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Feb 24, 2013

Joie de vivre back in Toon

On a day when Newcastle fans celebrated their Gallic imports with an array of flags and berets, the team's French connection made the difference against a resurgent Southampton.

The Toon players were welcomed onto the field to the strains of the French national anthem, Tricolors were waving in the stands and there was even a four-minute can-can display at half-time.

But for a while, it had seemed a Southampton Frenchman, Morgan Schneiderlin, would steal the show when he found himself free in Newcastle's penalty area to score the opener on three minutes. His advanced position illustrated the approach favoured by Saints manager Mauricio Pochettino, whose high defensive line can sometimes be dangerous but can also bring positive results.

Pochettino's decision to deploy Steven Davis to man-mark Yohan Cabaye meant the playmaker struggled to dictate the game, with the Saints' tactical approach and intensity posing a test of technique and understanding for Newcastle's players.

But French import Moussa Sissoko, who has helped revitalise the Magpies, pounced on a rebound from a Yoann Gouffran shot to draw the hosts level in a move that exposed the visitors' defensive fragility from wide positions - and there was little Southampton could do about the goal that followed.

Papiss Cisse has an ability to do the spectacular, and his strike drew comparisons to Alan Shearer from his manager Alan Pardew after the game. The former Freiburg striker delivered a dipping long-range half-volley just before half-time, but Pochettino and his staff were frustrated that their side had not won a free-kick for a challenge on Nathaniel Clyne moments before.

Southampton, though, remained undeterred and began the second half displaying the same vim and vigour that had seen them more than match Newcastle during the first period. They were rewarded when a fast counter-attack, finished by Rickie Lambert, broght an equaliser in the 50th minute.

That goal also represented a personal milestone for Lambert. It was his 100th goal for the club since joining from Bristol Rovers, and Pardew, who brought him to Southampton, said afterwards: "He'd been with me for, I think, six weeks and I told him: 'You can play in the Premier League' - but I don't think he believed me."

With the game ebbing and flowing and neither side truly in control, Newcastle regained the lead thanks in part to another January addition. Mathieu Debuchy earned praise from Pardew after the match for his stout defensive contributions, but this rampaging burst forward ended when his cross was adjudged to have been handled in the area by full-back Danny Fox. The penalty was stroked home by Cabaye.

The unlucky own goal that brought about the home side's fourth was harsh on Southampton - but Pochettino was adamant that they had nothing to worry about. "It is obvious that we will stay in the Premiership," he said.

On this display, few can contest that claim. Confident but lacking in good fortune, one wonders whether Southampton now wish they had taken Newcastle's approach in January and invested more in new additions. Meanwhile, Pardew was simply revelling in the joie de vivre his January imports have brought back to Tyneside.


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