Without doubt or most important game of the season to date.
Eight games in and we find ourselves second bottom and winless after suffering four straight defeats at St James’ Park. Our early season run has been tough – with us facing five of the top 6 so far – however this is a game where there can be no excuses.
Brighton have not won away from home since November last year. They’re no mugs and they won’t make it easy, but I think we all know what a big chance this is to kick start our season ahead of a generous run of fixtures between now and Christmas.
I’ve seen a few pundits call this a ‘must win’ game for us. I don’t agree personally, as a draw here and a win at Southampton would probably be seen as a very good return by most fans, however there can be no denying that his is a massive game.
Win and I’m confident we’ll kick on and get that much needed confidence boost we’ve been longing for, draw and things will remain flat, but lose and real alarm bells will be ringing.
Here’s the team I’d like to see, followed by the side I expect Rafa to go with:
It doesn’t happen often, but the team I’d like to see Rafa go with is the team I’m expecting him to go with.
It may have ended badly, however there were plenty positives to take out of the defeat at Man Utd, with the likes of Muto, Kenedy and Shelvey all showing real signs of life.
I’d have been tempted to put Rondon up top with Muto if he was fit, but Benitez confirmed that this one will come too soon for the Baggies loanee.
Joselu’s scored 2 of our 3 goals at St James’ so far this season, but Muto looks far more of a threat – with his pace and energy also far more likely to trouble two 6ft 4′ centre-backs in Dunk and Duffy.
Kenedy put in his best performance of the season at Man Utd – scoring and putting in a much improved all round display. He’s fit, so I’m certain he’ll be start and I’m really hoping he’ll now kick on. He’s one of few flair players so we need him at it.
Dummett is back and Lascelles and Fernandez are now very much establishing themselves as Rafa’s first-choice centre-back pairing, so I’m hoping we can shutout a Brighton side that don’t tend to score many on the road.
Scoring at the other end could be the issue, but we’ll have every chance of that if Muto, Kenedy, Perez and Shelvey can all pick up from where they left off at Old Trafford – with us also needing to see a bit more from Ritchie.
(4-4-1-1) – Dubravka – Yedlin, Lascelles, Fernandez, Dummett – Ritchie, Shelvey, Diame, Kenedy – Perez, Muto.
Here’s a few ‘ones to watch’ in the Brighton side:
Pascal Gross (No.10): There’s a chance he could return for this one, but I’m sincerely hoping he doesn’t. He’s their creative force in the number 10 role, their main getter of goals/assists and a hard worker too.
Matt Ryan (GK): He isn’t the biggest, but he seems to me like one of their most consistent performers. I’m hoping not, but it may take a few decent efforts to get past him. He’s a very good shot stopper and reminds me a little of Shay Given.
Glen Murray (ST): An intelligent player who has a knack of getting himself in the right place at the right time. The fact he doesn’t have any great pace or strength yet has a goals to game record only bettered by Aguero, Kane and Hazard this season says a lot.
Anthony Knockaert (RW): Paul Dummett’s tended to keep him very quiet during our last few meetings, however the Frenchman has looked back to his best at times this season. That could be an interesting battle.
Predicted Brighton XI – (4-4-1-1) Ryan – Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Bong – Knockaert, Stephens, Kayal, March – Gross – Murray.
Rafa Benitez has confirmed that both Salomon Rondon and Ciaran Clark will miss out, however Paul Dummett ‘should be OK’ to play after missing our last two.
For Brighton, first-team midfielder Davey Propper has been ruled out, with Hughton saying he’ll make a ‘late decision’ on Pascal Gross, Dale Stephens and Gaetan Bong.
I think we may know what Newcastle side we’re going to see in the first 10 minutes of the game. We’ll either be edgy and let the pressure get to us, or we’ll build on some of the positives picked up two weeks ago.
I fancy Muto to cause problems, but only if we get enough support to him.
A part of me worries they’ll sit in, frustrate us and come away with an ugly draw, but I’m backing us to bounce back here and get an all important three points – providing we can show more of the same enthusiasm in attack.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-0 Brighton
Howay the lads!