By North-east correspondent Harry Sykes

Jamaal Lascelles has delivered a no-holds-barred assessment of Newcastle’s failings this season in which he laid the blame squarely at the door of the underachieving players.

Rafael Benitez’s team slumped to a 3-1 defeat at Southampton on Saturday to leave their Premier League status hanging by a thread.

With six matches of the season remaining, Newcastle are six points adrift of 17th-placed Norwich and seemingly nosediving into the Championship.

Centre-back Lascelles was a substitute at St Mary’s Stadium but replaced Steven Taylor in defence at the break when the visitors were two goals down.

The 22-year-old former Nottingham Forest defender pulled no punches in a post-match interview with the BBC.

“We had Steve McClaren who is a great manager and now we’ve got Rafa Benitez, who is a great manager so it’s clearly not that,” Lascelles told Radio Five Live. “It’s the players and we have to take full responsibility.

“It’s ourselves who need to change it and not the manager. We need to play with more heart. We’ve got flair players, tricky players, players with loads of talent. But we need more heart, we need more desire.

Rafael Benitez

“We need bigger characters on the pitch, players who care and who are going to get after each other. We have lacked it this season and no matter how good you are if you don’t have that fight and hunger and desire, it doesn’t matter.”

Lascelles’ honest assessment sheds new light on Newcastle’s failings this season and why a club that has spent £80million on new players in the past two transfer windows and was tipped for a top-of-the-table finish has failed so miserably.

In other Newcastle news, Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce has paid tribute to a former colleague from his St James’ Park days.