Hemeds strike proved to be the difference as Brighton beat Newcastle
If Brighton& Hove Albion get relegated this season it will not be for a lack of courage, focus or determination. This narrowest of home wins against a team who were technically their better is likely to be celebrated in this part of the south coast, though probably only briefly. The next test, at Arsenal next Sunday, is only around the corner.
Tomer Hemed’s dextrous second-half volley was enough to separate the home side from a Newcastle United who had come into the match after three consecutive wins and left it remind ourselves the fine margins of Premier League football. For Brighton, meanwhile, it was back-to-back victories at the Amex Stadium.
Controversy after the match centred on Hemed, who had appeared to stamp on DeAndre Yedlin during a defensive spell and jostle Chancel Mbemba in the build up to his goal. If found guilty of special stamps, he could face a three-match retrospective outlaw. Others might argue, however, that a highly presentable chance passed up by Hemed’s opposite number, Joselu, had a more important influence on the match.
” I’m delighted with the win but also very pleased with the manner of it ,” a typically tranquil Chris Hughton said after the match.” Once we got the goal it was very difficult because you either press for the ball and leave space or you stay compact and they get a lot of the ball .” Albion, as is Hughton’s style, opted for the latter option and it ran.” We had to defend well to win this game and I thought we did .”
These two sides know each other well, of course, having contested a two-horse race for the title in the Championship last season. Both Hughton and Rafael Benitez acknowledged that there is not much to choose between them; not in personnel, attitude or even formation.
” They’re quite similar in the way they play, a 4-4 -1-1, though they probably have a bit more pace off the front than we have ,” Hughton said.” It was nice to win but they’d look at the fact they’re still two points ahead of us in the table .”
It was perhaps an acknowledgement of the speed provided by Christian Atsu and Matt Ritchie that Brighton were happy to play on the transgres, even during the opening exchanges. That was where the space was however, and when Anthony Knockaert determined Solly March in room on the left in the 11 th minute, the first big chance of the match followed. March whipped the ball across the face of objective where it eventually fell to Pascal Gross on the edge of the box. With the goal at his compassion, the German advanced on to the ball and drove his shot fiercely into Knockaert’s back.
Ten minutes later and Newcastle had contrived an even more glaring miss. It was a sweet move, flowing all the way from their own box with Mikel Merino robbing Knockaert, then advancing the ball to Atsu who drove inside and out at the Brighton defence before slipping in Ayoze Perez for the cross.
Perez discovered his fellow Spaniard on the edge of the six-yard box. Joselu, who contrived a series of glaring misses against Stoke last week, rolled his marker cleverly, spun on the ball and pushed his shot well wide of the far post.
From that phase the first half declined. Gross put get paid to a well-worked counterattack with a six-yard pass straight to Ciaran Clark. Perez shot over from close range when teed up by Chancel Mbemba. When the half-time whistle ran, Hughton had a face like thunder.
Within six minutes of the restart, however, Brighton had the all-important opening goal. It came from a setpiece on the left-hand side of the Newcastle box, driven deep by Gross. Dale Stephens fulfilled the ball unmarked at the back post and nodded it back across goal where it skewed through a defender’s legs and up to chest height. With barely any time to react, Hemed managed to meet the ball both on the turning and on the volley and flashed it into the roof of the net.
Newcastle did not look like their gameplan had been thrown out of the window, they remained calm and composed. But they were lacking the alacrity to penetrate a Brighton defence that had been happy to invite them on to them in the first place. For their portion, Brighton’s counterattacks- even with half an hour remaining- were now largely seen as opportunities to run the ball into the corner.
Benitez argued afterwards that Hemed had shoved Mbemba as the initial ball came over the box.” It’s a player who is moving and pushing , not person standing still ,” he said. But he also acknowledged that his squad needed to create more with the ball, especially after going behind.
” We did some good things, we had some chances. But we have to learn from this defeat. You have to be stronger in defense if you want a clean sheet in the Premier League and you have to take your chances. It’s a pity with so much control at the end we didn’t make better opportunities .”
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