Newcastle United plunged ever closer to Premier League relegation with an abject 3-1 defeat at Southampton, inept defending cementing a sixth defeat in seven matches.
Former captain Steven Taylor was hauled off at half-time by Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez, while full-back Daryl Janmaat’s comical fall let Graziano Pelle blast home Southampton’s second goal.
Taylor watched on motionless when Shane Long struck Saints’ opener after just four minutes, with Victor Wanyama on target in the second half.
Andros Townsend fired a 20-yard shot in response, but the listless St James’s Park club are now six points from safety with just six games to play.
Benitez’s men surely need at least four victories to have any chance of clawing to safety, but a run-in containing Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham remains extremely daunting.
A second Premier League relegation in seven years is surely now only a matter of time.
Centre back Taylor’s woeful showing encapsulated all that is wrong with Newcastle.
The Tynesiders sorely needed the 30-year-old to stand strong as the ‘Local Hero’ of Mark Knopfler’s club anthem fame – but instead the defender’s calamitous performance put him firmly in villainous territory.
Taylor ought to be Newcastle’s emotional heartbeat, he ought to drive the dressing room focus. Instead he merely underscores the glaring lack of top-flight quality at this once-proud north east institution.
Paralysed as much by ineptitude as fear, Taylor stood motionless as Long cakewalked through Newcastle’s so-called defence to open the scoring on four minutes.
The symbol of a broken club, Taylor’s shoulders shrugged as much as sagged at the inevitability of Southampton’s lead and Newcastle’s impotence to protest.
Full-back Janmaat’s defensive efforts were just as embarrassing, his comical slip gifting the break that led to Saints’ second goal.
The 26-year-old ought to have intercepted Wanyama’s wayward through ball with ease. Instead he kicked one leg against the other, landed in a heap, and set Southampton away on the break.
A previously rehearsed comedy of errors could have been timed no better.
In a flash Long was once more prowling Newcastle’s box, crabbing left in search of support or an opening to shoot.
The onrushing Pelle provided both, stepping up and blasting home, effectively ending the contest little more than half an hour in.
Janmaat disappeared to the safety of the bench claiming a back problem, but embarrassment could so easily have been the real reason for his withdrawal.
Taylor will have been shamed by his half-time substitution, but boss Benitez hardly had any option, so poor was the defender’s performance.
Wanyama slotted Saints’ third after Karl Darlow could only parry Pelle’s blast following a corner as the hosts picked up where they had left off after the break.
Former Tottenham winger Townsend angled a fine drive past Fraser Forster, but there was to be no resistance. This proved Newcastle’s sole threatening attack of the match.
Southampton coasted to victory from start to finish, indicating Newcastle’s malaise and little more. Ronald Koeman’s men will doubtless have to raise their urgency and accuracy to secure that craved Europa League qualification.
Only last summer owner Mike Ashley insisted he will not sell Newcastle until the club land a major trophy. The divisive Sports Direct magnate could be in for a long wait.