We’ve reached the part of the season, quite appropriately, labeled “squeaky bum time”. Don’t look at me, I didn’t come up with it. But if you’re a Newcastle United supporter, you’re all too familiar with the phrase.
Fulham are coming. Sure, they lost to Man City. Who hasn’t? That doesn’t change the fact they’ve avoided defeat in over Seventy-Six Percent of their matches since December 5th, prior to their recent loss at Craven Cottage to the Cityzens.
Yes, Fulham are on the rise. Big Sam’s Baggies are currently medium well, if not well done, and should be served up to the SkyBet Championship very soon. Sheffield United have been long gone, for quite a while.
This leaves, realistically, two sides left to figure out who’ll be checking their calendars for Tuesday night away matches at Millwall. Brighton & Hove Albion, and Newcastle United.
The Mags and the Seagulls know each other very well. Alright, not that well, but they’ve played quite a bit as of lately (prior to 2012, they hadn’t played since the two squared off in the League Division Two in 1992). The sides have played seven times since 2017, all in the Premiership. And Brighton hold a distinct, if perfectly on the nose, advantage. 3 wins, 4 draws, and zero losses.
This, of course, follows Newcastle's two victories (including a Mo Diame wonderstrike) against the south coasters in the Championship, en route to the title. Brighton, as you will remember, were second best that season (thanks again, Jackie boy).
We also can’t be thrilled by the amount of goals scored in recent memory, as in the seven top-flight matchups between these two, there have been a grand total of 7 goals. Even Tony Pulis is imploring them to get up the pitch.
As It Stands
Currently, both sides have played 28 of 38 scheduled matches, and both are just about at a point per match pace. Brighton hold the narrowest of advantages, sheepishly touting a 29 in the points column, with the Mags one behind. The Seagulls also have very big edge on Goal Differential, 10 to be exact. That should serve almost as an additional point, should the teams end level on the 23rd of May (if the Murder Hornets and impending doom haven’t ended things by then.)
Brighton haven’t been brilliant, but they rescued a massive three points on Sunday at the expense of Austrian Klopp and the Saints, courtesy of a Leandro Trossard goal. Outside of that, there hasn’t been much for which to write home. A draw to a Grealish-less Villa was followed by losses to Palace, West Brom, and Leicester City, so Brighton will welcome the chance to make it two in a row against a poor side.
Speaking of that poor side, Newcastle United have won two of their last 17 matches. If Steve Bruce draws any more, he’s going to start convincing me that he actually is Rembrandt van Rijn. After all, we’ve never seen them in the same place at the same time...
Brighton are a bit banged up, with numerous first-teamers set to miss out on this match. Forward Aaron Connolly, injured in the West Brom match, will miss out and it seems defender Adam Webster won’t be back in time for this one either. Dan Burn was removed from the win against Southampton at half-time, and that could be a big miss for Brighton, should Steve Bruce actually get wild and start a striker in his natural position.
The Magpies are still without their three best attackers, with Allan Saint-Maximin close but not quite ready, although I think we all continue to fall in love with him as evidenced by his latest Instagram story. Callum Wilson won’t make the squad for this one, but Miguel Almiron could find himself on the bench and on the pitch as a late-match impact substitution.
What to Expect ... When You Expect Nothing
Might we see some attacking football out of these two anemic sides?! Both squads will understand the massive stakes with this fixture. The Seagulls travel to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge over their next three, with a home match against the Toffees sandwiched between them. Newcastle United then start their terror of a run against Spurs, followed quickly by the likes of West Ham, Liverpool, Arsenal, and I’ll stop here before we start transitioning to managerial odds for the Magpies in 2021-22’s Championship season.
Expect to see Brighton play a 4-4-2 with Danny Welbeck and Neal Maupay putting the pressure on presumably Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark. Adam Lallana has found a spot in the Brighton midfield as of late, and Pascal Gross and Leandro Trossard feature on the wings. The Seagulls are 16th in goals from set pieces with only 5 thus far and don’t have a single goal from counter attacking situations. However, they do rack up a lot of shots, and speaking of creating chances...
...wildly enough, the xG table has Brighton more than 13(!) goals under what they realistically should have, as well as over 5 goals better, defensively, than they’ve allowed. Based on that xG table, Brighton would sit 5th. Now obviously, expected goals don’t account for horrendous finishing, and enter Welbeck and Maupay. Brighton create enough chances to have a relatively easy victory against a toothless Toon Squad, however, they’ve got to actually put them away.
Newcastle are hard to predict, mainly because their formations simply don’t make sense at this point. Last time out, they played a second striker at right wing, a winger at striker, and another out and out striker at left wing. So that leaves just about everything to chance.
Just about 40% of Newcastle’s goals come from either set pieces, own goals, or the penalty spot, and 40% of a small number is still not good.
Newcastle are also dead last in the Premier League in Progressive Distance Passing (total yards in completed passing towards your opponent’s goal). So they play a wild formation, don’t go forward, and don’t score from open play.
Both sides should be treating this as a Gus Fring-Walter White showdown — someone is going down, and it ain’t gonna be me.
Unfortunately, we are infinitely more likely to see a negative Newcastle United, happy with a draw, and a Brighton side that might actually be more aggressive, but unable to score. Because of their advantage in both goal differential and total points, they actually could be happy with a draw, given Newcastle’s upcoming run of fixtures.
For me, I see a 0-0. And I also see a lot of brown liquids in the following hours for myself.