As Mauricio Pellegrino allowed himself a sigh of relief at the full-time whistle, his embrace with his former mentor Rafael Benítez said it all. A hard-fought encounter. during which Newcastle twice took the lead through Isaac Hayden and Ayoze Pérez before Southampton were rescued by two goals from Manolo Gabbiadini. ended with the substitute Steven Davis clearing a Florian Lejeune header from under his own crossbar.
Such are the margins in the Premier League, where the two managers with contrasting levels of experience saw their players produce an honest and entertaining match. Both will surely be relatively happy to be in mid-table at this stage of the campaign.
At around 330 miles, the journey from St James’ Park to the south coast is one of the longest English football has to offer and Newcastle’s awful record at St Marty’s, which had seen their side concede 11 goals in their previous three visits, did not stop thousands of Geordies from descending along the A34 once again.
After the promising start Benítez's side have made to the season, however, they travelled with more hope than they did to the two 4-0 thrashings under Alan Pardew in 2014 and a 3-1 defeat on the way to relegation in 2016.
Southampton, by contrast, have struggled to find their feet so far under Pellegrino; until Sunday they had scored just three goals at St Mary’s all season – all in the same game, against West Ham United – a hangover from their tepid home form last campaign.
In a bid to improve that statistic, Pellegrino – who spent three years with Benítez at Valencia before joining him as a player and assistant coach at Liverpool and then Internazionale respectively – opted to recall the Italy striker Gabbiadini in a front two with Shane Long.
Unusually in the age of wings-backs and false nines, Newcastle also lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, with Hayden brought in to replace Mikel Merino alongside Jonjo Shelvey, who sported a cast to protect a finger reportedly fractured breaking up a training ground fight last week, in central midfield.
A couple of years ago, the midfielder would have been away with England’s senior squad during the international break rather than acting as peacemaker at his club, but he has since fallen down the pecking order despite possessing a range of passing that few competitors can match.
That was very much in evidence during the opening exchanges, as Newcastle started with intent, Matt Ritchie squandering a good chance to deliver a testing cross after good work from Shelvey. Christian Atsu went close from the resulting corner before Dusan Tadic failed to make the most of Nathan Redmond's teasing cross at the other end.
The travelling fans did not have to wait long for their reward, with Hayden’s long-range strike, after Atsu’s initial effort was blocked, catching Fraser Forster flat-footed in the Southampton goal.
It was just what Benítez would have wished for, although he would have been less than pleased had Virgil van Dijk's header from a corner also found the net a few minutes later. With the captain, Jamaal Lascelles, outstanding for Newcastle, the rest of the first half was a lesson in how to protect a lead from a manager who has made defensive stability his priority throughout his career. His apprentice must have been scratching his head trying to find a way back into the game at half-time, with Maya Yoshida almost making the task even harder when he sliced a clearance against his own crossbar within two minutes of the restart.
Gabbiadini finally provided the spark the home supporters desperately craved when he eluded the challenge of Lejeune to fire past Rob Elliot from the edge of the box. Southampton's joy was short lived: less than 90 seconds later, Ritchie's pass found Pérez on the right and the Spaniard was on hand to pounce on the rebound when Forster spilled his first effort.
It was an embarrassing moment for the Wallsend Boys Club product and former Newcastle trainee, who left the north-east in 2012 having never appeared for the first team.
Pellegrino threw on Sofiane Boufal and Steven Davis in a bid to inspire some creativity and his gamble paid off 15 minutes from time as Lejeune was drawn into a challenge on Long inside the penalty area, with Kevin Friend immediately pointing to the spot. Gabbiadini made no mistake to rescue a point from a match neither side deserved to lose.