The top four may just be set for the season. Certainly Newcastle United look like a team eminently worthy of a Champions League berth on the back of this assertive 4-1 over Brighton and Hove Albion.
Four points clear of Liverpool with two games to go, the promised land is in sight, a season that had been about steady progress under Eddie Howe having been rocket fuelled by an energetic, shrewdly and expensively assembled young side and a St. James’ Park crowd that will make for unforgettable European nights in the Toon.
Their visitors must now hold off Tottenham and Aston Villa in the battle for Europa League or Conference League football, their fate remains in their hands but this was an unpleasant experience for Brighton, learning what it was like to have done to them what they did to Arsenal on Sunday. The Seagulls hadn’t dropped that much further from the levels they set in the first half of their demolition job at the Emirates Stadium. The absence of Alexis MacAllister in the engine room left them without their most natural out ball but Roberto De Zerbi’s side continued with their almost pathological refusal to play out from the back until their opponent pressed them. This time, however, loose passes that had flashed just wide of their weekend opponents were now snaffled up by a remorseless Newcastle side.
Alexander Isak put too much bend on a shot early on while Joe Willock flashed just wide of the near post of a Miguel Almiron cross as St James’ Park roared its approval. Where there was a sense in north London that a deflated crowd had given up hope that this could be the season of the dreams, Newcastle supporters sensed that there was still something to fight for as Liverpool breath down their necks. The intensity in the stands was matched on the pitch, forcing errors of Brighton that culminated in Deniz Undav glancing Kieran Trippier’s corner beyond Jason Steele at the near post.
Brighton have proven that their play style brings plentiful reward in totality for all its inherent risks. Newcastle, however, backed themselves to have the intensity to move faster than their visitors could pass the ball. It very nearly paid off when Joelinton stole the ball from Pascal Gross in the penalty area, Steele doing enough to deny the Brazilian. Such clumsiness carried right the way through to the stroke of halftime, where Undav completed a half to forget with a striker’s challenge, felling Willock in just the right spot for Trippier to deliver again. It is no wonder the right back has been nominated for the Premier League Player of the Season when he delivers crosses with such unerring accuracy, dropping one right into the path of Dan Burn, who bounced the ball into the turf before screeching off to celebrate his first Premier League goal.
Brighton hadn’t lost every top flight game this season when trailing at the interval. For an instance, seconds after Miguel Almiron volleyed straight at Steele from close range, that looked like changing. Billy Gilmour slipped a fine pass between Burn and Fabian Schar, Undav racing on to make some amends for his first half display.
Newcastle’s response, however, was sterling, laying siege to the Brighton goal with ever greater numbers. Steele saved low from Isak before Burn saw his shot blocked on the rebound. Even as time wore on the Magpies looked the more dangerous, winning the day in the 89th minute when Almiron beat his man and slipped Callum Wilson in behind for his 18th of the season. Wilson turned provider before the end, breaching the Brighton offside trap again but this time squaring for Bruno Guimaraes to turn home.