If at first you don’t succeed. Or even at the second attempt. It had looked like being one of those nights for the Newcastle forward, Joelinton, who saw a first-half goal ruled out for handball and then advanced his contender for miss of the season at the beginning of the second period.
The quicksilver Miguel Almirón had crossed and, after a double deflection, the ball sat up for the onrushing Joelinton inside the six-yard box, the goal gaping. When he lifted high, he could have been forgiven for wanting to be a very long way away – say, back in Newcastle.
Joelinton refused to hide. He continued to push. And when the substitute Alexander Isak blasted away from Duje Caleta-Car, Joelinton made another run. This time, he really could not miss from close range and Newcastle were in control of this Carabao Cup semi-final first leg – one step closer to a first cup final since 1999 and, beyond that, a first trophy since the 1969 Fairs Cup.
Eddie Howe could toast the impact of Isak, whose pace, technique and smart movement helped to make the difference on the right but there were plenty of other stars in Newcastle colours, starting with Almirón. Bruno Guimarães was not far behind. He probed relentlessly from midfield.
Once in front, it would have taken a brave person to back against Newcastle, the team with the meanest defensive record by a distance in the Premier League. Their goalkeeper, Nick Pope, had entered the game with nine consecutive clean sheets. The last time he conceded a goal was in the 4-1 league win here – on 6 November.
And yet Southampton, the Premier League’s bottom club, refused to let their heads drop. They had advertised the opening goal just after the hour mark, the substitute, Ché Adams, blowing a one-on-one with Pope and then being denied by a fine save from the goalkeeper.
Southampton thought they had found the equaliser when James Ward-Prowse crossed and one substitute, Samuel Edozie, got the ball back from the far post towards another, Adam Armstrong. The attempted finish was scuffed but the ball came back off Dan Burn, hit Armstrong and went in. It was hard to know in the moment how it got there; it was extremely scruffy. Then the VAR spotted how – with the use of a hand. Southampton’s celebrations were cut dead.
Nathan Jones had been determined to forget Southampton’s woes in the league – for one evening, at least. Nobody had given his team a prayer in the previous round of this competition against Manchester City and look at what happened there. The manager could be delighted with the performance of the full debutant, Carlos Alcaraz, in midfield. The £12.3m signing from Racing Club looked a steal on this evidence.
But in the end there would be frustration, the feeling that Southampton were second best in most of the important areas. Caleta-Car had been booked for a late challenge on Almirón in the 29th minute; he would be sent off for a second yellow card late on after a lunge at the Newcastle substitute, Allan Saint-Maximin. Southampton will begin the second leg at St James’ Park next week as big underdogs.
“Joelinton is mentally very strong – his own journey at Newcastle would epitomise that,” Howe said. “He has a real resilience. He doesn’t get flustered either way – in good times or bad. When we needed him, he was on the spot.”
The number the Newcastle fans had taken in was 644 – the miles by road to complete the round trip from their city, a mission of about 11 hours. It was never going to get in the way of them attending a first semi-final since 2005 when they were beaten by Manchester United in the FA Cup. For Southampton, it was a fourth cup semi-final since 2017.
The pre-match momentum had belonged to Newcastle, what with their club record 15-match unbeaten run in the Premier League, and they were the better team in the first half. Southampton did not get their press right, some of their passing was loose and they were vulnerable to Newcastle’s quick transitions.
Joe Willock blazed high on two occasions and there were a couple of controversies, the first after Joelinton had lashed home in the 39th minute. Willock cut inside and forced Gavin Bazunu to parry and Callum Wilson was then denied by a Mohammed Salisu challenge before Joelinton gobbled up the rebound. The referee, Stuart Attwell, blew for a slightly harsh handball against Joelinton.
The second involved Pope, who left his area to head clear above Moussa Djenepo before cleaning out the Southampton winger, who had to be substituted with a suspected concussion. It looked reckless from Pope, who was fortunate to escape at least a booking. “It was not a good challenge in any way,” Jones said.
Southampton could not handle Almirón’s pace and directness. Three times he surged clear at the start of the second half to cross and three times Southampton were reprieved, most obviously when Joelinton suffered his horror moment. Sean Longstaff also shot high while Sven Botman could not finish after Bazunu had again parried.
Back came Southampton and the turning point was Pope’s first save from Adams, who had been released by Alcaraz’s lovely pass. The second followed a spin and close-range shot from Adams. Alcaraz had almost caught out Pope from distance in the first half.
“Nick is categorically the best goalkeeper in the league,” Jones said. “Maybe not the most fashionable in terms of his feet but definitely in being a goalkeeper. I’m frustrated because we are naive sometimes in our defending and then we miss chances. It’s the make-or-break edges that are missing.”
source: The Guardian