Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez said he ‘wants to compete’ after watching his team beat Southampton at St James’s Park.
Ayoze Perez made the difference, scoring all three goals as they saw off a spirited second-half performance from the Saints.
Benitez, who is out of contract in the summer, said nothing had changed in regard to his job situation and suggested he still needs assurances before deciding his future.
“We are in the same position as we were before,” he said. “When I came here, I could see the potential of the club to be challenging, certainly for seventh to 10th in the table but looking higher.
“But when you analyse the transfer fees and wage bills of other teams, we’re not competing.
“I am the manager until 30 June. We can see the potential. When you see the teams between seventh and 15th, we have to compete with them.”
Benitez suggested earlier in the week that he wanted to manage in the Champions League again, which will leave Newcastle fans nervous that he will not renew his contract when it expires.
For now though, this win propelled Newcastle into 12th place in the Premier League table, 10 points above the relegation zone and almost certainly safe for another season.
“Mathematically, we will have to wait and see what happens,” Benitez said. “But I think we will be safe.”
For Southampton, an improved second-half performance yielded only substitute Mario Lemina’s goal and they sit just five points above Cardiff in 18th with four games to play.
|Battle to stay up|
|Date||Cardiff fixtures||Brighton fixtures||Southampton fixtures|
|21 April||Liverpool (H)|
|23 April||Tottenham (A)||Watford (A)|
|27 April||Fulham (A)||Newcastle (H)||Bournemouth (H)|
|4 May||Crystal Palace (H)||West Ham (A)|
|5 May||Arsenal (A)|
|12 May||Man Utd (A)||Man City (H)||Huddersfield (H)|
Clinical Perez on fire for Newcastle
Perez had scored four in his last seven homes games as well as the winner at Leicester last weekend and he continued his fine run of form with a superbly taken hat-trick.
His first was a perfectly placed clipped shot, kissing the inside of the far post after Isaac Hayden had won the ball back in midfield.
He followed that up two minutes later as his determination to meet Salomon Rondon’s low cross ahead of Ryan Bertrand bought him and his team a second goal.
After Newcastle had toiled in the second half, he completed his hat-trick with just four minutes left, poaching a close range header after Matt Ritchie had bravely dived in to win a rushed Southampton clearance.
Perez has now got 10 Premier League goals this season, the first Newcastle player to do so since Georginio Wijnaldum in 2015-16.
Perez’s burgeoning confidence crowned a strong performance from Newcastle who, after a 10th place finish last season, are chasing down the top half of the table once again.
Benitez has done a remarkable job on limited resources but, with Premier League survival almost certainly secured, it is surely imperative that they keep hold of him and back him significantly if this club is going to return to where it feel it belongs, challenging at the higher end of the table.
Saints fail to take their chances
Southampton had won four of their previous six games in the Premier League but it took time for them to warm up in the Easter sunshine at St James’ Park.
In a disappointing first-half performance, they were barely involved as Newcastle’s full-pitch pressing game squeezed the life out of Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side.
Indeed, it could have been worse for the Saints, had referee Anthony Taylor not showed leniency when last-man James Ward-Prowse cynically took out Miguel Almiron.
Tactical changes at half-time however gave them a boost and substitute Mario Lemina took his opening superbly, slotting home after fellow sub Stuart Armstrong’s lay-off.
Maya Yoshida ought to have levelled matters but he somehow volleyed over with the goal at his mercy midway through the second half. The Japanese defender should also have scored in injury time but his header was brilliantly turned aside by Martin Dubravka.
Despite the improvement, it’s a reality check for Hasenhuttl’s team who are not mathematically safe and may require points from their remaining games to ensure Premier League survival.
Man of the match: Ayoze Perez (Newcastle)
‘We’re still far away’ – what they said:
Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez: “The main thing was to win. I’m really proud of this group of players for working so hard.
“Ayoze has to be consistent but he is capable of doing this kind of thing [scoring hat-tricks] and has the quality.”
On his own future: “Today, we will enjoy it. In an ideal world I want to compete for something. That’s the main thing. If you analyse the transfer fee and wage bill, it’s far away.
“We’ll keep preparing the team and see.”
Newcastle’s hat-trick hero Ayoze Perez: “It’s an unbelievable feeling to get three goals and get three important points. I need to thank my team-mates for the way we are playing and I am very proud of myself for the hat-trick.
“It’s been a couple of months that are very important for us. We’ve done very well, We’ve got great results and now that we’re safe we’re going to start looking forward and up and finish even better.”
Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl: “The first half was too bad so we didn’t deserve to get anything. If you start like that and are 2-0 down at half-time, it’s hard to come back.
“Changing shape caused more problems for Newcastle. They didn’t have a lot of chances in the second half, apart from hitting the post, which was lucky.
“We have to be sharper and more aggressive. We know we are not safe – 40 points is the reason why it’s a crucial game on Tuesday. We need to be concentrated and hard working.”
Saints join City and Spurs in goal record – the stats
- This was Newcastle’s sixth home Premier League win of 2019 – only Man City (8) and Arsenal (7) have won more.
- Southampton have lost three of their last four away Premier League games (W1 D0 L3), having lost just one of their first four away matches under Ralph Hasenhuttl (W2 D2 L1).
- Ayoze Perez’s hat-trick was Newcastle’s first in the Premier League since October 2015, when Georginio Wijnaldum scored four times against Norwich City.
- Ayoze Perez has scored 10 Premier League goals this season – his best tally in a single top-flight season for Newcastle United.
- Newcastle’s Ayoze Perez has scored seven goals in his last seven Premier League appearances at St James’ Park.
- Salomon Rondon has been involved in more Premier League goals than any other Newcastle player this season (15: 9 goals, 6 assists).
- Southampton goalkeeper Angus Gunn conceded a Premier League hat-trick 25 years and 11 days after his father Bryan Gunn conceded one in the Premier League against Southampton in April 1994, with Matt Le Tissier scoring a treble for the Saints that day.
- Southampton have scored 12 Premier League goals from outside the box this season, a joint high along with Man City and Spurs.
Southampton face Watford on Tuesday, 23 April at Vicarage Road (19:45 BST) while Newcastle travel to Brighton on Saturday, 27 April (17:30 BST).