Newcastle United grew sick of the sight of Gustavo Poyet as a goalscoring midfield player with Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, and their first glimpse of him as a manager will not have improved his standing on Tyneside. Among a number of goals Poyet scored against them between 1997 and 2004 were two for Chelsea that won a Wembley FA Cup semi-final in 2000, and on Saturday evening the Brighton team he has built according to his footballing beliefs heaped more misery on the Magpies in the same competition.
Instead of getting in the faces of the Premier League players in the traditional manner of teams looking to upset their supposed betters, Brighton passed the ball from the back whenever they were allowed to, kept their focus, and took their chance when it came after 76 minutes, Mike Williamson's touch diverting in a shot by Will Buckley, who supported Newcastle as a boy.
Alan Pardew, the Newcastle manager, had picked the strongest team available to him, but the absence of Demba Ba at the African Cup of Nations meant that all Newcastle's possession foundered on a Brighton defence in which the outstanding performers were Gordon Greer, the captain, and Lewis Dunk, 20, who has attracted attention from a number of Premier League clubs.
"The key was the way that we defended," Poyet said. "The players put in everything. I liked the players' attitude. It was my team and I enjoyed watching them. Newcastle had two shots that Peter [Brezovan] saved. I don't want to pick out players but the easiest is Dunky because he's the youngest. A year ago he wasn't in the starting XI and for him to be playing against Premier League players, who are so strong, and defending the way he did, is going to take him to another level."
The club has also moved up a level this season, both in league status after Poyet's team won League One last season, and in its surroundings since exchanging the cramped Withdean Stadium for the American Express Community Stadium, where Sunderland had already fallen in the Carling Cup. Plans are being submitted to expand the capacity from 22,500 to 30,000, with the team only four points outside the play-off places.
None of which will be any consolation to Newcastle, who were denied a clear penalty when Ashley Barnes blocked a shot by Yohan Cabaye with his arm, and will hope that the FA do not look too closely at an incident in which Cabaye appeared to aim a kick at Adam El Abd. They must now rediscover the form that saw them begin 2012 with three successive victories, which will be assisted by the return of Ba, Chieck Tioté, new signing Papiss Demba Cissé and the injured Fabricio Coloccini.
"We have to correct what's wrong and yet it's hard to criticise my players because we had a good grip of the game and our balance and commitment were right," Pardew said. "We knew this period would be difficult without big players at the African Nations. We've lost Coloccini as well.
"I've no idea whether [Cissé and Ba] will be back for Wednesday but I hope so. We've got a big week this week. We've got a big game at Blackburn [on Wednesday], we need to get something against Villa [at St James' Park on Sunday] and then hopefully we can start looking upwards again."Reuse content