The shrewd move Newcastle senior stars made as St James' Park emptied after Brighton game

Newcastle United's senior players were left to lift spirits a little after the 1-1 draw against Brighton & Hove Albion.

They were there to manage the mood a little bit, and ensure the right message is sent out ahead of what is a delicate trip to Manchester United in midweek. Words from the players will appear in the media in the next 24 hours but it was a shrewd if not necessary move from the club's leadership group.

Before the game, Matt Ritchie had penned in his programme notes: "You've backed us with your voices to get over the line in pivotal moments." Well, 90 plus minutes on, and Newcastle remain in a pivotal moment with the mood a little bit flat on Tyneside after the Brighton clash.

There was certainly an air of frustration in the air, arguably deflation too after Newcastle had pushed so hard to end the season on a winning note in front of 50,000 Toon fans eager for a return to Europe. But in the end, the victory was beyond Eddie Howe's team with even the lap of appreciation petering out a little compared to last year's Champions League celebrations.

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Make no mistake, this was a massively contrasting scene to the last time Newcastle swapped one European competition for another. Back in 2004, as United ended the season with a 1-1 draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers and went from third to fifth in the space of a season, parachuting into the old UEFA Cup, there was more than frustration.

Back then Sir Bobby Robson, speaking after some fans did not stay for the lap of appreciation, said: "I can't stop the reactions of the fans. They are what they are. We thanked the ones who stayed behind. The club have played 28 times in Europe over the last two seasons. When was the last time this club did that? People have forgotten that. The expectation here is so high."

There are comparisons from then and now, but not because the fans did not stay behind to applaud, they did so in 2024 and did it in great numbers. The similarities are that Newcastle have two games left to secure their place in Europe.

Sir Bobby's team did it by the skin of their teeth in 2004, scraping a last minute equaliser away to Southampton thanks to Lee Bowyer in a 3-3 draw. Then pulling off a 1-1 draw at Liverpool on the final to yield a point and book a UEFA Cup slot.

Qualifying for Europe felt like scant consolation but for ex-England boss Robson, it would not save his job as a bad start in the 2004/05 campaign saw him shown the door. A lot has been learned on Tyneside since then.

Mike Ashley saw to that and showed everybody how bad things can be when there is no TLC at St James' Park. If Newcastle drop into a different competition this season, then be it.

Few will complain as the Magpies are ahead of schedule according to leading figures in the boardroom. Of course, scraping into sixth spot is not the height of ambition by Newcastle's Saudi-backed board, they want much more.

But it will be a starting point for next season. After the 1-1 draw against Brighton, a couple of senior players emerged from the dressing room to chat with journalists on a warm spring evening at St James' Park.

Context was the watchword, but also a big reminder that the season isn't over yet and it's still all in the balance. Most notable were the words of Howe, who walked out of St James' Park and said this wasn't time for post-season farewells to journalists on the patch, he stated: "There's two games left, the season isn't over."

And so on to Man United, then Brentford. Newcastle could have been home and hosed for Europe by now, instead, they have chosen the more dramatic option.