That decision by Rafa ultimately won the game
Brighton 1 Newcastle 2 – Tuesday 28 February 2017 7.45pm
Incredible. Just an incredible night of football.
Funny enough, I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about how we couldn’t really remember the last time there was true pandemonium in the Newcastle end, either home or away… and then Perez scored the winner last night.
When the team news came out, it appeared that we were playing for a draw. Setting up with arguably no centre forward. It will be a worry for Mitrovic that with Gayle out of the side, he couldn’t even get on the pitch, never mind start the biggest match of the season so far.
Aside from up front, it was the usual team, and the usual back four with Shelvey and Colback in the midfield. Atsu kept his place, while his final ball and finishing was lacking at home to Bristol City, his pace and trickery on the wing was clearly enough for Rafa to give him the nod… perhaps with the counter-attack in mind.
Bobby Madley was chosen as the referee for the game. I found this to be a bizarre, if not crazy choice of referee, given his history with Newcastle (Coloccini nudge). Funny enough, I have seen Madley referee multiple games since that Sunderland game, and not give fouls for the exact same thing Coloccini did. Anyway, throw in the fact that he is a rubbish referee anyway, and immediately I was sceptical.
Then I found out he was a Huddersfield fan! The team chasing Newcastle in second place and the team that Newcastle would face four days later. Any decision Madley would make in this game would have an effect on the game involving his favourite team four days later. Crazy. Even the ex-referee chief Keith Hackett described the decision as “a big error”.
This was a big game no doubt but it was a game that I was going into not too bothered if we got beat. For me, the big game is on Saturday, shrugging off the challenge of Huddersfield is the most important thing for Newcastle right now. Winning the title is something you only think about when automatic promotion is already guaranteed.
Lets not forget that with 10 minutes to go, Newcastle were on the brink of what would have been a terrible result, coupled with a poor performance.
I was trying to think of the last time I saw us score a last minute winner and I think it was Perez again, away to Spurs last season.
We started the game, as expected, on the back foot and it was no surprise when Brighton went 1-0 up with a penalty.
Having been at the other end of the ground we had no idea if it was a penalty – but having viewed the replays since, it definitely was not. That’s not even me being biased, it just wasn’t a penalty.
The most annoying thing about that is, Bobby Madley will referee a game this weekend and the exact same thing will happen multiple times and he won’t give a penalty – why? I’d love to know.
A goal down after only 13 minutes was a right kick in the teeth and it could have easily have been the second goal, had Baldock connected properly with what was a clever Brighton set-piece.
Notably, it was the only influential thing Anthony Knockaert did all day – thanks to Paul Dummett, who was our best player on the night. It was probably the best game I have seen him have in a Newcastle shirt.
There appeared to be little reaction to going a goal down with Brighton looking comfortable for most of the half.
Gouffran was isolated upfront, Diame couldn’t get hold of the ball and Shelvey was invisible in the opening 45 minutes.
However, we finally stated our intent before the break, with Atsu diverting a Yedlin cross seemingly towards the back of the net, but the keeper made a good save to keep his side in the lead at half-time.
After the break provided more of the same, with Karl Darlow looking hesitant between the sticks. Brighton could have made it 2-0 when Darlow failed to collect a high delivery – it was only a last gasp save from super Paul Dummett on the line that spared his blushes.
The one great chance Newcastle did have, fell to Gouffran, and it was an absolute sitter – if Dwight Gayle had been on the pitch it would have been 1-1 for sure. It almost looked like Gouffran did not know what to do.
In my opinion, it doesn’t matter if you’re a centre forward or a centre half, any footballer at this level should be taking those chances.
At 75 minutes, Rafa sent on Daryl Murphy (instead of Mitro) for Jack Colback and it was definitely the correct decision. Diame scored what will probably be the most bizarre goal that any of us will ever see – but it’s about time we got that bit of jammy luck.
With one minute to go, we won it. A wonderful long distance diagonal ball from Ritchie, a perfect first touch and delivery from Atsu, and confident finish from Perez. The three of them showing bits of class that separates the top teams in this league.
An all round thoroughly enjoyable game that highlights just how entertaining this league is.
Rafa’s approach drew some criticism before kick-off and that didn’t change throughout the game as Newcastle did not look like scoring.
After 20 minutes we could all see that it wasn’t working for us and that trend continued but Rafa remained stubborn, with trust in his players and didn’t bring Murphy on until late in the game. By this point I think most of us thought that it was too little too late but that sub/decision from the manager changed the course of the game.
At 1-1, with Perez stripped off on the side, it would have been easy for Rafa to tell him to sit back down and take the draw, however he didn’t, he still put Perez on and that decision again, ultimately won us the game.
The man who has won all that can be won in club football certainly knows best.
At the end of the game, he even made the trip over to the away fans to thank them – something which has never been done under previous managers. The respect between the manager and the fans continues to be reciprocated and long may it continue.
On the other side, Chris Hughton will be devastated that his team did not come away with at least a point – but I hope that we will see him in the Premier League next season as he has done a fantastic job with Brighton, a club with far fewer resources than Newcastle, and they are matching us pound for pound right now.
2,700 travelling fans were an absolute credit to the club – even the one that I was arguing with in the first half! The travelling Toon Army turned a freezing cold night into one of the best away days in recent memory.
Given the two previous trips to Brighton that left a sick feeling in our stomachs each time… this one tasted pretty sweet indeed.
It’s been a while but the Toon Army deserved a night like that.
If you had told me at the start of February, given that we signed no players and our top goalscorer would be out injured, that we would go unbeaten against QPR, Derby, Wolves, Norwich, Aston Villa, Bristol City and Brighton, I would have said impossible.
Yet here we are, sitting on the top of the league, after what will be the most testing month of the season.
For those of us (like me) that still moan and complain about things, then that’s fine, but Rafa has shown us throughout the season, and especially last night, that we just have to trust him.
In Rafa we trust, Howay the lads!
Stats from BBC Sport:
Brighton 1 Newcastle 2
Newcastle: Diame 81, Perez 89
Brighton: Murray 14 (pen)
Possession was Brighton 46% Newcastle 54%
Total shots were Brighton 10 Newcastle 19
Shots on target were Brighton 6 Newcastle 8
Corners were Brighton 3 Newcastle 6
Referee: Robert Madley
Darlow, Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett, Ritchie, Colback (Murphy 74), Shelvey, Atsu, Diame, Gouffran (Perez 82)
Elliot, Hanley, Gamez, Anita, Mitrovic
Crowd: 30,230 (Newcastle 2,700)
We also asked Jonathan to provide Match Ratings for each player and they were published after the game and can be seen HERE.
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