Newcastle and Brighton share points as they struggle to break each other down

Newcastle United 0 Brighton 0: The result ends the Toon's run of five straight defeats

Martin Hardy
St James' Park
@mhardysport
Saturday 30 December 2017 16:36
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Both sides struggled to get the better of the other one during the game
Both sides struggled to get the better of the other one during the game

So much to play for, and, quite simply, too much to lose. Statistics suggest there is a good chance one of these clubs will start next season in the Championship - five of the last nine promoted from the Championship have gone straight back down - so both Rafa Benitez and Chris Hughton erred on the side of caution.

That was not for everyone. Brighton's 2,200 travelling supporters urged their side to attack. St James' Park had a fair smattering of jeers when referee Anthony Taylor blew his final whistle.

The potential swing - a Newcastle victory would have had the sides level, a Brighton victory would have shifted the gap to six points - was too damaging for either side. There were no world class saves, no glaring misses, just two football clubs desperate not to get relegated.

Chris Hughton returned to his former club Newcastle

Much had been made of Benitez's tactics for the defeat to Manchester City in midweek. Then there was a decision to retreat and defend, and it came close, at the death at least, to fashioning a point, or at least a late hurrah. It kept City down to a single goal for only the second time in their 18 game winning run.

Benitez was unrepentant and insisted he did not have an eye on the visit of Brighton. There were, however, seven changes from that team (only one enforced through injury). It told you of the far greater significance of a game against a team and a manager who was sacked back in 2010, when Newcastle were 11th in the Premier League.

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The two sides fought a battle until the very final throws of last season, Newcastle snatching the title with a minute of a 46-game campaign remaining. Both sides spent around £43 million in the summer. There is still nothing between them.

It was another night where Newcastle fans had to at least try to control their instincts and urge their side to attack. That only came on pockets.

Dwight Gayle struggled to get through the Brighton defence

Indeed there were spells when the visitors had elements of control a game that rarely ventured above scrappy and nervous.

Dwight Gayle latched onto a fine Mikel Merino through ball in the 21st minute and his shot, from a narrow angle, was touched away by Matt Ryan. In the 37th minute Gayle's shot was blocked and Merino fizzed a left footed shot wide of the far post of the Brighton goal. They were largely isolated incidents.

Brighton had the edge in territorial advantage in the opening half, and their chances were more clear-cut. Anthony Knockaert was denied with a shot from the edge of the Newcastle penalty area and then Shane Duffy cracked a shot over the bar from a left win Pascal Gross corner.

Duffy would come as close to anyone to scoring in the first half. His looping header, again from a Gross left wing corner, narrowly clearing the far corner of Darlow's goal.

Newcastle couldn't find a way past Brighton

The game remained tight throughout. In the 49th minute Isaac Hayden's deflected shot from a left wing corner had Ryan scrambling backwards to tip the effort away with his right hand. The Brighton keeper did well again, diving to his right to tip away a glancing header from Gayle and then Joselu saw a long range effort blocked. Gross saw a low 20 yard free-kick saved and with twenty minutes remaining, Darlow did well after a Duffy had headed a Gross corner into the path of Dunk and the recalled goalkeeper parried away the close range header. There was a chant of 'attack, attack, attack' from the visiting supporters.

It had been missed by both sets of supporters that this was a must not lose game for both sides, even with so much of the season still to play; a proper relegation six pointer. To that end, both managers erred on the side of caution. It gained them a point, the value of which will only be realised come the season's home straight.

Newcastle (4–4-1-1): Darlow; Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett; Ritchie (Perez 72), Hayden, Merino (Shelvey 77), Atsu; Joselu (Murphy 84); Gayle.

Brighton (4-2-3-1): Ryan; Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Bong; Stephens, Propper; Knockaert, Gross, March; Murray (Hemed 62).

Referee: Mr Anthony Taylor

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