Sabalenka on cusp of Australian Open crown and all-Belarusian final

Sabalenka on cusp of Australian Open crown and all-Belarusian final

Updated: 6 days, 5 hours, 7 minutes, 30 seconds ago

Newcastle eye Carabao Cup title as Wembley beckons

SOUTHAMPTON: Newcastle United have one foot in the final of the Carabao Cup after a Joelinton strike saw them emerge victorious in the first leg of their last-four tie at Southampton.

The Brazilian popped up with a second-half winner after a VAR-impacted encounter had seen two goals ruled out for handball.

The win means United just have to avoid defeat in the home return leg in seven days in order to make their first Wembley final since 1999.

Speaking after the encounter, head coach Eddie Howe said: “It was a tough game, both sides had their moments and had chances to win the game, but we know it’s only halftime and there’s a long way to go.

“We created chances today, we weren’t clinical until the goal.

“It’s been a good day but there’s still a long way to go in the tie. I can’t be critical in any way. We defended well, Nick made some big saves again.

“The two saves he made were big moments. (Che) Adams’ one-on-one was at a huge time in the game when they were growing into it and the crowd were getting up but Nick stepped up and kept us in it.

“He’s been outstanding for us this year, the defense has played very well in front of him but when called upon he’s delivered for us.

“Pleased to win, that was our aim but we know 1-0 is delicate, nothing is decided.

“We go back to St James’ with our fans behind us.”

Howe resisted the temptation to shuffle his pack after scoring just once in their last four games. He kept Alexander Isak and Allan Saint-Maximin in reserve as he stuck with the same starting XI at St Mary’s.

Having drawn a blank in three of their last four Premier League games, the Magpies started this one in no mood to see that run continue. Finding spaces down the flanks, United caused the opposition all kind of problems. Sean Longstaff came closest to finding a man in the middle with a low, guided cross. Soon after, Joe Willock somehow misjudged the flight of a Kieran Trippier cross when it looked easier to score.

Same source and same end product on the half hour when Willock blazed over a volley from a Trippier cross. He had an age to line it up, a poor, poor finish from a player who is struggling in the final third this season.

Carlos Alcaraz tested Nick Pope’s palms from distance in what was the Saints’ only real challenge to United’s first-half dominance.

On the stroke of halftime the Magpies had a seemingly legitimate goal chalked off for handball as Joelinton turned in from close range after a Willock break down the left, however referee Stuart Atwell deemed the ball hit the Brazilian’s hand. Replays — and it took numerous angles to spot it — showed the slightest of touches on the arm.

After the break, it was all United again, but frustratingly their wasteful finishing continued as Joelinton skied a cross over with an open goal at his mercy, then Sven Botman did the same as a corner was only half cleared.

Dominant to that point, the balance of play then began to switch as Saints had an inevitable spell.

And it was then, and only then, the Magpies had to call on their ever-reliable last line of defense, Pope.

Che Adams broke the defensive line and looked set to curl into the bottom corner, but for the outstretched limb of the England keeper. Then again a swift Adams turn and shot was stopped by Pope.

In need of inspiration, Howe turned to his bench for matchwinners — and he found it in the shape of Saint-Maximin and Isak.

While the former spread the play and gave Saints problems in behind, Isak’s movement proved a stark contrast from the largely static and anonymous Callum Wilson.

It was an Isak spin, totally wrong-footing then out-pacing Lyanco, that opened up the opportunity for Joelinton to make up for his earlier miss and hammer home right in front of the 3,200 travelling Geordies.

Those celebrations, though, were muted rather swiftly when former United forward Adam Armstrong bundled home a cross from the right. However, as it had done with Joelinton’s earlier, the goal was ruled out by VAR for a handball by the eventual scorer.

The tricky Saint-Maximin’s pace and energy then saw the home side reduced to 10 as Duje Caleta-Car received his second booking for a foul on the Frenchman.

The tie could and should have been put to bed in the closing stages as Isak rounded Gavin Bazunu, but a deft touch by the keeper pushed him wide enough to make the finish near impossible. Again, the side-netting was ruffled.

One down, one to go. And these two will do it all again on January transfer deadline day, right as the buying window closes.

“It wasn’t lost on me when I saw the game fall on that day,” said Howe.

“I was thinking, ‘that’s potentially interesting.’ I tend to think the manager’s role in this is reduced, in the sense that you’re not necessarily in control of transfers. Well, you’re not in control of transfers, you’re hearing second- and third-hand what’s happening.

“In terms of meeting and greeting players, that can be done by other people. My focus that day will be solely on the game, and making sure we’re as prepared as we can be.”

United are understood to be exploring the possibility of signing Everton’s Anthony Gordon. Talks are taking place between the sides, with a fee yet to be agreed.

When asked about the deal, Howe said: “No. I don’t know. We are actively pushing, but I haven’t checked my phone.”