has gone about getting back to his very high level.
Who is England’s No.1?
It was going to be a long day for Fraser Forster after he made a poor first touch early in the first half and nearly conceded through the pressure of Pérez.
He was caught out for Hayden’s opener and then he really should have done better when beaten at the near post for Newcastle’s second.
Joe Hart isn’t having the best of times at West Ham either, which has handed the England No.1 jersey to Jack Butland this term.
The Potters shot-stopper didn’t have the greatest weekends, conceding seven against a rampant Manchester City side.
Although not his fault, it won’t breed confidence.
This season, no English goalkeeper has made more than the 25 Forster has made in eight games. Butland and Jordan Pickford both have 23, with Joe Hart behind on 18.
It’s not the ideal situation for Gareth Southgate, and it may take a few months for the clear favourite to reveal themselves.