Friday 22 March 2019

Newcastle in dogfight after Brighton hold firm

Newcastle 0 Brighton 0

Dwight Gayle of Newcastle United is challenged by Lewis Dunk of Brighton. Photo: Getty Images
Dwight Gayle of Newcastle United is challenged by Lewis Dunk of Brighton. Photo: Getty Images

independent.ie Sportsdesk

A late contender for the worst game of 2017 illustrated just why a Newcastle United side without a home win since October will spend the first part of the New Year embroiled in a relegation skirmish.

Brighton are far from safe but Chris Hughton looked somewhat happier than Rafael Benítez at the end of an afternoon when both sides could have been forgiven for wanting to turn back the clock and return to their former lives dominating last season's Championship.

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez gestures from the sideline. Photo: Getty Images
Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez gestures from the sideline. Photo: Getty Images

The first half was almost as messy as the remnants of Friday's snow which had left Tyneside's pavements covered by a deceptively treacherous half-frozen sludge.

It might have been different had Anthony Knockaert been able to use his right foot properly. Brighton's French winger - who was deployed down the right here - proved the best attacking player on show, but his side's heavy dependence on his left foot slowed their game down at vital moments, frequently permitting his marker, Paul Dummett, to reassert himself.

Even so, Hughton's side shaded an opening 45 minutes in which an amorphous Newcastle all too often seemed unsure as to whether they should be attacking or defending and in which Dwight Gayle, Benítez's most dangerous striker, was repeatedly second-guessed by the impressive Lewis Dunk.

Brighton had reason for cautious optimism and as half-time beckoned optimism very nearly turned to celebration when Shane Duffy out-jumped everyone to meet Pascal Gross's corner and power a header narrowly wide.

Dale Stephens of Brighton takes on Issac Hayden of Newcastle. Photo: Getty Images
Dale Stephens of Brighton takes on Issac Hayden of Newcastle. Photo: Getty Images

It was a significant reprieve for Benítez's side.

Admittedly Matt Ryan was required to make an important save early in the second half, but that was down to Isaac Hayden's routine shot taking a deflection off Dunk. Ryan subsequently performed wonders to dive to his left and repel Gayle's header after the striker had bisected two defenders and connected with Christian Atsu's left wing cross.

At the other end, Karl Darlow did well to dive to his right and keep Dunk's header out after Duffy had flicked on a corner.

A slightly improved Newcastle had finally suggested they could be capable of scoring, but their efforts were hampered by another disappointing performance from Matt Ritchie. Accepting that this was yet another winter afternoon on which Ritchie had morphed from talisman to passenger, Benítez withdrew his right winger, introducing Ayoze Pérez.

By now Hughton appeared ready to settle for a point against his old club.

Although his team arguably defended far too deep in the dying minutes, the chorus of boos which greeted the final whistle confirmed his wish had been granted.

Observer

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