Newcastle turn Brighton’s strength to weakness as Champions League beckons
Newcastle are almost there now.
One more win from their two remaining games will secure Champions League football, and they’ve got an abysmal Leicester side coming here on Monday night. If that goes wrong, it’s Frank Lampard’s Chelsea on the final day. Eddie Howe will try and preach calmness, but it’s a forlorn hope now.
Newcastle were as good here in this 4-1 win as they’ve been at any point this season, thoroughly outplaying a Brighton team that humbled Arsenal only four days ago. Sometimes late goals can add a flattering layer of gloss to a scoreline; here Newcastle’s two late breakaways merely left the scoreline more accurately reflecting the 100-odd minutes of action.
The first half was particularly excellent, turning Brighton’s strength in playing out from the back into an alarming weakness as Jason Steele and his defenders were pressed and harried well beyond breaking point. There was a point in the first half where Steele had had more touches than any other player on the pitch – pretty much all of them nervy – and Nick Pope the fewest. It summed the game up rather neatly.
The goals that gave Newcastle a well deserved 2-0 half-time lead both came from superb Kieran Trippier deliveries. Deniz Undav could only divert the first past his own keeper, while Dan Burn – who spent the whole night playing with an endearing giddiness – planted home a second just before the break.
We’ve wondered aloud before about precisely this goal, and specifically why Newcastle don’t simply score it every week. So good is Trippier’s delivery, so comically outsize does Burn always appear when competing with little tiny normal humans in the box that it just seems an obvious mismatch. His celebration was also very correctly entirely unmuted as befitted the occasion and its import. He didn’t go full Adebayor but there was certainly no holding anything back out of performative and misplaced respect for former employers.
And just how vital that second goal was became clear after half-time. The first half was alarmingly one-sided, but this Brighton side is too good, too clever, too focused not to have some say even in a game where they are so visibly overmatched. Undav reduced the deficit and it was only in the very closing minutes that Brighton were finally put away.
Nerves were understandable, but it never felt like a game that might slip away from Newcastle. That’s testament to the team they’ve become because it was certainly no criticism of an excellent Brighton side that remains on course for a Europa League finish which is arguably every bit as impressive as what Arsenal or Newcastle have achieved this season.
Callum Wilson ensured there would be no travesty here, rushing on to finish calmly after Miguel Almiron’s fire and ice in bursting through midfield and calmly playing the perfect ball for his forward. Wilson then turned provider, keeping his head once more in a crowded penalty area to recognise his own shooting chance had gone this time but Bruno Guimaraes’ absolutely had not.
The slickness, the composure, the professionalism and team-first thinking exemplified what this Newcastle performance was all about. There is little doubt they have been among the four best teams in England this year and it’s only a few days and one more evening as professional as this one before the table confirms that fact.
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