After a weekend without a first team fixture, Southampton are back in action on Sunday in the North East.
Saints make their longest journey of the season a day later than originally scheduled due to the Magpies’ Europa League involvement on Thursday, with kick-off set for 1.30pm on Sunday afternoon.
The Barclays Premier League table has a more even feel to it heading into this weekend with most clubs now having 26 games behind them, as 15th placed Saints prepare to go head-to-head with Newcastle who sit 16th due to inferior goal difference from Mauricio Pochettino’s men.
Pochettino is unlikely to be looking back however, given his side’s 3-1 victory over reigning champions Manchester City a fortnight ago, a result which gave the Argentine his first success as Saints manager.
Opponents Newcastle were also without a fixture last weekend, but travelled to the Ukraine to play Metalist Kharkiv in the Europa League on Thursday with the Magpies almost certain to rotate their squad in both fixtures.
The form guide remains encouraging for Saints, who have had just one defeat in the last nine league matches, with that loss also the only one in the previous six trips away from home. Rickie Lambert has scored in five of the last six matches on his travels.
The Geordies fare better at home though, as six of their seven league victories coming at St James’ Park this season. Back-to-back wins against Aston Villa and Chelsea were followed by a narrow 2-1 defeat at Tottenham last time out.
Newcastle have also declared Sunday as ‘French Day’ to recognise the growing Gallic contingent in their squad, which now stands at ten players. Whether this will be a wise move on the back of England’s six nations match with France on Saturday evening, remains to be seen!
Saints will hope that the enforced break will have given valuable recovery time for players on their way back to full fitness, including defensive duo Jose Fonte and Vegard Forren.
Guly has been sidelined since the end of January, whilst Emmanuel Mayuka will be looking to put himself into contention after making the bench for the win over Manchester City.
Playmaker Hatem Ben Arfa could make his long awaited comeback from injury for the hosts, whilst defenders Davide Santon and Mathieu Debuchy, as well as striker Yoan Gouffran, are all also likely to be involved.
In recent times, St James’ has not been a happy hunting ground for Southampton, who have not won on their last nine trips there in league and cup.
The last success on Tyneside was a 1-0 win on 1st March 1997.
Prior to this season, we last met in the league during the 2004-05 campaign, in which the Geordies completed a double of 2-1 victories.
However, earlier this season Saints were 2-0 winners over the Magpies at St Mary’s thanks to a goal in each half from Adam Lallana and Gaston Ramirez, a result which lifted the hosts out of the relegation zone.
Overall, there have been 85 meetings between the two teams, and it’s a close call with Newcastle winning 34 of those matches to Saints’ 32, and 19 games ending in a draw.
Chris Foy will referee Sunday’s game, and he will be assisted by Mr S Beck and Mr H Lennard. Mark Halsey is the fourth official.
Tickets have SOLD OUT for this fixture. Please do not travel without a ticket.
You can listen to live commentary courtesy of BBC Solent on Saints Player, where you can keep up to date with all the stats and scores from around the country.
Mauricio Pochettino will speak to Saints Player ahead of the game, and you can watch his interview on the club’s official video channel later this week.
Fans travelling to Tyneside are asked to contribute to our next official matchday programme by sending in their pictures via Twitter and Instagram – just add the hashtag #MarchingIn.
You can also email your photos from throughout your trip north to firstname.lastname@example.org