The Game, The Fans, Rafa Benitez, Last Word – Brighton 1 Newcastle 0
Brighton 1 Newcastle 0 – Sunday 24 September 2017 4pm
Newcastle went into this fixture having won three Premier League games on the bounce. Despite the fact that those games were against the poorer teams in the division, winning three on the bounce in the Premier League is no mean feat. It shows that this team might just have something about them this season and perhaps we should be looking a little higher than just avoiding relegation.
Anyway, the performances so far (bar Huddersfield) have been positive.
Rafa named the same side as last week’s victory over Stoke. Although you can’t argue about not changing a winning side, I was disappointed to see that Joselu was starting, with Rafa deciding to leave Dwight Gayle on the bench. In the Premier League, and especially away from home, chances are always going to be few and far between which is why, if he is fit and ready, you need your no.9 on the pitch at all times.
On the whole, it was a pleasant day in Brighton, a far cry from the cold February night earlier in the year. This time round fans were able to mingle in the mini ‘fan park’ around the stadium before the game. Although charging £4 for a pint and £7 for a burger is hardly catering to football fans.
Yet again, Newcastle fans were screwed over by the kick off times. Why the FA decided to put this game on at 4pm is beyond me. It’s not as if it was a big game! At least last season you could argue that it was the top two teams in the league and it had to be on TV. But Christ, not really a Super Sunday was it? And then you’ve got clowns like Souness analysing the game. I weep for football sometimes.
Quite incredible that Swansea, Brighton and Southampton are all away on a Sunday. I would like to know what the club are doing about this… not a lot I suspect. Especially considering that I don’t think the club even has a Supporter Liaison Officer at the moment.
Newcastle actually started the game brightly, dominating possession and looked like they were going to be a threat. On both wings, Atsu and Ritchie caused early problems with low balls into the box that neither Perez, or Joselu, could make the most out of. Although NUFC didn’t actually create any clear cut early chances, the intent was certainly there.
After 15 minutes though Brighton quickly got their act together, gradually grew in confidence, and began to impose themselves further into the game. Rob Elliott looked calm and competent in the Newcastle goal as he parried away a few Brighton half chances. To me, Elliott looks like a decent goalkeeper for the time being – I am not quite sure why Rafa put so much effort into bringing in a GK in the summer ahead of other positions such as left-back. There was a part of me that was worried at the start of the season that Rafa’s relentless pursuit of a GK would affect the confidence of the current goalkeepers (Elliott, Darlow, Woodman) at the club but Elliott’s performances so far this season have been more than good enough.
Our first real sight at goal came through Mike Merino, whose volley was tipped wide by the Brighton keeper. Merino looks like a really quality player. I am actually not sure what the conditions are surrounding his transfer. However, if he continues to perform anywhere near the level that he has done so far then it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the big clubs, or teams back in Spain, would be trying to get in and steal him away from us.
Hayden was poor and I would really like Rafa to give both Merino and Shelvey a start against Liverpool. Some might argue that they are similar players but Merino looks fit and agile, while both players, although they would be described as playmakers, have no worries in putting themselves about and getting into a tackle. Also, with the way that Liverpool and Klopp’s side like to press, I think having two ball players in the middle of the pitch may be our best way of being able to pick them off on the counter-attack.
Before half-time, Joselu would then miss what can only be described as an absolute sitter. Some may argue it was a difficult chance with his back to goal on his weaker foot but he really should have done better being only 6 yards out. If he is going to last at Newcastle, then he simply has to do better with chances like that which make or break games in the Premier League. I fully expect Dwight Gayle to come straight back into the line-up next week… but with Rafa, I guess you never really know!
Behind Joselu, Ayoze Perez was his usual useless self.
I was talking to a guy on the train back into the city centre who tried to persuade me that Perez was alright and that he was just missing that bit extra from his game. He then tried to persuade me that at the bare minimum, at least Perez was an honest player. I disagreed with both. He argued that in Spain, Perez would score a minimum 15 goals a season. Again, I couldn’t disagree more. I just don’t understand why he gets 90 minutes every week.
This is a guy, who for me, has no real quality, doesn’t add anything to the side, doesn’t contribute enough, he spends more time on the floor, or waving his hands around to the referee or teammates. And it the truth be told, he never really looks like he cares. On top of that, I would cut him a little slack if he didn’t dive, or what I call, trying to cheat. I may be being harsh but if he spent half as much effort he does into his pre-game twitter photos than he did on the pitch, then he might not be that bad!
Brighton took the lead shortly after half-time.
The goal came directly from Jamaal Lascelles giving away a needless free-kick in a stupid area of the pitch. A lot has been said about Lascelles in recent weeks thanks to his two goals in the last two games that have given us wins. That is great. It is an added bonus when your centre-halves can provide a threat from set-pieces and chip in with goals. This is especially the case when you support Newcastle and had to sit through years of Alan Pardew, Carver and McClaren where we were incapable of scoring from indirect set pieces.
However, I will continue to judge Lascelles solely based on his ability as a centre-half. To be honest, I am not his biggest fan. I think both Mbemba and Clark are better centre-halves and I have been really impressed from what I have seen of Lejeune so far. This does not mean that I think Lascelles is rubbish and should be sold. Far from it. However, I think since the start of last season, his defending, particularly away from home, has left a lot to be desired. He is too hesitant, is consistently caught out under the ball, and isn’t confident playing out from the back in any way as close to our three other centre halves. But he is an ok defender, I just think the other three that we have are better. There was talk of there being a foul on Mbemba in the box when the goal was scored but I do think that was clutching at straws in this given situation.
After the introduction of Gayle and Shelvey into the game, Newcastle tried their best to press for an equaliser but you never really felt like it was going to come. Our best attacking outlet on the day came from DeAndre Yedlin who was good going forward. However, Yedlin was soon caught out by the fact that Newcastle without a recognised left back are therefore very predictable. Brighton were able to squeeze Newcastle on the right hand side of the pitch yesterday in the knowledge that when the ball was switched, there would not be the immediate danger there from Yedlin’s opposite full-back.
Even when Paul Dummett does come back into the line-up, I still think we struggle to offer that additional attacking threat that is so important in the Premier League. There was a lot of talk on the train back into London about where Newcastle need players, with the common assertion being that a no.9 and no.10 were needed. I would agree. However, I would also argue that a proper left-back who can offer attacking intent can be just as important, as it changes the whole balance of the team. It allows the wingers to tuck in further and support the centre-forward more.
Many fans have cited that all three strikers don’t get enough support from the midfield. Two attacking full-backs also gives you an extra outlet from the middle of the pitch for ball players such as Merino and Shelvey to utilise, and it forces the opposition into not making themselves too compact. The greatest quality that the teams at the top have, apart from the obvious multi million pound squads, is two complete full-backs (Mendy/Walker. Alonso/Moses. Bellerin/Kolisinac. Aurier/Rose. Valencia/Shaw).
Making that transition from defence to attack is one of the most difficult things to do at the top level and having two full-backs who can offer that outlet makes it incredibly easier. Just think how many times Newcastle going forward yesterday or in the past, pass the ball around the backline only for it to reach the LB, who lacks the quality to play the ball forward, or inside to a central midfielder, or make an overlapping run. More often than not, when the ball reaches the left-back, you know it is going to go straight back to the centre-half.
I have seen some pretty bad performances at Brighton in recent years and this wasn’t one of them. Just one of those days. I am still confident going into next week’s game at home to Liverpool that we can get a positive result.
What is clear at the moment is that the manager is getting the absolute maximum out of a squad of players that includes a few very good players and quite a few very bad players. At the very least he has got them organised, working for each other and being hard to beat.
I can’t help but feel that the manager must be fuming inside that he doesn’t have a decent no.9 or no.10.
My only criticism of the manager yesterday, which seems to be my only ever criticism, is his substitutions. The refusal to go with two up top when chasing the game, as well as bringing on Gamez instead of other options on the bench, such as Murphy or Diame.
Murphy is a strange one, it almost looks as though Rafa doesn’t fancy him at all. Granted, he hasn’t exactly performed in his two appearances so far this season against Swansea and Forest. But at a very basic level, what he does bring in the last 15 minutes of a game is pace on the wing and an attacking outlet. So why not bring him on? I just don’t understand it.
We really weren’t treated to a classic that’s for sure! But that is generally the rule when you support Newcastle United – the further you travel, the more likely it is that it will be a dead boring game and Newcastle won’t score, and will get beat (last season’s game against Brighton being a wonderful exception).
The atmosphere in the away end wasn’t its usual bouncy self! But sometimes when you travel such a long distance domestically that is usually case. The atmosphere here last season was even worse until a jubilant last 15 minutes.
However, that is not to take anything away from the 2,500 full allocation that turned up. The support levels of this brilliant fanbase never fails to surprise me.
One of those days – you win some, you lose some! If Joselu had taken his chance in the first half then it all could have been different.
Truth being told, neither side really deserved to win. I remain positive going into next week and the rest of the season.
My team for Liverpool;
Elliott, Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Mbemba, Merino, Shelvey, Diame, Atsu, Ritchie, Gayle.
You can follow the author on Twitter @JonathanComyn
(Alan Shearer’s reaction to Newcastle defeat HERE)
(Small-time Brighton journalist trolls Newcastle fans and they respond, read it HERE)
(Go HERE to read instant Newcastle fan/writer reaction to the defeat at Brighton)
(Read Chris Hughton’s post-match reaction HERE)
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