September 11, 2014

Three winless matches into his rescue attempt, Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez would not have hand-picked Southampton away to break the duck.

The relegation-threatened Magpies visit Southampton on Saturday seeking a first win at St Mary's since 2004 and have lost by a combined 10-0 over their last three visits.

Benitez's side dropped to 0-1-2 during his brief tenure after a heart-breaking 3-2 loss at Norwich City in their last outing.Newcastle (6-7-18) enter the weekend 19th, six points adrift of the Canaries and the safety of the 17th position after that gut-punch of a loss.

Midfielder Andros Townsend admitted the concession of a decisive late goal at Carrow Road had knocked the stuffing out of everyone around St James' but insisted no one in the North East should take any time to feel sorry for themselves.

"After the game everyone was dejected, but I think we've got seven cup finals left," Townsend told the official club website. "Of course we're devastated and the fans are devastated, but we need to get on with it.

"We need to focus on the next game, and I think that's what we've done this week. We've kind of put Norwich to one side and focused on Southampton, and focused on getting a positive result."

Benitez and his counterpart Saturday, Ronald Koeman, have met previously and it is perhaps indicative of the Spaniard's current career trajectory that all eight prior meetings - three wins, three ties and two losses - were in the UEFA Champions League.

Koeman understands why Benitez, like so many before him, would be tempted by Newcastle despite their current predicament.

"If he thinks he can keep the team in the Premier League then of course it's a good opportunity for a manager because we are talking about a big, important club in the Premier League," Koeman said in his pre-match press conference. "They have some good players, have spent a lot of money, but are maybe the third year in a row struggling in the Premier League."

Koeman remains focused on maintaining Southampton's chase for a Europa League spot alive despite the blow dealt by a contentious 1-0 defeat to front-runners Leicester City last time out.

The Saints (13-8-11) were denied two very presentable penalty claims for apparent hand ball offences committed by the Foxes' Danny Simpson and Robert Huth.

The Saints are in seventh, six points behind Manchester United for the fifth-place position that awards a Europa League berth, but they have played one more match than the Red Devils and sixth-place West Ham, whom they trail by four points.

"The key message to the players is keep the focus, keep the spirit until the last game of the season, because it's so unpredictable the whole season and if you can get a good run of results then you can finish in a high position," continued Koeman.

The Dutchman will be boosted by having nearly a full squad to call on, with the exception of midfielder Steven Davis, who is suffering from an ankle knock.

Benitez's sizable task is not made any easier by the fact that he has to deal with a host of injuries and is down to his third-choice keeper in Karl Darlow. Fabricio Coloccini (calf), Paul Dummett (hamstring), Rob Elliott (knee), Yoan Gouffran (knock) and Massadio Haidara (knee) are all unlikely to feature, while Jack Colback is suspended for yellow card accumulation.

Both teams had to come from behind in a 2-2 draw at St James' Park on opening day. Graziano Pelle put the Saints in front after 24 minutes, but goals from Papiss Cisse and Georginio Wijnaldum on either side of halftime put Newcastle in front. Shane Long scored the final goal of the game on 79 minutes.

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