Updated: Sep 23, 2019
Newcastle United 0-0 Brighton
20 years ago this week some of us were lucky enough to watch a Tino Asprilla inspired Newcastle United humble the mighty Barcelona at St James Park. That very season Brighton & Hove Albion finished 23rd, second bottom, of the Third Division. The bottom tier of the 4 divisions of English football.
Roll forward to today and you’d think, watching these two teams, that Barca had turned up in a Brighton kit and Newcastle had dragged 11 lads wearing replica kits from Leazes Park and invited them for a kick-about.
No one will really be sure how Brighton didn’t win this one. They certainly deserved to win it with 71% possession and 50% more shots than United. Newcastle a disorganised shambles, camped in their own third for most of the game, devoid of ideas and at times chasing shadows.
Only Dubravka, Schar and substitute Saint-Maximin had anything to shout about in terms of performance, although it’s hard to criticise the players when they’d been prepared all week in that formation, with those tactics and that mentality.
At one point Hayden was even heard talking to Bruce on the touch line, saying ‘this isn’t working’.
A lowest possession by any team in the league in fact, in front of the lowest league crowd at St James Park for almost 10 years.
I’m afraid there is nothing positive to take from this one but for the point.
Starting the game in the bottom three, a home fixture against a similarly struggling Brighton side seemed the ideal opportunity to put some much needed points on the board with fixtures against Leicester, Manchester United and Chelsea following hot on the heels of this one.
Instead, United fans, players and staff will all be extremely worried that the rot really has set into what is going to prove a very long and painful season.
STARTING XI: Dubravka, Manquillo, Schar, Lascelles, Dummett, Willems (Carroll, 82), Hayden, Shelvey (Ki, 73), Atsu, Almiron (Saint-Maximin, 73), Joelinton
United welcomed back Andy Carroll to the fold as his second spell at the club started with a place on the bench. On the bench too was the welcome sight of Saint-Maximin, whilst Krafth was relegated to sit next to him following his indifferent performance again Liverpool last time out.
Newcastle United were outplayed from the start.
Graham Potter’s side dominating the play with Newcastle forced to sit in their own defensive third and hope the visitors wouldn’t find a way through.
And whilst Brighton only actually registered two attempts on target, from Neal Maupay in the first half and Yves Bissouma in the second, the statistics hide a horrible truth. Against any other side United would not have been so lucky. Indeed, Watford, who lost 8-0 to Man City today, had more of the ball against the Champions than Newcastle managed against relegation rivals Brighton.
For the home side there was the usual frustration of watching Almiron misfire. His best chance hit straight at the Brighton keeper when well placed and unmarked 12 yards out.
Any chance the introduction of Saint-Maximin would have to make an instant impact, who looked a real threat after coming on, almost disappeared in a heartbeat. Only an acrobatic scissor kick clearance from Schar, with the ball almost fully over the line, would save United from going behind on this occasion.
Saint-Maximin would break from that attack and spring one of his own, his pulsating run forward feeding Joelinton, but his goal bound effort was deflected wide. The Newcastle United striker, for once at least, getting the type of service he’d craved all day.
Finally the introduction of Carroll raised the spirits of the crowd at least, having replaced Willems who’d been largely ineffective, but even with two up front the Magpies couldn’t create any further chances of note. At least United managed 5 minutes of looking like the home team. 5 minutes. How depressing!
Tactics! What tactics. If this was the flowing attacking football Bruce had promised on his appointment to the Newcastle job then god only knows how we’d be playing if he was on the defensive. NUFC now have the least possession and least shots of any team in the Premier League. That smell? It’s the stench of a dying club and it’s creep toward relegation.
You’d also have to question the management team on their ability to look after the wellbeing of the players. Once more Schar receiving treatment on the pitch for what looks like a reoccurring injury, whilst Saint-Maximin complained after the game of pain in the same place that has kept him out for weeks.
All in all, one of the most horrid days of Newcastle United’s recent history on a football pitch. The only positive, if we must stretch it, a point gained.