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Newcastle United-Southampton Preview
With one victory and 12 goals in 18 league matches between them, things are indeed bleak both on Tyneside and the South Coast for Newcastle United and Southampton, respectively.
It may be too early to call Saturday's matchup at St Mary's a six-point relegation belter, but it's clear both sides are in desperate need of something to jump start their flagging campaigns.
History is continuing to mount against Rafa Benitez and Newcastle (0-2-7), who are one of two Premier League sides without a win and off to their worst start in the top flight in 120 years. The Magpies became just the fourth top-flight team to lose their first five home games in a season following their 1-0 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion last weekend.
The other three - Manchester United (1930-31), Portsmouth (2009-10) and Bolton Wanderers (2011-12) were all relegated.
Benitez's frustration of not receiving help from Newcastle club owner Mike Ashley in the form of spending in multiple transfer windows gave way to outright despondency over his team's plight after the most recent loss in which the Spaniard told The Times he hopes "to find three teams worse than us" when it comes to the upcoming relegation scrap.
Ashley was again present at the match, the fourth straight one he has attended, but the atmosphere continues to grow more toxic around St James' Park as the supporters continue their call for him to sell the team. There was a banner with the word "contempt" written across a picture of Ashley's laughing face outside the stadium grounds as the club - still without a trophy since 1955 - faces a potential third relegation to the Championship in Ashley's 12 years of owning Newcastle.
Benitez, though, has not lost to the team, and still has support of the most important player of the club - talisman and centre back Jamaal Lascelles.
"I don't think anyone in the stadium can question the manager about anything," Lascelles stated. "Whether it's to do with substitutions, tactics or whatever - they can't question the manager, because he knows football better than anyone in this whole stadium.
"People might say he should have brought this or that player on, but he's done it at the top level and won trophies, so he knows. He wants us to play a certain way and if we can't do that as players, it's down to us. The gaffer can only deal with what he's got. As players we've got to take responsibility ourselves. We have to get together and talk about it."
But talking about the lack of goals is not going to make them suddenly appear. Newcastle's six goals are third-fewest in the top flight, ahead of only Crystal Palace (5) and Huddersfield Town (4), and the squandering of the two goals scored in their devastating loss at Manchester United before the international break only adds to the urgency.
Striker Salomon Rondon returned to training this week after being sidelined the last three matches with a thigh injury, but it is clear Benitez lacks quality options to lead the line as the Venezuela international, Joselu and Yoshinori Muto have combined for four of their seven goals in all competitions.
Southampton (1-3-5) are enduring a similar stretch of futility - Mark Hughes' side are winless in their last six matches (0-3-3) in all competitions. Their scoring drought in league play reached 385 minutes after a 0-0 draw at Bournemouth last weekend in a South Coast derby, but Hughes was pleased with his team's attacking intent as they nearly stole three points late.
"We're not pleased with the one point, because I think we deserved more than that," Hughes told Southampton's official website. "I thought in terms of clear cut chances on the day, ours were obviously more clear cut and we had more potential to convert, but in the end it's a good performance."
Like Newcastle, the Saints have had issues at home. Southampton have three goals and two points from their four home matches, and with Hughes claiming just 14 points from his 17 matches in charge after taking over to help escape the drop last season, it is clear that there will be another such battle on his hands this term.
"Don't underestimate the ability of Newcastle because they're a good side, they've got good talent, good pace in the wide area and up to as well," Hughes warned at his Thursday news conference to The Chronicle Live.
"We've got to be ready for a real tough test against Newcastle. I feel we're ready and we're confident in what we're going to do - but it's important nobody underestimate the threat Newcastle bring."
Striker Charlie Austin appears to have done enough to retain his starting spot alongside Danny Ings, who is Southampton's top scorer with three goals in league play and four overall. Hughes is sweating over the fitness of midfielder Mario Lemina, who was forced off against the Cherries due to a knee injury. The other concern for Lemina is he is carrying four yellow cards - the next one will result in an automatic one-match ban.
The Magpies took four points from the two meetings last year, winning 3-0 at home and settling for a 2-2 draw at St Mary's as Manolo Gabbiadini completed his brace with a penalty on 75 minutes. Newcastle's lone victory at Southampton in 17 Premier League matches (1-4-12) was a 2-1 triumph in 2004.
Updated October 25, 2018