Setting the scene
First v second in the Championship in front of the Amex’s biggest league crowd of the season – which included Ant and Dec. That is how big a game this was. The Albion came into it buoyed by an excellent 3-0 win over fellow promotion chasers Reading at the weekend while Newcastle arrived having been held 2-2 at home by Bristol City.
Brighton were unchanged from that victory over the Biscuitmen despite Sebastien Pocognoli being withdrawn with a knock with five minutes to go. The risk of starting Pocognoli unfortunately didn’t pay off for the Albion as he went off here after less than 20 minutes with Fikayo Tomori coming on. Tomori struggled initially but eventually grew into the game in the second half and would no doubt have impressed watching Chelsea loan player technical coach (whatever the hell that is) Paulo Ferreira. As for Newcastle, Rafa the Gaffer’s attempted mind games over the fitness of the divisions top scorer Dwight Gayle proved to be him speaking bollocks in a very typical manner as Gayle was nowhere to be seen. Not that it particularly matters when you can call on back up such as Daryl Murphy, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ayoze Perez. Benitez certainly earned his money last night, Perez scoring the winner a matter of minutes after coming on while his switch to a back three in the second half made it seem pretty inevitable what was about to happen once Newcastle had equalised.
Glenn Murray gave the Albion the lead with a penalty on 14 minutes. The box resembled a WWE Royal Rumble event from a corner as bodies wrestled with each other with referee Robert Madley eventualy deciding to penalise Ciaran Clark for hauling down Murray when 90% of the home end believed that he had in fact blown up for a foul on Toon keeper Karl Darlow. Murray made no mistake from the spot. If that goal was fortunate, then the equaliser was an utter freak show. David Stockdale came and made a weak punch from a corner which caused chaos, a mishit shot from Christian Atsu that looked like it was more of a danger to spectators in the East Stand rather than the net ended up hitting not one, but two Newcastle players – the second being Mohamed Diame, who claimed the goal – and looping up and into a gap around 2x2cm between the crossbar, post, Tomori and the back pedaling Stockdale. If that was ridiculous then the winner was quality, Matt Ritchie playing an outrageous 60 yard crossfield pass to Atsu who led Bruno on a merry dance before crossing for Perez.
Newcastle had 19 shots compared to the Albion’s nine. Stockdale made three superb stops from Yoan Gouffran, Atsu and Murphy before a bizarre incident in which he decided to pass the ball straight to Gouffran, leaving the Newcastle midfielder with a one-on-one which Stockdale then managed to save his own skin by blocking. Darlow had a less busy but equally impressive evening, keeping out a stonking volley from Bruno, an equally impressive one from Murray while Paul Dummett made an inspired block on the line from Lewis Dunk.
WeAreBrighton.com Man of the Match
Shane Duffy had another superb evening including one crunching first half challenge that should be shown to kids up and down the country as the perfect example of a slide tackle. He also managed to pay tribute to Danny Cullip, throwing in a much missed Danny Cullip back header to Stockdale in the first half. For that alone, he deserves the award. Even if it was slightly disappointing that unlike whenever Cullip used to try it, it didn’t go totally awry or he didn’t follow it up with a big shout of “LETS ‘AVE A WINNER, SECOND BALL.”
Newcastle dominated possession, had more shots, more shots on targets and more corners so going on those statistics there could be little complaint over the final outcome. Benitez made the attacking subs that needed to be made – especially when switching to a back three – whereas for once there is the slightest criticism of Chris Hughton who introduced Beram Kayal in place of Sam Baldock immediately after the equaliser in a move that smacked of clinging on, when perhaps Solly March or Tomer Hemed made have at least given Newcastle something to think about defensively. Jonjo Shelvey may be a horrible racist but he ran the game while Ritchie showed what £10m can buy you. When you see Newcastle with two players that good, it makes you appreciate how well we’ve done to go toe-to-toe with them this season in the race for the title. And just because we lost last night, it doesn’t mean that race is over. Newcastle still have an incredibly tough run in while most of our remaining home games are now against sides in the bottom half of the table. One swallow does not a summer make and six points from the next two away games – more than achievable given the opponents are struggling Nottingham Forest and Rotherham – and this result could be all but forgotten about.
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