Mike Ashley watched Newcastle lose again. Rafa Benitez oversaw his eighth defeat of the season and the 12th in the club’s last 15 Premier League games. In there, amidst a club in chaos, was Brighton’s first victory away from home at the 18th attempt of asking.
The numbers, aside from the 50,000 who keep turning up at St James’, are no longer adding up at Newcastle United.
The third victory for Chris Hughton’s side away from home in the Premier League in 23 attempts was the echo of an impending crisis in the black and white corner of the northeast.
There were jeers at full-time by which point Newcastle were rock bottom in both league position and spirit.
There was no hiding the vociferous criticism of Benitez’s decision to take off Yoshinori Muto for Joselu with 15 minutes remaining.
In total there were 101 minutes of football in which Newcastle failed to score, from 26 attempts. That says much.
Eight of those added minutes came as a result of a head injury suffered by Glenn Murray following an aerial collision with Federico Fernandez. There was genuine concern amongst players from both sides, and Murray, who was taken to hospital on a stretcher, was sitting up in his sickbed by the time Newcastle were settling themselves into one of their own.
Newcastle could have made their afternoon so much more simple but in the fifth minute, after good pressing from Jonjo Shelvey, Gaetan Bong erred and Ayoze Perez saw his shot saved by Matt Ryan’s left foot from just eight yards
It would prove a huge moment. Three minutes later Murray collided with Fernandez and the delay seemed to take away Newcastle’s early momentum.
It would still be just before the half-hour mark that Brighton’s goal came. Andre Marriner ignored appeals that the ball had struck Solly March as Brighton won a corner and from the resulting set-piece Alireza Jahanbakhsh sent over a cross that the towering Shane Duffy managed to head back to the edge of the Newcastle penalty area.
Jose Izquierdo was poised and struck a first time right-footed half-volley that first clipped the diving full-back Paul Dummett before striking his team-mate Beram Kayal and the defection took the shot past Martin Dubravka.
It would be Brighton’s only shot on target in the first half, but St James’ Park felt deflated.
It did at least spur renewed vigour from the home side and in the 35th minute Kenedy saw a low shot blocked. Three minutes later Dummett fired over a cross from the left wing that the unmarked Matt Ritchie headed wide from eight yards.
The effort continued and in the 42nd minute, after fine work by Jonjo Shelvey, he saw his low effort blocked by the diving Duffy.
The Newcastle midfielder almost grabbed glory less than a minute later, embarking on a mazy run that ended with a powerful left-footed shot that Ryan could only parry straight into the path of Yoshinori Muto, but the Japanese forward could not adjust his body quickly enough and the instinctive header went over the Brighton crossbar.
There were eight minutes of first-half injury-time as a result of Murray’s injury and in the first of those Kenedy struck a sweet, vicious, rising drive from 30 yards that grazed the top of Ryan’s crossbar.
By half-time, there had been 13 efforts for the home side.
The second half carried much the same feel.
Ryan denied Shelvey with a curling shot two minutes after the break and then Perez saw a shot blocked by Dunk. Ritchie headed another cross, this time from Kenedy, wide.
There were chances on the counter for the visitors. March shot narrowly over the crossbar from 20 yards and Jahanbakhsh’s lob cleared Dubravka but went wide following an error by Jamaal Lascelles.
In the main, it was one-way traffic. Ritchie fired a rising drive over the crossbar in the 58th minute and four minutes later Kenedy shot over with an ambitious Rabona from 20 yards
Perez produced a mazy run in the 72nd minute that ended with nothing and then Ryan did well to his left to tip over a deflected Shelvey free-kick. Kenedy saw a shot saved and then, after the substitution to bring Joselu on had been jeered, he shot way, way wide.
It was Newcastle’s 26th and final attempt.
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