Ref in Focus: Saints and Newcastle specialists can take advantage of Kevin Friend

With the joint-second best and best goals conceded records outside the current top six respectively, Southampton and Newcastle’s Premier League clash on Sunday looks set to be a tight and cagey affair – which perhaps explains why the top-flight’s decision makers have appointed one of the division’s biggest disciplinarians, Kevin Friend, to referee the 4pm kickoff.

Indeed, out of the 19 referees to officiate in the top flight last season, Friend ranked in the top seven for fouls per game, fouls per tackle, penalties per game and yellow cards per game – topping the Premier League charts on the latter front.

Statistically speaking, that doesn’t particularly benefit Saints or the Magpies. Although neither could be described as overly physical sides, strong defensive records inevitably require players to assert themselves physically and aggressively. As a consequence, Southampton have produced the sixth-most fouls of any Premier League side this term while Newcastle aren’t far behind in eighth.

But with set piece specialists like James Ward-Prowse, Dusan Tadic and Matt Ritchie in their respective ranks, Saints and the Toon both have the personnel to take advantage of Friend’s no-nonsense approach with deadly deliveries and efforts at goal.

However, only two sides have been issued more yellow cards than Newcastle this term whereas Southampton rank joint-16th throughout the league, suggesting the visitors are far more likely to feel Friend’s card-happy wrath his weekend than the hosts.

Perhaps most worryingly for both teams, the 46-year-old is yet to award a penalty this season compared to six in 20 games last term. The old cliche of Friend being due one certainly comes to mind.