Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino accused some of his players of “giving up” during their 3-0 defeat at Newcastle.
Kenedy scored twice for the Magpies, with his first coming after just 63 seconds, and Matt Ritchie added a third as the hosts eased their relegation fears with a fine win that leaves them five points clear of safety in 13th.
But Pellegrino’s team were desperately poor and are just a point above the relegation zone in 17th.
“The spirit of the team and the attitude is everything,” the Argentine said. “We have been talking about this a lot.
“You can have good players, you can have a budget, but without personality and spirit, it’s really difficult to compete at this level.
“When you concede in the first minute, you feel the game will be tough and every single negative impact is massive for you.
“I observed some players who gave up and we cannot show this. We were never a threat for Newcastle.”
Kenedy scored his first goal since joining Newcastle on loan from Chelsea when he collected Jonjo Shelvey’s pass on his chest, spun and shot on the half-volley past Alex McCarthy.
The Brazilian doubled the advantage when he finished off a quick counter-attack following a Southampton corner after good work by Ayoze Perez and Dwight Gayle.
The hosts added a third in the second half when Shelvey set up the unmarked Ritchie, who steered his shot from 20 yards into the bottom corner.
Southampton’s best chance fell to substitute Josh Sims, but his 20-yard strike was well saved by Martin Dubravka.
Benitez’s Newcastle continue to impress
This result, which came after Newcastle beat Manchester United in their previous home game, again highlights the great job Rafael Benitez is doing in trying circumstances.
With owner Mike Ashley wanting to sell the club and a proposed takeover falling through in January, Benitez was left without money to sign any players in the latest transfer window.
Instead, the ex-Liverpool, Chelsea and Real Madrid boss took three players on loan – impressive goalkeeper Martin Dubravka from Sparta Prague, Brazil Under-23 international Kenedy from Chelsea, and striker Islam Slimani from Leicester, who is yet to play for Newcastle because of injury.
Kenedy had only played five cup games for Chelsea this season, with his hopes of first-team football at the London club not helped when he was sent home from a pre-season tour of China after ill-advised Instagram posts.
Today, he was excellent. With barely a minute gone, Shelvey played the ball over the top and Kenedy showed great skill to jump, take the ball on his chest, spin past defender Cedric Soares and give Newcastle the lead.
His second goal came less than 30 seconds after Southampton had taken a corner. Saints midfielder Mario Lemina failed to connect with a shot, Perez led a counter-attack and played it into Gayle, whose first-time unselfish pass gave Kenedy a tap-in.
Newcastle’s third goal was helped by more poor Saints defending as an unmarked Shelvey passed to Ritchie, who had time and space to guide a low shot into the bottom corner.
Woeful Saints need to improve
Southampton are playing in their sixth consecutive season in the Premier League, and have not finished lower than 14th in any of the previous five campaigns.
But they must improve dramatically on this performance if they are going to have another year in the top flight.
They had 63% of the ball, but did little with it and did not register a shot on target in the first half.
They were not helped by some terrible defending as they gave Shelvey far too much space to play in passes for the first and third goals, and to concede less than 30 seconds after taking a corner is not good enough in the top flight.
Saints midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was unhappy with the performance of his side and said: “There is no chance of us going out like this again next week. We are much better than this, we have no excuses.”
The result will also put the future of manager Mauricio Pellegrino, who played under Benitez at Liverpool and Valencia, in doubt.
Pellegrino was appointed in the summer, when an eighth-placed finish and League Cup final appearance were deemed not enough for former boss Claude Puel to keep his job.
This result means Southampton have won just once in their past 17 league games, but what may be of greater concern was the manner of their defeat and their capitulation.
The Saints have eight games left to secure their survival, including tricky-looking fixtures against Arsenal, Chelsea, Leicester, Everton and Manchester City, although their fixtures also include matches against bottom-half teams Swansea, West Ham and Bournemouth.
‘Southampton were borderline disgraceful’ – analysis
Former England midfielder Jermaine Jenas on Match of the Day
Newcastle were brilliant, they had a game plan and they bullied Southampton from minute one and Southampton did not know how to handle them.
In the midfield, Jonjo Shelvey and Mohamed Diame were solid and Newcastle won most of the second balls.
It is worrying times for Southampton. They were abysmal, shocking, borderline disgraceful. They did not seem to have any plan and a lot of it was passing for the sake of passing.
Their players seemed to take the easier option every time and at half-tempo. I really fear for Mauricio Pellegrino.
Man of the match – Kenedy (Newcastle)
Southampton concede another goal from outside the area – the stats
- Newcastle kept a clean sheet for the first time in 13 league games against Southampton, since a 1-0 win in October 2003.
- The Magpies scored as many goals this afternoon as they had in their previous six combined at St James’ Park in the Premier League (three).
- Matt Ritchie’s strike was the 12th goal Southampton have conceded from outside the box in the Premier League this season, more than any other side.
- Kenedy’s opener was his first in the Premier League for Newcastle and his second overall in the competition. His first came after 39 seconds (vs Norwich in March 2016), while the first goal today came with 63 seconds on the clock.
- Kenedy is the first Newcastle player to score twice at St James’ Park in the Premier League since Georginio Wijnaldum in May 2016.
- After a run of 10 Premier League games without a goal or assist, Dwight Gayle has had a hand in four goals in his last four appearances in the competition (two goals, two assists).
- Jonjo Shelvey provided two assists in a Premier League game for the fourth time in total, and the first time since May 2015 for Swansea against Stoke.
‘We did not represent the club’ – what they said
Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino said: “The first goal in the first minute had a massive impact on my players. From this moment we could not react, the spirit of the team was really poor. Without spirit, without character, we can play badly and we can have a difficult day.
“We have to show the spirit and that’s the biggest problem today. I have not seen one game this season like this at all.
“When you do not play a good game, you have to show you are on the pitch, even running, even fighting, even playing football, and do the best we can. The worst thing was the attitude.
“We are in this position for a good reason, but we still have eight games and we are still alive. We have to say sorry to the fans. We did not represent the club with the values that the club has got.”
Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez said: “We knew it was a massive game for us, against a team close to us in the table. We needed to do well. The players approached it well, the intensity they showed, they way they moved the ball, it was very pleasing.
“You need a bit of luck score early. We scored a second and needed the third just to kill the game. You could see the hard work they put in for the clean sheet. When you see the players working so hard, as a manager you have to be pleased.
“We know Southampton have most of possession in their games, and after the goal they had to take the risk and attack. So we can be organised. When you play against a team who have possession and pass a lot, you have to defend well and counter attack.
“Five points [above the relegation zone] is good but there is still plenty to do. I have confidence in the team that we can do it.”
Newcastle have a three-week gap before their next fixture as they are not in action again until 31 March, when they entertain Huddersfield Town.
This was the first of four successive away games for Southampton. They next play in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup against League One Wigan Athletic on Sunday, 18 March. Their next Premier League game is at West Ham on 31 March.