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Brighton & Hove Albion v Newcastle United - Premier League

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Brighton 0-0 Newcastle - Match Report: Pope saves the day

A miraculous performance by Nick Pope gets Newcastle one point in a day to forget

Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Everybody knew that the real Premier League season was about to start this Saturday for Newcastle after facing Nottingham Forest to kick the campaign off a week ago. Yes, Forest is now another PL rival, but it’s also a promoted side still struggling to find its footing and with a long road ahead. Brighton, not so much. Both Magpies and Seagulls arrived at this week’s matchday with three points and looking forward to adding three more tokens to their respective tallies with a clash at the Amex. Brighton, playing on home turf for the first time this year, came off defeating Machester United away and, although the Red Devis proved against Brentford (4-0 loss on MD2) that they’re far from a scary team, it was still United at Old Trafford.

Although Sky Sports seemingly like to pay “reporters” to feed fake information to their audience, Nick Pope made the trip south and started at the goal for Newcastle after all. What was surprising, though, was finding Matt Target not making it to the named squad on Saturday because of nagging issues with a leg, thus making way for Sven Botman to make his official starting debut with the Magpies in Falmer’s confines. With Dan Burn facing his former team and a full bag of experience handling left-back duties, it was Botman who took on the left-CB position with the former Seagull playing on Newcastle’s left flank. Other than that, it was all chalk and Eddie Howe used what worked wonderfully for him in the game against Forest.

As a Joe Willock fan myself I was pleased to find him named in the starting unit, though I might have preferred Longstaff experience and more all-around presence for this game considering the bigger threat of Brighton compared to last week's opponent Nott. Forest. That said, though, I had to admit that the approach used by Howe and the willingness to go with the more creative/offensive option was really nice to see and allowed us to, once more, find an all-guns-blazing move by a coach that has already changed the perception of the club without having spent even one year managing it.

Brighton came off the locker with the same XI they used to defeat United at Old Trafford, which was very reasonable and definitely proved to be the right decision by Graham Potter to make. The start couldn’t have been slower—by both teams—with none of them taking the clear leader when it came to dominating possession or, perhaps better said, using properly and decidedly to create chances and apply pressure to the opposition. It can’t be said that Brighton was putting on a magnificent show, but even on mediocre terms, they were still levels ahead of Newcastle through the first 15 minutes of play with the Men in Black completely lost on the pitch and without a clear idea of what was going on nor what to do to try and grab hold of the match.

Already with 20 minutes on the books, an ill-advised pass by Willock and a worse attempt at getting to the ball by Trippier saw Leandro Trossard recover the ball for Brighton kissing the left side of his team’s attack and launch a counterattack. Trossard carried the ball into the penalty area, opted to attempt a shot himself, found Pope, and the ricocheted ball couldn’t find a waiting Danny Welbeck for another shot at the goal with Nicky P recovering the possession and saving Newcastle for the first time in a day that will have him as the clear-cut player of the match and deciding factor of the final scoreline.

With so little creation and passing combinations from both sides, it was starting to become clear that the game was about to be one decided by the tiniest of mistakes. Miss a pass, concede an unexpected opportunity, and cry about it later. Callum Wilson had touched the ball 11 times on the opposition’s half through 30 minutes of playing time. Danny Welbeck had logged just 10 touches in that time. You get an idea of how short-circuited both teams were when having to feed their leading men. Until, of course, that wrong pass happened and a chance was born out of thin air.

By the 33rd minute, Joelinton attempted a back pass to Bruno that went a bit far from his position and into Welbeck right at the edge of the final third. The veteran forward retained the ball, avoiding losing it after Bruno’s attempted tackle to recover the ball went for nothing. The result: an instant three-on-two play for the Seagulls with Sven Botman in the middle of it all, a pass from the right to the penalty spot that Schar was extraordinarily timely to deflect, and a rebound that fell on Solly March's foot to hit square toward Newcastle’s goal that only Nick Pope (first) and Kieran Trippier (second) working in tandem could barely keep out of the box. Bullet dodged.

Not even ten minutes after that clear chance and before reaching the halftime period, Adam Lallana had another opportunity to put Brighton ahead after Welbeck stole the ball from Bruno and enabled the Seagulls to build another promising attack. Not so clear at the end after Adam tried to score on a lightning-quick turnaround shot of sorts that went straight to Nick Pope’s hands, but still a chance and another warning deep into the first half.

A bogus and mediocre period could only lead to better play in the second half, or so we all thought. No true and legitimate intention of winning the game had been shown by any of the two teams before the game-splitting whistle but the narrative and the plot were starting to take on a clear white-and-blue tone leading up to the last 45 minutes of the match.

No changes at the start of the second half, and I mean that literally. In other words, just three minutes of play before things got restarted, Brighton warned Newcastle for the third time with another chance that, fairly, should have seen the men at home lead the game by (at least) 2-0 and a comfortable margin. Only, Nick Pope descended from the heavens once more to save the Magpies as a whole and keep things squared.

Brighton moved the ball nicely, found Welbeck right at the edge of the penalty area playing handball-pivot and receiving the rock only to move it quickly to the left where Solly March got it, lofted it with a quite pleasuring left-foot cross, and found a slashing-forward Lallana who hit it to make one nill—had Pope not made a stunning effort to reach the header and send it wide left of his goal.

It surely was a sight to behold, and another warning call for an overwhelmed Newcastle that was starting to look more like a lucky team than a serious opposition to Brighton on Saturday.

As ridiculous as it might sound, it took Newcastle all the way up to around the 65th minute to have a relatively threatening chance (if you can even consider it that) when a mistake—this time by Brighton in a rather weird situation—led to a cross by Allan Saint-Maximin that was ultimately cleared out of play and to a corner kick by Joel Veltman before the ball reached Callum Wilson.

Only a few minutes later Brighton had a ridiculous opportunity to once and for all got a much-deserved lead at that point. Moises Caicedo got the ball already inside the area off a throw-in and got swarmed by three Magpies that, although calling themselves professional footballers, left a bit to be desired and also a very lone Seagull—Pascal Gross—close to the small area that, for some reason, decided to keep the ball rolling instead of attempting a shot himself. It was a bad decision but not one that can be criticized that much after all that we had already seen take place on the pitch and how the football gods surely didn’t seem to be on Brighton’s side.

Welbeck never got to Gross’ pass to have a chance at shooting the ball, Botman blocked his ground-level attempt, and Joelinton cleared the ball for good giving Newcastle another—the nth, by now—respite.

Too bad for the Geordies, there were still some 20 minutes left and room for a few more miracles to take place. All of them, no need to mention, are tagged under the name of Pope. The goalie was good to stop a short-distance attempt by Solly March off a corner play that turned into a second, much more dangerous chance for Brighton a little bit past the 70th minute of play when substitute Enock Mwepu found March on the edge of the small area but the midfielder could only find Pope’s glove as was always the case yesterday.

Add ten more minutes to the clock, and you’d find another substitute, this time Kaoru Mitoma (in for the misfortunate Solly March) putting on an extraordinary action leading to a corner for Brighton. Mitoma gained the kick after dressing as now-former Seagull Marc Cucurella and covering the full left flank of his home pitch with Miguel Almirón the only man good enough to short-circuit the action and send the ball flying to the fans crowded in the terraces.

It was Joel Veltman this time trying his luck from the edge of the penalty area after the corner kick turned into a dangerous second play with everybody bunched inside the final fourth rectangle. And it was, of course, another time for Newcastle to feel gracious about their luck as JV’s shot hit the post to the left of Pope, and instead of going any place, it decided to go Fabian Schar’s way for the defender to clear just another death-threat sent straight to NUFC HQ.

Playing like prime Roberto Carlos by then, and around the 85th minute, Mitoma had another phenomenal play in which he fooled Kieran Trippier with gusto, put the ball back to Pascal Gross, and the latter somehow sent it wide even though he had all of the net open for him to shoot the ball into.

The only good news for Newcastle after this last chance, honestly, was that if the ball hadn’t been put into the goal by then, it would definitely be not coming in any time soon. Brighton could have played a 300-minute match and, given how things developed yesterday, they would have still not scored a goal. Happens to the best of them, and Newcastle just happened to be on the right side of things yesterday even though it’s impossible to find an explanation for it.

You might be mad at me for not mentioning that Newcastle actually had a chance to go one up early in the game, and you’d be correct and in your full right of feeling that way. Wilson threw the tweet out himself after the game with a picture showing how far away from each other his feet and Lewis Dunk’s head were on the play. A play that, as you know, was ruled a foul because of Wilson’s dangerous action and ended with a goal getting disallowed. I’m not here to say that’s a goal, or not a goal, but I agree with Alan Shearer’s opinion of that being a little bit of a rushed blown-whistle by the ref.

The referee, who just in case you have not watched it, signaled the foul the second it happened without allowing the play to develop and be finalized, then proceed to check it with the help of the VAR. That should have been the reasonable procedure, and the expected one by everybody watching on location and from their couches. But alas. Not that Newcastle can really complain about a play that while could have turned into a game-changing action—in all of its meaning—actually was the lone bright moment in a full 90-minute outing that at times felt like was making you lose your afternoon and at others like you want to bury yourself alive not to hear about the atrodioucs play showcased by the lads donning Black and White threads.

And the most beautiful thing is that the Magpies have a no-worries clash right around the corner when they’ll welcome Manchester City next Sunday to St James’ Park. That will be the first of four games in a span of ten days. Uh, oh, the stakes.

Newcastle still went to bed sitting fourth on the table. A positive in a sea of Saturday negatives, I guess. Howay the lads!

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