Newcastle United play Brighton Hove Albion on Saturday night knowing only a win against their direct relegation rivals on the South Coast will be enough to keep fears of the drop at bay over the international break following the crunch Premier League clash.
The Magpies, who were mid-table and in the Quarter-Final of a Cup in November before the worst Corona Virus outbreak to hit a Premier League team struck, then lost their first choice attack to injury following a return to winning ways against Everton & Southampton, were very unlucky to find themselves behind against Villa to a deflection last weekend.
An excellent header by Jamaal Lascelles in the dying seconds of last Friday's game against Aston Villa at St James' Park rescued a point for The Magpies, who were very unfortunate to be behind to a lucky deflected header by Olly Watkins off Ciaran Clark yet a point was the least deserved for the performance.
"It was a difficult game but in terms of chances created we created the most. Then the one chance they had, it's a deflection that goes in.
"I guess that's football but we had to keep fighting until the end, and we did."
"I thought we played some good football and defensively we were pretty solid all game.
"It was a great ball from Jacob Murphy's cross and I just went for it.
"Considering we were losing 1-0 it was a good point to take."
It was second half substitute Jacob Murphy who provided the cross for Lascelles' goal after JonJo Shelvey sprayed it wide with only seconds on the clock and the clamour for the winger to start the next match has been growing on social media this week after a performance not lose on Steve Bruce who said of his fellow boyhood Newcastle fan:
A rasping shot off the Villa crossbar after some lovely footwork was the closest Newcastle got to scoring before he provided the winner and it was the fifth Premier League point he has been instrumental in rescuing after this fine free-kick against Wolves secured a late point in the draw at Molineux back in October and whipping in the cross for Dwight Gayle's headed winner against West Brom:
When Murphy, 26, is in the side, Newcastle possess more attacking thrust through his dribbling, pace, willingness to get forward & take men on and is an intelligent user of the ball & a player that pressure brings the best out of with some critical late contributions.
Gayle was an all-too anonymous passenger at St James' Park again barely touching the ball in a split-striker system that he doesn't have the presence to fill and a trio of Joelinton, Murphy and Ryan Fraser might be the way forward for Newcastle at Brighton if Miguel Almiron is fit enough only for the bench.
From his right-side attacking role against Villa, Joelinton was in the thick of the action and using his strength, had the better of exchanges with Tyrone Mings, no mean feat for a defender who has received England recognition from Gareth Southgate this season and was again named in The Three Lions squad yesterday, but again squared a ball when he did get free in the area instead of shooting for goal himself but Head Coach Steve Bruce believes the Brazilian's next goal is coming:
There was some great news on the injury front midweek with top scorer Callum Wilson photographed back in training with a ball at Newcastle's Benton Training Base:
with the striker saying he has "got a game in mind" for his return:
The Brighton game is too soon for Wilson although that may not be the case for Miguel Almiron, who is line to play a part at The Amex. All three of the Toon's attacking cavalry returning isn't too far away with Allan Saint-Maximin also running again and with international fortnight taking place before the next clash after the Brighton game at home at St James' Park against Spurs on April 4th, the trio could be available for that:
Newcastle also confirmed the signing of 18-year old Matty Bondswell from RB Leipzig, an England youth international who will boost the defensive ranks of the U23s for now.
Brighton, meanwhile, beat Southampton on Sunday 2-1 thanks to goals from Lewis Dunk and Leandro Trossard, three points which elevated The Seagulls to a place and point temporarily above Newcastle on 29 points but, perhaps crucially, kept The Saints on 33 points with an FA Cup weekend ahead of them, right back into the relegation mix:
Newcastle faced Brighton in the home leg of the fixture back in September and lost 3-0 in the second Premier League game of the season after a perfect 2-0 start at West Ham to kick the 2020/21 campaign off but there was debate about the penalty that gave Graham Potter's men the lead with Allan Saint-Maximin clearly getting the ball with his well-timed tackle but a spot-kick was awarded by referee Kevin Friend, who is the Fourth Official on Saturday:
Thankfully for Newcastle, Tariq Lamptey, who started the season on fire, is out for the season through injury but Steve Bruce's men will have to keep a tighter watch on Brighton's attacking threats from Trossard to Neil Maupay, Adam Lallana to Danny Welbeck and even Geordie boy Dan Burn, who has been playing a more advanced role on the left-side in recent weeks and at 6ft 7in is an emergency target men when his side are desperate for a goal.
Looking ahead to the fixture, Graham Potter said
"It's not about breathing space for us because we can’t worry about other teams.
"We can only focus on us and winning points – we don’t have enough as it is.
"We have to keep working and focus on the next match which is Newcastle on Saturday."
"A really difficult game...A team that's improved recently I think.
"They've got a clear idea about what they're trying to do. Tactically they're very organised. They use the counter-attack well with Joelinton.
"Whether it's [Ryan] Fraser or [Joe] Willock or [Dwight] Gayle, they've got some options there. They've still got some good players, some Premier League players that have won games at this level, so as always with Steve Bruce's teams, they find ways to win, they find ways to get results and they will be competing and will be a tough team to play."
Both Brighton and Newcastle are desperate for three points but the heat will be turned up even more on both sides if Fulham manage to beat Leeds on Friday night and Newcastle could drop into the relegation zone for the first time this season for at least the 24 hours before the 8pm kick off on Saturday at The Amex Stadium.
In his presser, Steve Bruce admitted it is a 'must-win' encounter with The Seagulls:
"In the context of it, for both clubs, it'll be a 'must win'. It's a big game, of course we're aware of that. We're in amongst it with 6 or 7 (teams), but it's the accumulation of points. We've gone 3 unbeaten but we've only picked up 3 points."
and confirmed that Miggy Almiron's "got a chance" to play at Brighton, the good news every Newcastle fan has been waiting to hear before one of the season's crunch games.
"He’s on the grass. That’s a good sign. Whether it’s a little bit early for him is the big question. I’ve got a decision to make on whether he plays or not."
After a season of travails, The Magpies are due a slice of good luck & change of fortune, let's hope its found when it matters on Saturday night and live up to Steve Bruce's optimism that Newcastle can end the season in the good form in which they started it.
Prediction: Newcastle United 2 Brighton Hove Albion 1