For all the pressure they exerted, for all the possession they enjoyed and as many times as they stretched their opponents, it was Brighton who had suffered the damage. It must have been a punishing and demoralizing experience.
Newcastle should have taken a very early lead when Joe Willock did brilliantly with a surging run down the right flank. His deep cross from him fell perfectly for Ryan Fraser to hit on the volley but he put it straight at goalkeeper Robert Sanchez.
Brighton took control after that, passing through Newcastle’s midfield and then getting in behind the defense out wide. What they did not do, though, is to get someone on the end of crosses into the area. Indeed, their best chance – and it was one that should have led to goal – came from a set piece when Shane Duffy got away from Fabian Schar at a corner but from two yards out, the Republic of Ireland international headed wide. Some credit must go to Jacob Murphy, who came off the line and appeared to put the big center back off but it was still harder to miss the target from that range than score.
Within minutes, Newcastle were in front, Chris Wood turning away from Lewis Dunk deep inside his own half and suddenly Brighton were exposed. Murphy’s pace was the key, as he galloped ahead of Marc Cucurella and was played in by a great pass from Wood. The winger’s finishing has not been a strength and although he lifted the ball over Sanchez, it came back off the post. Fortunately for Newcastle, it fell perfectly for Fraser to smash in the rebound.
The noise inside the stadium made the air vibrate and Brighton were shaken up enough to concede a second when Danny Welbeck switched off and Schar made a simple run to the near post to glance in Fraser’s free kick.
The game settled down again and Brighton rediscovered their rhythm as Newcastle sat back, but it was the home side who came closest to a third goal when Murphy failed to capitalize on a loose pass inside the area and fired straight at Sanchez.
Newcastle, though, were getting complacent and eventually sloppy. Brighton continued to dominate possession and with the hosts sitting too deep and unable to keep hold of the ball, they were duly punished.
The goal came from a set piece and it was a shocker for the Newcastle defense who allowed dangerman Duffy to run, unimpeded from the penalty spot and head in from almost under the crossbar.
The mood inside the stadium changed. It was Brighton’s fans who were making the noise and their team looking the most likely to score another goal.
Howe sent on Allan Saint Maximin to offer more pace to his counter attacking threat, but strangely, even though his side were losing the midfield battle – and had been all afternoon – he did not bring on club record signing, Brazil international Bruno.
When you have been given a £43m midfield talent it was odd to keep him on the bench when the game was in danger of slipping away from your side.
Bruno did eventually come on with around 15 minutes remaining but it was Brighton’s Leandro Trossard who almost scored, Martin Dubravka making a good low save.
The visitors kept coming, kept knocking, but Newcastle held on.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.