We saw another entertaining weekend of Premier League football the other week with 29 goals over 10 games. Tottenham Hotspur just got over the line against West Ham; winning 3-2; Manchester United edged past Southampton thanks to Romelu Lukaku;s 6th goal in as many games; Manchester City ran bottom of the table Crystal Palace ragged and Chelsea demolished Stoke City 4-0 and Liverpool just got past Leicester City at the King Power Stadium as Simon Mingolet denied Jamie Vardy from the penalty spot.
The only Sunday game in the Premier League saw Newcastle United travel to the AMEX Stadium to face Chris Hughton’s Brighton& Hove Albion. Having made the 345-mile journey to the South Coast, Rafa Benitez named an unchanged lineup from that which beat Stoke in the previous game. That meant Joselu retained his place up front having missed a hatful of opportunities against his former club while Mikel Merino stayed in central midfield alongside Isaac Hayden with Jonjo Shelvy on the bench. Aleksandar Mitrovic served the last of his three-game suspension.
Chris Hughton needed a response from his Brighton squad having lost to AFC Bournemouth in both the League and the Carabao Cup in the preceding eight days. The team facing Newcastle was completely different to the side fielded in the cup but featured only one change to the league defeat. Bruno came in for Liam Rosenier at right-back. Tim Krul’s loan move to Brighton was made permanent in the week building up to the game which allowed him to feature on the substitutes bench.
Newcastle started the game brightly with a Matt Ritchie corner aimed for Mikel Merino on the edge of the area forced Brighton goalkeeper Mathew Ryan into a good save after it came through the sea of bodies. Two minutes in. Benitez’s men, doing the all black third choice kit, pressed their hosts for possession high up the pitch in the early minutes before Chris Hughton’s men started to come back at Newcastle. In fact, they should have had the lead 13 minutes in as Solly March’s low cross from the left was deflected by Lascelles into the path of Pascal Gross whose close-range effort was deflected wide by Anthony Knockaert.
Brighton kept pressing for the opener but they nearly found themselves behind as Newcastle created a number of good opportunities. The first of which fell to Joselu though it came to him by accident. After being found on the outside of Atsu, Perez’s low cross from Newcastle’s left flank was inadvertently back-heeled by Dunk into the path of Joselu who managed to shoot wide of the target in the midpoint of the half. Perez had an effort go well over the crossbar while Ritchie had a free-kick comfortably saved by Ryan as the scores remained goalless at halftime.
Brighton were quick off the traps in the half and when Lascelles was penalised for a challenge on Hemed, they were presented with a good opportunity from a set piece. In a well-rehearsed routine, Gross found Dale Stephans who had found himself free at the far post. His header across goal was volleyed past Elliott on the bounce up by Hemed and from point-blank range, there was little the goalkeeper could do, Brighton had the lead!
Newcastle’s defence were not alert and they were very nearly punished again only five minutes later. Bruno’s low cross on the overlap had Elliott committed and beaten on its way to finding March at the far post. He must have thought hed scored but Elliott was on hand to keep his effort out.
This woke Newcastle up and they started to probe for a way back into the game. Just after the hour mark, Newcastle nearly had an equaliser after Ritchie’s free-kick was deflected to Merino. Merino’s long-range shot could easily have gone in as Shane Duffy got his head on it and only just skimmed past the far post. With Benitez bringing Jonjo Shelvey and Dwight Gayle on for the final 20 minutes, more chances came Newcastle’s way. Shelvey caught Ryan off his line when taking a corner and only the front post denied Shelvey as he went for goal. Gamez, Atsu and Gayle all had chances to equalise but could not convert them as Newcastle’s run of three successive league victories came to an end as Brighton secured their second win of the season.
After a pretty downbeat defeat on the south coast, there are perhaps rightly more negatives and lessons needing to be learnt from the game than there are positives so I will get the latter out of the way before all that…
Merino’s shooting prowess
One of the few positives to take from the defeat was the display of Mikel Merino going forward and in particular his goal threat. The Spanish U23 International was almost at his passing best but it was good to see him coming into the English game a bit more and feeling more confident to have a crack at goal. His first effort only two minutes in forced a good save from Ryan whilst his second was inches away from an equaliser even though it took a wicked deflection. He may not have scored but on the basis of his display at Brighton, he is coming close to adding a real goal threat o is arsenal and surely a goal or two will come his way this season.
Different set-piece options
This is a factor mainly due to the idiocracy of Jonjo Shelvey getting suspended but so far this season Newcastle United have pretty much been limited to Matt Ritchie for set-piece deliveries. While Ritchie’s deliveries were effective against Swansea and Stoke, it was nice to see two different things against Brighton even if they did not produce a goal. The first is a different corner set-see routine which was played to just outside the penalty area and almost resulted in Merino opening the scoring two minutes in. The second was the involvement of Shelvey on some corners and free kicks which although they did not result in much of the way of goals, it is reassuring to see Newcastle have multiple ways of probing teams from set-pieces which may be beneficial.
Rob Elliott made a couple of key saves in the win against Stoke and despite defeat to Brighton, the Newcastle goalkeeper again pulled off a number of important stops. The Ireland International could do little to keep Hemed’s goal out from point-blank range (it would have been incredible if he had). Other than that, he equal to everything Brighton had to throw at him including that impressive save off the line to deny March five minutes after falling behind. He kept Newcastle in the game which kept them with a chance as the game progressed.
Take your chances!
This one I feel is not being learnt but after the performance on the south coast must be! In tight, cagey games like the one, we saw at the AMEX, the team that takes their chances tend to win. That is indeed what happened as Brighton took the best chance that came their way in the penalty area, Newcastle did not. Joselu and Gayle both squandered chances for Newcastle while Gross and March were unlucky for Brighton at the other end though on was due more to the brilliance of Elliott. The bottom line is both teams created chances and the more ruthless of the two on this occasion won. It is a trait Newcastle need to rediscover.
Benitez won’t change shape
The defeat to Brighton reaffirmed something myself and other Newcastle United fans suspected to be true. No matter what the situation on the pitch, Rafa Benitez will not alter the shape of his team. Everyone celebrates a manager sticking to their principles and philosophy when they bring results and is certainly honourable. However, when it is going the other way, refusing to try something different can be frustrating. All substitutions made by Benitez were like for like changes with the shape of the team unchanged. It seemed off not to try and got aggressive in the team shape and maybe play two up font: Josleu and Gayle.
Shelvey trying the set-piece spectacular
I already touched on this with my set piece comments earlier but we certainly saw something that we haven’t seen yet this season when shelve took set-pieces. His first one, an inswinging corner almost fund it was way into the net having caught Ryan off his line. Unfortunately for Shelvey, it cannoned off the near post and was cleared. This is nothing new to Newcastle fans who grew accustomed to Shelvey occasionally going for glory in the Championship last season. However, it seems Shelvey’s desire to try the spectacularly unthinkable has not diminished.
Not all stamps are a red but can be punished….
Stamping on an opponent. Yes, we are talking about another one of those. Newcastle had Shelvey rightfully dismissed in the opening game of the season for one on Dele Alli and at Brighton, we saw DeAndre Yedlin stamped on by Tomer Hemed in the early moments of the second half. Now, I know Newcastle were fortunate with Ritchie’s high-footed challenge on Mawson at Swansea just a day after Saido Mane had been sent off for a similar incident. That is not the point. The point is yet again refereeing inconsistency which has had a key part to play in the game as it did in three of the four occasions mentioned. Liverpool were already 2-0 down to Manchester City when Mane was dismissed, Spurs went on to defeat Newcastle in the opening game with Alli playing a key role, Ritchie played a key role in Newcastle defeating Swansea and Hemed played a key role for Brighton as he went on to score the only goal of the game. I accept the referee may not have seen it but that is where surely video technology would become useful in ensuring the rules of the game are consistently and fairly applied. Hemed has since been charged retrospectively by the FA for violent conduct. While the three games he will be missing for Brighton will hurt them but he was still on the pitch to win them the game and the points. Does it balance out? Personally, I doubt it.
Hemed has since been charged retrospectively by the FA for violent conduct. While the three games he will be missing for Brighton will hurt them but he was still on the pitch to win them the game and the points. Does it balance out? Personally, I doubt it but time will tell. It was certainly right to punish the player as Greame Souness said on Sky Sports, ‘For me, he’s had a good look and I think he knows exactly what he’s doing.It would have been very easy to put his foot down somewhere else.’
Missing: Strikers striking boots
In the Match of the Day interview with Gary Lineker the previous weekend, Benitez expressed confidence in Josleu and Gayle in finding the back of the net when given the chance but not Mitrovic. Well, both Gayle and Joselu had game time against the Seagulls but either of them found the net with both getting big chances pass them by. Joselu had a solid start to his Newcastle United career but the last two games have seen him miss big chances and despite the ball coming to him from an unexpected back heel from Lewis Dunk, Joselu really should be testing the keeper from there. Gayle meanwhile, should be no stranger to scoring goals after finding 20 goals for Newcastle In the Championship last season. Stepping up a division to the Premier League does not automatically mean a striker forgets to where the goal is.
Those pesky second half starts
For the third time this season, the opening exchanges of the second half Newcastle were not alert and they were punished. Hemed’s goal came in the 51st minute with the defence not alert and they could have been punished again only five minutes later if not for Elliott. This portion of the game was Newcastle’s weak point in the first two league games and has been a niggling issue since with Newcastle only able to overcome it against West Ham and the results against Stoke and Swansea blanketing over the weakness. In the three wins, Newcastle weathered the storm of created chances of their own. At Brighton, it was neither and the layers alertness and approach to the second half is something I hope Benitez will work on.
Who was marking who?
The Newcastle defence had an inquest to answer following Hemed’s goal. Just how was Dale Stephens afforded so much space unmarked at the far post and how did Hemed get the strike off despite being in a triangle of Newcastle players? All ten Newcastle outfield players were back defending with three in the wall and a 7 vs 6 situation in the penalty area in Newcastle’s favour. Stephens made his run early in what must be said, was a well-worked Brighton move. To match Stephens run, I think should have been down to Clark and Lascelles to sort out among themselves. Clark ended up marking (Brighton number 3 while Lascelles ended up with no man having started defensively side by side. They should have communicated better to match his run. At the time Stephens gets his head to the ball, Joselu is marking Hemed. The Spanish striker did not follow Hemed as he went for the ball and Merino who was in front of his man (22) was also motionless. Neither of them going for the ball allowed Hemed thee free hit to score so overall, it was poor defending that led to the goal.
This follows on from my point of Benitez not changing the shape of his team. That is because eyebrows were certainly raised when with seven minutes remaining, Benitez used his last remaining substitution to take Chancel Mbemba off and replace him with full-back Jesus Gamez. Trailing the game 1-0 with so little time remaining, he changes a left-back. It felt like a typical substitution made during the Pardew years at Newcastle. If Mbemba had a niggling issue then the change becomes understandable but if not, surely a more offensive minded substitution might have been the more logical choice. Only Benitez however, knows the reason for this change.
|Shots on Target||3||5|
|Shots off target||2||7|
|Clear cut chances||0||1|
|Pass completion rate||77.4||79.7|
- Brighton have yet to lose when Hemed has scored at the AMEX Stadium
- Brighton have won successive home games in the top flight for the first time since November 1986
- Chris Hughton eventually got his first win against Newcastle since being sacked by the club in 2010, at the 7th
- Both teams are now shared on nine wins apiece in the all-time head to head, the other three meetings ending in draws.
- However, three of those defeats for Newcastle United have been this decade, all at the AMEX
- Newcastle United meanwhile have only won one of their last 24 away Premier League games when conceding first.
Table and What Next….
Defeat at the AMEX drops Newcastle United to 9th place in the Premier League table with 9 points. That is a points tally I would have taken at the stat f the season but defeats to the two fellow promoted sides is a slight concern. Newcastle should be able to counter that, balancing it out with victories at home against them later in the season. Newcastle return home for another Sunday kick-off, this time at 4.30pm as Newcastle host Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side who face questions concerning their defence. It is a Premier League classic, Newcastle United vs Liverpool at St James Park, Sunday 1st October, 4.30pm kick-off.