IN each of their last three home games, Newcastle United have found themselves a goal behind. In each of those matches, they have recovered to claim at least a draw and garnered seven points from an available nine. Nothing sums up the spirit and resolve of Steve Bruce’s squad better than that.

This was not an afternoon for the purist. Newcastle were wretched for much of the first half, and didn’t really improve until Andy Carroll replaced Joelinton shortly before the hour mark. Even then, there was little in the way of composed, artistic football as they clawed back the deficit that was created when Danny Ings opened the scoring at the start of the second half before going on to claim all three points thanks to Federico Fernandez’s dramatic late winner.

But there was a thunderous sense of conviction in the thumping header from Jonjo Shelvey that drew the Magpies level and a powerful sense of purpose in the late attacking that resulted in Fernandez hammering home after Southampton goalkeeper Alex McCarthy was unable to hold on to Sean Longstaff’s driven low strike.

The win owed more to Newcastle’s belief than their brilliance, their commitment rather than their quality, but having been outplayed for much of the first hour, it is to the Magpies’ huge credit that they found a way of securing the win that lifts them into the top half of the table for the first time this season. They have now reached the 22-point mark; last season, for all the praise that was lavished on Rafael Benitez, it was the final week of January before they made it to that total.

Bruce has not reached Benitez’s levels of acclaim yet, but he is gradually getting there. Yesterday’s attendance of just over 42,000 might have been Newcastle’s lowest of the season at St James’ Park, but that is a reflection of the ongoing animosity directed at owner Mike Ashley rather than the result of any lingering mistrust of Bruce. Having been serenaded at Bramall Lane last Thursday, this was another good day for the Magpies manager, whose second-half substitutions were a major factor in shifting the course of the game.

Carroll’s introduction was especially important, partly because it lifted the mood of a previously flat crowd, but also because the striker’s power and physicality unsettled a Southampton defence that had neutered Joelinton with precious little fuss in the opening hour.

Carroll set up Shelvey’s goal with a superb cross from the right – a reversal of roles given that Shelvey is supposed to be providing the ammunition for Carroll – and was leading the defensive campaign in the closing seconds, chasing down opponents and flying into tackles deep in his own half. Understandable doubts were raised when the Tynesider re-joined as a free agent in the summer, but in the space of two matches, first at Sheffield United and then here, he has more than justified his place in the squad.

Bruce will be desperate to keep him fit through the Christmas period, especially as Allan Saint-Maximin appeared to suffer another hamstring injury as he chased a long ball in stoppage time, and for all his limitations, he is rapidly emerging as the talisman of this Newcastle team. His arrival was critical yesterday, although the Magpies still needed their goalscoring defenders to get the job done.

Once again, Bruce’s starting front three failed to really fire. Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron were markedly less effective than they had been at Bramall Lane and neither Jetro Willems nor Javier Manquillo were able to make much of an attacking impact as they found themselves unable to break into the Southampton half.

Joelinton, restored to the starting line-up after it was decided Carroll was incapable of starting two games in four days, battled away gamely in attack, but he got little joy against the physically imposing Jack Stephens and Jan Bednarek. When he did win the occasional header, there was no one within four of five yards of him.

It was almost the half-hour mark before Newcastle fashioned their first attempt at goal, and even that was a half-hearted effort, with Ciaran Clark under a large amount of pressure as he met Shelvey’s corner with a tame downward header.

Saint-Maximin made a couple of dangerous breaks down the left-hand side – one dribble in particular took him half the length of the field – but his final ball was generally found wanting. As a result, the Magpies’ only other first-half opportunity saw Fernandez direct a header straight at Alex McCarthy after Shelvey floated in a cross from the right.

Southampton, with Ings and Shane Long full of running in attack and Nathan Redmond drifting infield dangerously from the left, were the more threatening side for an hour, and Newcastle were indebted to Martin Dubravka for a superb double save that meant they were able to head into the interval with the scores still level.

Redmond was afforded a clear run on goal after he intercepted Willems’ sloppy attempted pass to Manquillo, but while the winger took plenty of time to pick his spot, Dubravka kept out his low shot with his legs. When the resultant corner was only half-cleared to Redmond, the wide-man fired another low strike through a crowd of bodies, but Dubravka flung himself to his left to produce an even better stop.

The Slovakian has been one of Newcastle’s key performers this season, but even he was unable to prevent Southampton claiming what was a deserved lead six minutes into the second half.

Bruce was forced into a change at the interval, replacing the injured Clark with Fabian Schar, and perhaps a degree of rustiness explained the Swiss substitute’s inability to deal with what should have been a routine ball over the top from Stephens.

Schar seemed to lose the flight of the ball as it floated over his head, and Ings took full advantage, racing clear to slot past Dubravka and claim his tenth goal in the last 11 matches.

That is an impressive sequence, but Shelvey is racking up a good one of his own, with yesterday’s equaliser making it four goals in six games since he was restored to the starting line-up at West Ham. Shelvey started the move with a free-kick that was cleared to the touchline, and after Carroll kept the ball alive and crossed from the right, the midfielder had powered into position to head home.

Ryan Bertrand headed over from close range as Southampton pressed for a winner, but it was to be Newcastle who had the final say with three minutes left.

McCarthy could only parry Longstaff’s low shot back into the 18-yard box, and Fernandez reacted quickest to smash home the rebound and claim the eighth goal scored by a Newcastle defender this season.