Newcastle's 'can't afford' warning and 'more drama' with Man United as Dan Ashworth watches on

This campaign has been bookended by a familiar refrain at St James' Park. Just like that dizzying opening day win against Aston Villa, "EDDIE HOWE'S BLACK-AND-WHITE ARMY!" filled the air as tens of thousands of Geordies stayed behind to salute players and staff on a lap of appreciation on Saturday ahead of a pivotal final week on the road.

The fate of Newcastle season will ultimately be decided away from the sanctuary of St James'. Nothing was going to be determined at the weekend, regardless, in the final home game of the season, but this 1-1 draw against Brighton has left the race for Europe on a knife edge.

A tearful Bruno Guimaraes admitted he was 'gutted', on an evening Chelsea moved level on points with sixth-placed Newcastle, but the Brazil international quickly pointed to the black-and-whites' final two fixtures of the campaign. Starting with a trip to Old Trafford on Wednesday night.

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READ MORE: Newcastle United 1-1 Brighton highlights

This game is not short of subplots. Newcastle have a chance to send out a statement of sorts against a faltering European contender having only previously won once at the so-called Theatre of Dreams in the league in more than five decades. There is the spectre of Dan Ashworth jumping ship and Newcastle's 'silly' demands. How about the niggle that led to Eddie Howe telling his players to 'f------ give it to them!' before the reverse fixture last season? "That all creates more drama and more interest," the Newcastle boss admitted.

It may not be the title showdown of 1996 or the cup finals of 1999 or 2023, but this clash, and the final day trip to Brentford, are still significant. After all, qualifying for Europe would represent something tangible for Newcastle to point to following an injury-ravaged campaign like no other.

Successive seasons in continental competitions would also maintain a degree of momentum for a side who were languishing in 10th place only a couple of months ago. Finishing in the top six, or top seven, if Manchester United lose the FA Cup final, would enable Newcastle to continue to grow on this still unfamiliar stage at a time when even Brighton have a higher UEFA coefficient as Howe's team look to come back a better outfit next season.

"I always hope with every window, with every opportunity, we become better in an area and a stronger team," Howe told reporters. "How that looks right now? Very unclear.

"That's always the challenge. You can't afford to regress at this level. It's all about pushing forward and trying to come back a better team and a better coached team from my perspective. That's my responsibility. Hopefully with a better playing squad, of course. That's all down to recruitment."

Financial rules will again pose challenges, in a window Newcastle have to be smarter than ever to improve an already strong XI, but it is certainly not hard to imagine the Magpies using St James' in their pitch to prospective targets like the club have in the past. The striking scenes before this game were a case in point.

A glimpse of just a section of Wor Flags' display before Newcastle United's clash against Brighton
A glimpse of just a section of Wor Flags' display before Newcastle United's clash against Brighton -Credit:Iain Buist/Newcastle Chronicle

The stadium was full a quarter of an hour before kick-off as supporters sang the Blaydon Races and waved their flags as part of a huge colourful display from Wor Flags. You could tell this was Newcastle's final home game for three months.

However, Brighton were not daunted and it was the visitors who quickly put Newcastle under pressure from a series of corners. In fact, it was the Seagulls who took the lead.

There were 18 minutes on the clock when Pascal Gross' corner was flicked on towards the back post and Joel Veltman wriggled away from Elliot Anderson to fire the visitors in front. Even those Brighton fans in the gods looked in disbelief as they crowed: "How s--- must you be? We're winning away!"

Coming from behind was nothing new for Newcastle, though. After all, even bottom of the table Sheffield United took the lead at St James' last month.

This is a side who have rescued nine points at home from losing positions since the start of February and Newcastle soon created an opening from a corner of their own - only for goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen to keep Sean Longstaff's header out. The more Newcastle pushed forward, however, the more susceptible the hosts were to being picked off on the break and Simon Adingra raced away and created a glorious opening for Julio Enciso, but the Paraguay international could, somehow, only head over.

It was end-to-end. Next it was the turn of Bruno Guimaraes to scoop the ball over Brighton's defence for Alexander Isak to latch onto in trademark fashion, but Verbruggen raced out of his goal and stuck out a strong hand after the striker attempted to hook the ball over the 'keeper.

Newcastle were getting closer and the Magpies grabbed an equaliser on the stroke of half-time. Lewis Hall's smart ball sent Anthony Gordon racing down the left flank. Gordon cut inside and wriggled away from three Brighton defenders before slipping in Elliot Anderson down the overlap. Anderson looked up and cut the ball back to Longstaff, who made no mistake with a clinical first-time finish from inside the box.

It was the perfect time to level. However, Newcastle were not able to take the momentum of that goal into the second half and Howe eventually turned to his bench in the 68th minute. The Newcastle boss threw on Joelinton, Miguel Almiron and Harvey Barnes, and the substitutes were quickly involved. It was Joelinton who rolled the ball out to Gordon on the right and the forward's cross found Barnes, but the summer signing could only fire over.

Barnes turned provider when he threaded the ball through to Almiron late on and the forward unselfishly squared it to Gordon to finish. However, Almiron was flagged offside in the build-up to leave Gordon with his hands on his head. Europe, though, is still in Newcastle's hands.