With less than a quarter of the season remaining and no time to lose as both Brighton and Newcastle seek to strengthen their precarious Premier League spots, the importance of this six point was apparent to all. Only Brighton rose to the occasion, producing a sublime performance to put Newcastle down 3-0 at the Amex and move Fulham six points away in the relegation zone.
Only one point separated Brighton and Newcastle at 16th and 17th before Saturday night. Despite their similar rankings, it would be difficult to find two relegation contenders with such contrasting moods.
In recent months, Newcastle have been shrouded in sadness as they have fallen to the table, with insufficient quality in the final third, injuries to key creative players and the sad vision of Steve Bruce’s team producing two wins since December.
On the contrary, even as Brighton has been sucked into an unwanted relegation battle, they continue to exude calm and faith in their long-term vision with Graham Potter at the helm.
The night began with good news for the visitors, as Miguel Almirón returned from his knee injury. But it was rather the Premier League debut of 21-year-old Polish midfielder Jakub Moder that made the difference early on, underscoring both an energetic start from Brighton and his inability to finish off the great opportunities they constantly create.
At Moder’s exit as a left-back, his first touch was a left-handed shot from inside the area and with ample space, which flew harmlessly over the crossbar. In just the third minute, his teammates had designed a second chance for him when he again found impressive space, his side shot too close to Martin Dubravka.
The first half progressed as expected, with Brighton easily dominating possession, methodically building inside the box but unable to score. Newcastle were organized and composed on defense, but they were terrible on the ball, rarely even making inroads into the home side.
What could have been another promising but frustrating half was instead defined by the burgeoning talent of Leandro Trossard, the outstanding player on the field. First, he produced the biggest chance of the first 35 minutes by finding Neal Maupay in the box with an excellent cross, which led to a blocked shot.
When Newcastle’s tepid first half worsened and Isaac Hayden was forced to leave after sustaining a knee injury, Trossard immediately landed the first punch. He delicately controlled a long ball before launching a brilliant forehand shot from the edge of the area, which whistled into the lower right corner of the net.
After landing just two regrettable touches in the Brighton area in the first half, a shot and 25% possession, any team truly committed to fighting for their survival would go out of their way to deliver an immediate response. To their credit, Newcastle offered a reply.
Four minutes into the second half, the visiting team generated a sweeping movement into the final third that ended with Almiron finding Ryan Fraser in space down the left. Fraser’s shot skimmed the post and rebounded.
Any hope that Newcastle had been able to seize their first clear opportunity was immediately dashed. Moments after Fraser hit the post, Danny Welbeck scooped the ball up the left, sliced off his right foot, and then doubled a powerful 25-yard shot to the right corner.
More gold followed. After a long sequence of passes, Pascal Gross fed Maupay, who finished off the play with a brilliant volley and lunge. It was appropriate. A team that had been defined so often by its poor finish produced three superb and varied goals in quick succession to win one of its biggest games of the season.
A look to the future underscores how timely and important such an excellent performance was for Brighton and how damning this lifeless performance was for Newcastle.
The home team then has a brutal three-game streak against Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea. Newcastle still have Tottenham, West Ham, Liverpool, Arsenal, Leicester and Manchester City ahead. While Potter’s side will have a chance to face their legendary opponents with renewed confidence, hope for Bruce’s Newcastle continues to fade.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism