25 min: Burn is nearly robbed on the halfway line by Djenepo. He gets away with his brain freeze, the ball landing in his favour after Djenepo blocks. Some evidence of the all-new Saints press under Nathan Jones.
23 min: Orsic bustles in from the left and would most likely have had a shot on goal from the edge of the box had he not taken a heavy touch while moving into space. Trippier whacks clear.
21 min: Longstaff, Guimaraes and Almiron paint some pretty triangles down the inside-right channel. Bazunu comes off his line to claim bravely at Almiron’s feet, at the cost of a whack on the nose. An accident, though it requires a bit of a patch-up job and a new shirt for the keeper.
19 min: Corner for Newcastle on the left. Trippier’s delivery is punched confidently clear by Bazunu. No idea what the actual stats are, but it doesn’t feel like too much of this game is being played in the middle third of the park. Most of it near the Saints box, in fact.
18 min: Alcaraz strides up the middle of the park and nearly releases Mara with a long pass up the left channel. Pope reads the danger and races out of his box to intercept and clear. This is good fast fun.
16 min: Newcastle go straight down the other end, Almiron sending Trippier into space on the right. Trippier crosses at 101 mph, and Willock can’t meet it with a header at the far stick. That was Newcastle’s 11th touch in Southampton’s box; Saints have only had one up the other end.
15 min: Ward-Prowse curls a clever low cross into the mixer from the right. Alcaraz tries to sidefoot home first time from the penalty spot, but his shot is blocked by Schar and sails harmlessly through to Pope.
13 min: Willock crosses from the left. Wilson can’t bring the ball down to shoot. Newcastle try again, Almiron rolling cutely down the inside-right channel. He looks to have released Longstaff into the box, but Salisu sticks out a leg to make a perfectly timed block. Longstaff goes down, wanting a penalty, but neither referee nor VAR shows any interest in giving him one.
11 min: … and as though to prove it, he launches a long pass down the middle with that right peg. He very nearly releases Wilson into the Saints box, as well, but there’s too much juice on the ball and Bazunu tidies up.
10 min: Schar looks to have run off that sore whack on the knee. He’s moving much more freely now.
9 min: Salisu and Almiron trade loose passes in the middle of the park. The exchange allows Saints to push forward for the first time. Ward-Prowse swings deep from the right. Mara battles under the high ball but can’t connect to get anything goalwards. Both teams look in the mood. Well, it is a semi-final, and 1955/1976 (delete as appropriate) was a very long time ago, after all.
7 min: … and when he does, he does so very gingerly. Schar will continue for now but he looks extremely uncomfortable, having twisted his knee in that collision. He’s feeling it and frowning.
6 min: Schar bashes a clearance up the Newcastle right. Mara comes across to block. The pair collide. Mara does nothing wrong, but Schar catches him on the follow through. Schar goes down clutching his right knee. He takes a while to get back up.
4 min: So much for that quiet start; Newcastle have made a fast one. They come again, throwing men forward. Trippier can’t get a shot away. The ball’s worked right to Longstaff, who rolls an inviting bundle-me-home low cross through the Saints six-yard box. There’s nobody there to convert.
2 min: A quiet start. Nathan Jones sitting back his dugout chair, Eddie Howe already prowling the touchline and performing some tactical hand jive. But then suddenly Newcastle break from a throw deep in their own half. Almiron races down the inside-right channel and draws the only two Southampton defenders anywhere near the play. Almiron rolls across to the completely free Willock, who … blazes wildly over the bar from 20 yards. An ambitious first-time effort but he had time and space to take a couple of steps.
Newcastle get the ball rolling. A reminder that VAR is in operation tonight.
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!