This was a breathless contest but the lasting image belonged to the match-winner, Allan Saint-Maximin, whose backflip in front of the delirious travelling Newcastle support earned him further adulation.
Saint-Maximin struck just as it seemed Steve Bruce’s side would be left frustrated in their attempt to wrestle victory from 10-man Southampton, who had Moussa Djenepo sent off in the first half. Saint-Maximin expertly applied the finish after driving on to a superb first-time ball by the substitute Sean Longstaff to score Newcastle’s first league goal in 439 minutes. It was Longstaff’s first touch but a lasting contribution to earn a first win in six league matches and cap a good week’s work after reaching the FA Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday.
Supporters serenaded Saint-Maximin at the final whistle, when his shirt was hot property, with the winger giving his jersey to a young fan mimicking his appearance with a dreadlock wig and bandana. Fans have taken him to heart and this display heightened their admiration.
“I’m delighted for him,” Bruce said. “I’ve said from day one he’s always going to please everybody. If you haven’t seen him play, then you’re going to enjoy watching him because he is a natural footballer that doesn’t come around too often. He’s got frightening pace, great balance and got that thing where he wants to beat you. He’s frustrating at times and he has to learn but, if he learns, he has a big, bright future.”
For Southampton, who have lost five of their past six matches, this was another dispiriting afternoon. The early sparring was exhilarating, with Alex McCarthy making a superb triple save to deny Miguel Almirón twice from close range after keeping out Dwight Gayle’s initial effort, but things went from bad to worse when Djenepo, Southampton’s jack in a box, inadvertently stood on the ankle of the Newcastle midfielder Isaac Hayden after over-running the ball.
It was a wincing challenge that worsened in slow motion; the referee, Graham Scott, initially booked Djenepo but the video assistant referee, Chris Kavanagh, encouraged him to take a closer look; Scott visited the pitchside monitor and upgraded his decision to a red card. Djenepo, who attended his mother’s funeral in Mali last week, was distraught. “It will take a lot of work in the next weeks to lift his head again, to bring him back with a smile on his face,” said Ralph Hasenhüttl. “It’s a very difficult time for him.”
That disadvantage put Saints on the back foot but Newcastle failed to make them pay. Jamaal Lascelles had a goal disallowed after straying offside but, just as Southampton revelled in Federico Fernández picking up a caution for a clumsy tug at Sofiane Boufal’s shirt, Scott caused further consternation among home supporters. He signalled for another VAR check, this time for handball, and Boufal was penalised for nudging the ball away from Saint-Maximin inside the box with his right arm. Up stepped Matt Ritchie but McCarthy got a brilliant left hand to his penalty kick.
Joelinton, dropped in favour of Saint-Maximin, arrived on the hour mark and then came Valentino Lazaro, who scored his first Newcastle goal in midweek. But, just as Newcastle toiled to convert their dominance into something more palpable, Saint-Maximin delivered. Longstaff swept a pass from the left channel, where Saint-Maximin seized on Yan Valery’s vulnerability and slipped the ball beyond McCarthy, who was finally beaten.