The lovely feeling of entering a game with no pressure, other than that imposed on themselves, against a Brighton side who still had all to play for.
With Cardiff losing to Fulham earlier in the day, Brighton knew that a win would pretty much secure their Premier League future, taking them 6 points ahead of their relegation rivals with a much better goal difference.
In the end through there would be a good deal of disappointment for those supporting Newcastle United.
Having bullied Brighton for 45 minutes, a half that saw the visitors score through Perez and could, and probably should, have had more. A second half that saw a fight back from Brighton, one that eventually yielded an equaliser for Groß is hugely frustrating.
Newcastle lost Perez to injury too, whilst those standing in for missing players did little to convince Rafa that anything but a huge turnover of playing personnel will be required should he stay.
1-1 in the end a frustrating night for everyone other than Brighton who will feel they are safe now knowing that Cardiff will need to take 6 points without reply from their final two fixtures.
Rafa was forced into a couple of changes for this one. With Almiron out for the rest of the season and Lascelles joining him on the treatment table, there would be call-ups for Atsu and Fernandez form the start. There was also a starting birth for Shelvey who returned to the side as Captain.
STARTING XI: Dubravka, Manquillo, Schar, Dummett, Fernandez, Ritchie, Hayden, Shelvey (Ki, 73), Pérez (Kenedy, 32), Atsu (Muto, 80), Rondón
Only the top 6 had a better record than Newcastle since November, and it is that form that has seen United now safe with 3 games to go.
And United started brightest. Some good early play and movement from Perez in particular.
Whatever Brighton’s team plan, deliberate of otherwise, it allowed Newcastle to dominate possession.
And that early pressure paid dividends within 20 minutes. Dummett was allowed to travel forward an whip a great cross into Rondon who, instead of shooting, chested the ball back to Perez who smashed home from 10 yards. A thunderous strike, and great link up play from the two Newcastle front men.
Moments later and Newcastle thought they should have had a penalty. Bruno clearly catching Rondon as the pair ran into the box. The contact certainly didn’t seem deliberate and the referee waved away appeals.
Perez wouldn’t see out the half. The number 17 having picked up a knock on his hip even before scoring and was substituted on 30 minutes allowing Kenedy to get a rare run out.
On 36 the impressive Schar passed his way into the area and again Newcastle could have easily had a spot kick. But instead of going to ground the centre-back stayed on his feet allowing Ryan to grab the ball.
The Magpies now completely dominant, Brighton not managing to single shot, on or off target. The only time it looked like there would be any danger for Newcastle was from the odd set piece lumped into the box.
1-0 up at half time then. 62% possession and 5 shots to Brighton’s none. Embarrassing from the home side. Surely Hughton’s men would offer something else second half.
Early in the second half and Newcastle had another claim for a spot kick denied. This time a flick from a corner lifted straight onto the arm of Stephens. Mike Dean this time waving it away based on the proximity of the two players.
Some good play around the box again allowed United to build pressure. Shelvey finally finding his passing range and Astu and Hayden both looking sharp. It certainly felt like if the visitors could get another it would be game over.
Brighton were at least trying in the second period and started to get a grip of the game and forcing Newcastle back and looking threatening at last. That would start to leave space behind in the home sides half for United to run into on the break. Almiron would have love this one!
Unbelievably Brighton would find an equaliser. A ball into the box allowed Murray to head back over the Newcastle back line and into the path of Groß to nod home. Brighton’s first goal in 12 hours and 15 minutes. Poor marking from the visitors with no-one picking up the run of the Brighton man. 1-1 with 15 left.
Newcastle had offered very little in the second period, something that will undoubtedly frustrate Benitez terribly. And it looked like only one side was going to score if there was to be a third.
And in the final minute the home side could have nicked it. A flighted cross from Knockaert would find the head of Murray virtually unmarked at the back stick, but his header would clear the crossbar.
A point in the end then. Certainly Newcastle missed the quality that Perez and Almiron would have offered going forward in the second half. A fair result but disappointing in the end given the dominance in the first half.