The teams are out! Southampton in their red and white stripes, Newcastle wearing second-choice blue and yellow. An atmosphere fitting of a major semi-final: the PA is blasting out the Gordon Strachan approved Skids track The Saints Are Coming, but it’s nearly drowned out by the home fans belting out their similarly titled favourite spiritual. Marvellous. We’ll be off in a couple of minutes!
Eddie Howe speaks to Sky. “We’ve been looking forward to this game. The semi-final of a cup competition. It’s a big incentive for us. We know this game will be very difficult today, with Southampton in improved form of late. We have seven days to prepare for our next game, so I expect the lads to give everything. We have a really good bench to change things, but I am backing the players to give a good performance. If we keep creating chances, I back us to take them. Nathan has done a very good job and galvanised the club. We are prepared for a tough one. [Saints’ quarter-final win over Man City] was a hugely impressive performance … so we need to hit our best levels.”
A reminder that Newcastle are, kind of, the reason Jones has the Saints job in the first place. Ralph Hasenhuttl was given the old-heave ho after this rout a couple of months ago. “There are lessons to be learned,” his successor tells Sky. “We’re a different side, but it will have a bearing, because they are the same team.”
Saints boss Nathan Jones speaks to Sky Sports. “Eddie Howe has done a fantastic job. They’re on a wonderful run. We’re getting there. Coming in during mid-season is always difficult … it is a process but we have to get there quickly. We had to stop conceding goals. From that base, you’re able to be more fluent, more aggressive, more potent, and then you can create a good side. We’re starting to grow into the side we want to become. We know where we want to go and how to get there. This isn’t a distraction, it’s a nice, different game to prepare for. But the league is our bread and butter, and the be-all and end-all.”
Saints make four changes to the starting XI named for the narrow 1-0 home defeat by Aston Villa. Carlos Alcaraz and Mislav Orsic make their debuts, while Sekou Mara and Moussa Djenepo also step up; Adam Armstrong, Che Adams, Romeo Lavia and Samuel Edozie drop to the bench.
Newcastle have only lost two games all season, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Eddie Howe names the same XI starters that were sent out for the goalless draw at Crystal Palace last weekend.
Southampton: Bazunu, Walker-Peters, Lyanco, Caleta-Car, Salisu, Diallo, Alcaraz, Ward-Prowse, Djenepo, Orsic, Mara.
Subs: Caballero, Bednarek, Perraud, Lavia, Maitland-Niles, Edozie, Elyounoussi, A Armstrong, Adams.
Newcastle United: Pope, Trippier, Schar, Botman, Burn, Guimaraes, Longstaff, Willock, Almiron, Joelinton, Wilson.
Subs: Darlow, Lascelles, Saint-Maximin, Ritchie, Lewis, Isak, Manquillo, Murphy, Anderson.
Southampton haven’t won a domestic trophy since lifting the FA Cup in 1976; Newcastle United have been waiting even longer, since their FA Cup win of 1955. Both have come close in the interim – Saints reached the finals of the FA Cup in 2003 and the League Cup in 1979 and 2017, Newcastle the finals of the FA Cup in 1998 and 1999 and the League Cup in 1976 – but no cigar. Could this year be the end of the long drought? Everyone’s dreaming. The first leg of the penultimate step to glory kicks off at 8pm GMT. It’s on!