A dominant first half display was not enough to see off the Seagulls in this one, with a sloppy second 45 seeing us drop two points and waste a big chance to earn a third successive Premier League win.
It really was a game of two halves, with Brighton’s woeful start likely to leave Benitez kicking himself here. Failure to make it two and a drop off in intensity allowed them to come back into it – although this team is bound to struggle without both Almiron and Perez (the latter limped off on the half-hour mark).
The first half was an absolute walk in the park from our perspective. We passed the ball about nicely and took our goal well thanks to some lovely link up play between Rondon and Perez, but it was appalling stuff from Brighton.
Cardiff’s defeat at Fulham earlier in the day may have eased their relegation fears, but in a game where a win would’ve sent them SIX clear of the drop zone and made them all but safe, their approach was shameful. They gave us a ridiculous amount of space on the ball, sat 20-30-yards too deep, invited pressure and showed no interest in getting forward or getting into tackles. In the circumstances, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a shambolic approach from an opposing side – and thankfully we took advantage of that, going in at the break 1-0 up courtesy of a brilliant Ayoze Perez strike.
We are already safe, yet we out-ran them, made more sprints and had a whopping 62% possession – a stat we rarely tend to excel in – showing just how awful they were in the opening 45.
That said, we were very good in the first half, with us looking slick on the ball and disciplined off it. Hayden was sharp in the tackle, Shelvey pulled the strings, Schar made several trademark bursts forward, Ritchie was typically tenacious and Rondon and Perez linked up perfectly again, with the Venezuelan’s chest down being smashed home by the Spaniard – his 12th goal in all comps this season (see goal above).
The second half was poor and pretty frustrating. Losing two points doesn’t mean a great deal at this stage, but it was disappointing to see against a team that was there for the taking.
I thought Manquillo defended well, stopping crosses into the box down their left, while Schar, Hayden and Rondon all put in decent shifts – although the latter did look a little lost after Perez went off, with Kenedy being so wasteful and wayward in his place. Shelvey showed his class at times, picking out the odd lovely passes, but he’ll be wishing he made a bit more of an impact given the amount of time he was afforded in the middle of the park.
Here’s how the bottom half of the table looks after today’s results:
Elsewhere today, Cardiff suffered a devastating 1-0 defeat at Fulham, Southampton confirmed survival with a 3-3 draw at home to Bournemouth, West Ham pulled off a shock 1-0 win at Spurs, Palace and Everton were involved in a stalemate and Selhurst and Wolves won 2-1 at Watford in the battle for 7th.
TWO games left to play for us now, with the title-deciding clash with Liverpool in the Toon next weekend followed by a final-day of the season trip to Fulham:
- Liverpool (H)
- Fulham (A)
A game of two halves. It was lovely to watch in the opening 45 but the second half was a reminder of how much we struggle without one or two of our star men in attack.
Onto Liverpool next weekend!