The first of 2, two-legged semi-finals turned out to be a scrappy affair at St Mary’s Stadium. Both sides came into the game with highly contrasting league form – with Newcastle having lost just one league game this season, and looingk likely to qualify for the Champions League next season, while Southampton’s story is quite the opposite! The Saints have only four wins all season, and they find themselves rock bottom of the league. Newcastle got past Leicester City 2-0 to make the semi-finals, and Southampton joined them after a shocking victory over Manchester City; Pep Guardiola’s side have won 4 of the last 5 EFL cups.
Southampton XI: Bazunu (GK), Walker-Peters, Lyanco, Caleta-Car, Salisu, Alcaraz, Diallo, Djenepo, Ward-Prowse, Orsic, Mara
Newcastle United XI: Pope (GK), Trippier, Schär, Botman, Burn, Longstaff, Guimarães, Willock, Almirón, Wilson, Joelinton
The opening exchanges were scrappy at best as both teams wrestled for control. The aggressive tone of this match was set in the 28th minute, when Duje Caleta-Car went sliding into Miguel Almirón, who was set free down the right flank. The Croatian international arrived late, and sent the Paraguayan flying – leaving Stuart Attwell no choice but to show the first card of the game.
The first decent chance was created by Newcastle, in a lovely combination between Almirón and Longstaff that set Trippier free on the right wing – his cross was met by the onrushing Willock – but he blazed a volleyed effort miles over the bar.
It looked as if Southampton’s defense had been bested in the 39th minute when Willock burst into the box from the left, checked inside and took a shot – Bazunu was there to make the save and keep the scoreline at 0-0. Salisu made a crucial block from the rebound, but could do nothing as Joelinton picked up the pieces and smashed in from close range. However, it wasn’t to be – as the referee disallowed the goal for a handball, and with no clear and obvious error, VAR could not have been used to overturn his decision.
Almirón and Longstaff combined again, with the latter releasing the winger down the right flank in the 53rd minute. Joelinton produced possibly the worst miss of his career from the resulting cross, blasting far over the bar from within the six yard box. Southampton escaped again!
There was a breakthrough on 73 minutes, in a game that had been crying out for a goal. Attacking down the right flank once again, Newcastle substitute Isak easily glided past Caleta-Car and provided Joelinton with another tap-in, the Brazilian atoning for his earlier error – giving his side a 1-0 lead on the South Coast.
The pace was really beginning to pick up, and after hardly threatening Nick Pope’s goal – Southampton scored. Substitute, and former Newcastle player, Adam Armstrong bundled in from a looping cross- sending St Mary’s crazy. In a cruel turn of fate, the goal was overturned for the same reason as Joelinton’s first ‘goal’ – this time by VAR, robbing Armstrong of a goal against his hometown club.
There was to be one last twist in this game. Fan favourite Allan Saint-Maximin was bought on in the 67th minute, and instantaneously terrorised the Saintss with his mesmeric dribbling. Caleta-Car was having a game to forget, but his woes were not yet complete, Saint-Maximin twisted him in and out before skipping past the centre-back, leaving him no choice but to take the winger down. Caleta-Car was shown a second yellow card, tasking his team to see out the final few minutes minus a player.
Newcastle United go into the next leg with a slender 1-0 advantage- although it should definitely have been more. Southampton were lucky to keep the scoreline to just one; retaining hope for the return fixture on January 31st. St James’ Park will be rocking next Tuesday, as the prospects of a trip to Wembley loom on the horizon.