IF ever a game demanded a packed and passionate St James’ Park, this was surely it. Had the stands been full when Newcastle’s eight outfield players were straining every sinew to prevent Southampton claiming a last-gasp equaliser on Saturday, the atmosphere would have crackled with feverish excitement, the post-match celebrations would have spilled through the city centre and the bond between club and support which has become so frayed in the last few months would, temporarily at least, have been repaired.

As it was, when Craig Pawson blew his whistle to bring a remarkable encounter to an end, the cries of Newcastle’s exhausted but exhilarated players echoed around the cavernous empty stands. A game that might have been remembered as an all-time cult classic will forever have its impact diminished.

How on earth do you start dissecting an afternoon that perfectly mirrored Newcastle’s fluctuating form in terms of its multiple ups and downs? “When I took the job, a mate of mine said it came with a health hazard,” admitted a somewhat shell-shocked Steve Bruce. That pretty much summed it up.

Newcastle being Newcastle, winning to open up a ten-point gap to the relegation zone was never going to come without strings attached. The injuries to Javier Manquillo, Callum Wilson and Fabian Schar that ultimately resulted in the Magpies having to play the final quarter-of-an-hour with nine men threaten to have long-lasting repercussions. Jeff Hendrick’s senseless decision to tug back Takumi Minamino when he was already on a yellow card might well have cost his side at least two points. Jonjo Shelvey’s dreadful miss at the start of the second half, when he side-footed wide from six yards out, was a pivotal moment in terms of what was to follow.

And yet, with the dust having settled, the positives that emerged from Newcastle’s first home win since mid-December far outweighed any negatives that might have accompanied them.

Divide the game into two parts, and the first represented a continuation of the improvement that had been apparent in the Magpies’ two previous outings. Throughout the first half, Newcastle’s players adopted the kind of front-foot style Bruce has been promising for a while, but struggling to deliver.

Allan Saint-Maximin was a constant threat down the left-hand side, running at the Southampton defence and highlighting, once again, what Newcastle have been missing in his absence. Joe Willock, who marked his Magpies debut with the opening goal as he stroked home from close to the penalty spot, added energy and enterprise to the midfield. Miguel Almiron, who claimed his side’s other two first-half goals, was a bundle of purposeful attacking intent.

“Over the last few weeks, with the change in system, the one person who has really benefited from it all is Almiron,” said Bruce. “He’s been terrific in terms of what we’re trying to set out.”

Even so, once James Ward-Prowse made it 3-2 with a superb direct free-kick and the departure of Hendrick and Schar made it 11-against-nine, Newcastle’s players had to display a resolve and resilience that has been badly lacking on numerous occasions this season. This time, with their backs to the wall, the Magpies refused to be broken down.

Isaac Hayden, deployed as a makeshift centre-half, was sensational, winning countless headers and repeatedly blocking shots. Substitute Paul Dummett was equally influential, making seven clearances, and both. Jamal Lewis and Emil Krafth tucked in expertly as Newcastle saw things out.