Murphy inspires Newcastle victory
Brighton 1 Newcastle Utd 2
There is still at least some fight in Newcastle United - back on top of the Championship courtesy of a last-gasp victory over their title rivals - but Rafael Benitez will recognise that, among the scrappers and the dreamers of the second tier, his team is hardly sailing back to the Premier League.
It was the Newcastle substitute Ayoze Perez who scored the winner in the 88th minute of a game that the away side had trailed for 67 minutes, finally coming alive when their most passive player on the pitch scored the kind of goal that would suggest he is either very lucky or something of a visionary. That was Mohamed Diame, notable until then only for his astonishingly low input, whose improvised equaliser finally got Newcastle level.
Newcastle might have the more expensive and talented squad, but it was Brighton who made most of the early running, scoring with a Glenn Murray first-half penalty that was debateable. It took Diame's intervention, in which he seemed simply let the ball hit him and take its own unlikely course into the Brighton goal to set on course a victory that takes Newcastle past Brighton and back to the top. It was terrible luck on Chris Hughton's side.
The penalty that gave the Seagulls their first-half lead was not the only decision by referee Robert Madeley that upset Benitez. but it was probably the one that upset him and his assistant Mikel Antia the most. They complained assiduously all half but on this occasion they had a point.
It was as a corner from Brighton was curled in from the right side that Murray went to ground with Ciaran Clark falling down on top of him and not much complaint from the striker. It looked like they had both contributed to the gripping and shoving, and there may have been an arm from Jamaal Lascelles in the confusion but generally there was surprise on both sides when the penalty was given.
Murray sent Karl Darlow the wrong way to score from the spot and generally, Brighton were good for their lead at half-time. Steven Sidwell was a steady influence in midfield and on the left the right-footed Scottish winger Jamie Murphy always seemed to have DeAndre Yedlin's number. The American was the quicker of the two, and he would surely have known that Murphy always cuts in on his right, but still the Newcastle full-back seemed to struggle.
Before the penalty, Darlow had saved well from a volley by the Brighton captain Bruno Saltor that the Spanish right-back had struck sweetly after a corner was cleared. There was a fine save from David Stockdale at the end of the half when the Brighton goalkeeper reacted well to Christian Atsu's shot from Yedlin's cut-back. The winger, on loan from Chelsea, should really have done better with his effort and that rather summed up his half, a quick, skilful player but inconsistent as far as Benitez was concerned.
Yedlin had been in trouble again when Dale Stephens' quick ball over the top looked like it should release Sam Baldock with the Newcastle defender on the wrong side and flat-footed. The full-back stuck out an arm and seemed to knock the Brighton man off balance which might have earned him red, rather than yellow, had the ball not been curving away from goal and not an obvious opportunity to score.
The home side had lost Sebastien Pocognoli to injury early in the game and he was replaced by another from the Chelsea loan army, Fikayo Tomori
Paul Dummett had to scoop a header from Lewis Dunk away from goal after Darlow had lost the flight of a cross in the first minute of the second half. Knockaert looked the sharpest of the strikers on both sides and had a shot saved soon after. Jonjo Shelvey tried to make it happen for Newcastle but often wasted possession.
None was as wasteful, however, as Yoan Gouffran who had a poor game and was given a chance to score on 50 minutes when Stockdale miscued a dreadful pass-out straight to the Newcastle man. Gouffran had only to take a step to one side of the stranded goalkeeper and hit the target but instead he seemed to panic and just hit a limp shot straight at Stockdale.
Benitez's team were running out of ideas when he brought on Ireland frontman Daryl Murphy for the midfielder Jack Colback with 15 minutes left and the big striker began by sending a free header at Stockdale. He won the corner from which Newcastle scraped the equaliser.
From Stockdale's punch Atsu hit a poor volley way off target and from there it went to Diame. He was not even facing goal when he gave up on the difficult options and just let the ball clip his heel, rise up over Stockdale and beating Tomori on the line
An improbable goal from an innocuous player but immediately Newcastle's tails were up. On as a substitute in the aftermath of the equaliser, Perez scored the winner from close range when Yedlin's long ball picked out Atsu and he got his act together in time to pick out his team-mate, unmarked in the area. With 12 games to play they are back on top of the Championship, although race is far from over. (© Daily Telegraph, London)