Mario Lemina’s goalscoring return to the Saints side was the biggest positive of the 3-1 defeat to Newcastle for manager Ralph Hasenhuttl.

The 25-year-old midfielder had not played at all in 2019 due to an abdominal injury which required surgery.

He was called upon at half time at St James’ Park with Saints 2-0 down to Newcastle and struggling badly.

Lemina helped turn things in Saints’ favour and topped off an impressive comeback with his first goal since February 2018, much to the delight of his manager.

Hasenhuttl said: “For him it was an important thing to see that he has no pain anymore and immediately showed he is a player that can help you.

“It was a very good goal and also the other things he had with the ball and without the ball were very good.

“For me he was the most positive thing.”

After so many strong performances recently the manner of the first half display at Newcastle came as a bit of a shock.

However, Hasenhuttl ruled out complacency as a factor.

“I didn’t think that we feel safe. That is not the reason,” he insisted.

“We had a few changes today because of injury and illness and maybe this cost us a little bit of automatism in the first half. Maybe.

“Normally we made changes in the last weeks and months without a big impact on our performance but it felt we were not so comfortable with the changes we made before the game.

“The changes we made at half time were much better I think and creates more aggressivity and more quality with the ball also.

“Finally it was not enough but I think the second half was ok.”

There was controversy in the first half with James Ward-Prowse brining down Miguel Almiron when he was charging forward on the counter attack.

Newcastle were adamant he should have been red carded – which would have meant a significant ban for the in-form England man.

However, referee Anthony Taylor opted just to book Ward-Prowse.

“I don’t know,” admitted Hasenhuttl.

“I saw another player following and so maybe he was the last guy but it was in their half and there was a long way to go and on the same high was another player from us.

“I haven’t seen it once again but we should respect the decision the referee took in this moment. He made a good game this referee and this was not the reason we lost.”