Southampton injected fresh energy into their European bid, as they returned to winning ways with a 3-1 victory over Newcastle United.
Ronald Koeman’s side emphatically put the disappointment of last weekend’s 1-0 defeat at Leicester City behind them, as they triumphed at St Mary’s.
The returning Shane Long muscled his way through to fire them in front inside three minutes, with Graziano Pellè’s thumping finish making it 2-0 shortly before half-time.
Victor Wanyama then netted his first of the season early in the second half, and, although Andros Townsend quickly netted for the 19th-placed visitors, it proved nothing more than a consolation for the relegation battlers.
Koeman made three changes from the side that lost 1-0 at Leicester City last weekend, as Long returned from a knee injury, while Cuco Martina and Dušan Tadić were also restored to the team.
Steven Davis missed out with an ankle problem sustained in the defeat at King Power Stadium, with Cédric dropping to the bench and Matt Targett missing out altogether.
Koeman had said in the build-up that the return of Long, who had been in excellent form before missing the trip to Leicester, was a boost.
He wasn’t wrong, as the striker powered through the heart of the Newcastle defence in the third minute and calmly rolled a left-footed shot past Karl Darlow to give Saints the lead.
From then on, it continued to be one-way traffic, with the hosts all over Newcastle.
Sadio Mané had a side-footed volley deflected wide by an excellent Vurnon Anita block, while Darlow brought down Long just outside the area as the striker raced onto a weak Steven Taylor back-pass. Fortunately for Darlow, although Long got there first, he was able to get a touch before wiping out the Saints striker, with referee Rob Madley deciding no offence had been committed.
Still Saints pushed, with Jordy Clasie whipping a free-kick from the left channel just wide of the far top corner, while Pellè headed over from a Tadić delivery.
A second goal looked almost inevitable, and it did indeed arrive seven minutes from the break, as Daryl Janmaat slipped and injured himself trying to intercept a pass, allowing Tadić to race onto the ball and played it to Long 18 yards out. His touch was heavy, but it put it into the path of Pellè, who hammered a low shot into the far bottom corner.
Janmaat was forced off in the aftermath, to be replaced by Siem De Jong, while Rafa Benítez made another change at half time, swapping Taylor for Jamaal Lascelles.
There was little the Newcastle boss could do to alter the direction of the game, however, and Saints duly made it 3-0 in the 56th minute.
Some sharp thinking saw Ryan Bertrand play a short corner to Mané, who easily got to the byline and cut it back for José Fonte in space ten yards out. His low shot was diverted away by the right foot of Darlow, but the rebound fell to Wanyama, who struck a low shot just inside the far post, with the aid of a slight deflection, for his first goal of the season.
Long was then withdrawn for James Ward-Prowse, before Newcastle did produce a reaction, as Ayoze Pérez first had a shot well saved by Fraser Forster, before the Saints keeper brilliantly tipped Andros Townsend’s long-range drive wide.
Townsend then did provide the visitors with a lifeline in the 65th minute, drifting across the pitch 20 yards out and unleashing a superb, left-footed strike that fizzed into the top corner to make it 3-1.
Mané went close to restoring the three-goal advantage 15 minutes from time, cutting onto his left foot 18 yards out after Pellè’s stunning pass set him racing away down the inside-right, but he bent his shot just wide of the far post.
With seven minutes remaining, St Mary’s then rose to its feet, as Koeman sent on Jay Rodriguez for his first appearance since mid-October, with the forward replacing Tadić.
There would be no goal for Rodriguez, but his return capped an all-round positive day for the hosts, who remain seventh, but are very much in touch with the sides above them, as they hunt a European spot.
Southampton (4-4-2): Fraser Forster; Cuco Martina, José Fonte (c), Virgil van Dijk, Ryan Bertrand; Sadio Mané, Victor Wanyama, Jordy Clasie (Oriol Romeu 77), Dušan Tadić (Jay Rodriguez 83); Shane Long (James Ward-Prowse 60), Graziano Pellè. Unused substitutes: Maarten Stekelenburg (GK), Cédric, Maya Yoshida, Charlie Austin.
Goals: Shane Long (3), Graziano Pellè (38), Victor Wanyama (56).
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Karl Darlow; Daryl Janmaat (Siem De Jong 39), Steven Taylor (Jamaal Lascelles 46), Chancel Mbemba, Vurnon Anita; Andros Townsend, Georginio Wijnaldum, Jonjo Shelvey (c), Ayoze Pérez (Papiss Cissé 70); Moussa Sissoko, Aleksandar Mitrović. Unused substitutes: Freddie Woodman (GK), Paul Dummett, Cheik Tioté, Gabriel Obertan.
Goals: Andros Townsend (65).
Referee: Rob Madley.