The walk was deliberate, towards the corner of a raucous St James’ Park, and then Rafa Benitez waved to those in the Gallowgate End of the stadium.
Whether an emphatic victory in which Ayoze Perez starred with an excellent hat-trick will alter the position of those in charge at Newcastle in negotiations with the Spaniard remains to be seen. The date 30 June draws ever nearer, and so, those inside the ground gave a rousing show of where their feelings lie. “We want you to stay,” was a backdrop chant of the afternoon.
It was Benitez’s fellow countryman who so demanded the game was about him. He clutched the match ball as he left the field. There have been times when Perez put his fingers in his ears in seriousness about the mixed views on Tyneside of his ability. No more. His smile as he disappeared down the tunnel was hard not to warm to. A young man who moved to Newcastle when he was just 19, moving into the club’s all-time Premier League top 10 scorers.
It had been a noisy afternoon on Tyneside. A late kick-off, Premier League football all but assured and the opportunity to show backing for Benitez, as the clock ticks down to the end of his current deal.
That was the case, and that atmosphere was cranked up in the 23rd minute. At that point Newcastle had broke in a two on one, with Miguel Almiron and Salomon Rondon both around five yards inside their own following a clearance from Fabian Schar.
Only James Ward-Prowse was in a defensive position for the visitors, and he decided to take out Almiron with his body.
Referee Anthony Taylor ran to the offending player and brandished yellow. There was huge anger on the Newcastle bench, as there was in the stands of St James’ Park. Such was the fury amongst Benitez and his staff that first team coach Mikel Antia was sent to the stands. Benitez carried on the row with Kevin Friend, the game’s fourth official. Only in the distance Almiron had still to travel came any form of reason as to why it was not deemed an obvious goalscoring opportunity.
Nothing came from the free-kick but a sense of injustice filled the stadium, and those in black and white, and within four minutes they led.
That desire saw Isaac Hayden turn the ball over as Southampton attempted to play out from the back. He fed Perez and the Spaniard, whose fortunes this season have increased dramatically following the signing of Almiron, ran, went past Maya Yoshida and then fired a low, angled shot into the bottom corner of Angus Gunn’s goal.
Four minutes later Perez gave a fine show of desire, driving from the halfway line after Salomon Rondon had gone down the Newcastle left. The on-loan centre forward delayed his final ball before sending over a left footed cross that Perez, charging into the penalty area drove past Gunn.
It was to be his day, but Southampton had the desire to find a route back into the game. They started the second half brightly and after Yoshida had headed wide, Mario Lemina tucked a neat 18 yard finish beyond Martin Dubravka.
Ki would strike the post for the home side and there was a brilliant save from Gunn to deny Isaac Hayden’s well struck volley.
Newcastle needed another to feel safe. With four minutes remaining Matt Ritchie bravely sent a diving header goalwards and there was Perez to head in his third.
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