Steve Bruce can lecture us all he likes about this “accumulation of points” approach between now and May 23rd, but there’s no getting away from the fact this is a relegation six-pointer he really has to win.
After all, if he can’t get a win from any of Wolves, West Brom, Aston Villa and Brighton, I don’t see how that’ll change when six of our next seven games after see us play sides in the top 10.
Lascelles’ last gasp equaliser last time out saved us from what would’ve been a truly crushing defeat, but Brighton went two better by beating Southampton last weekend – a win that’ll send them into this one with renewed confidence.
We go into this boosted by the fact Miguel Almiron might be fit enough to feature, however work needs to be done in the final third if we’re to continue with this 4-3-1-2 formation that’s seen us put too many square pegs in round holes since our three amigos got injured.
Brighton are a funny old team. If they had a Callum Wilson they’d be closer to the top 10 than a relegation battle, but the truth is they have a lot of possession, look good on the eye, create chances and give little away at the back…but rarely pull off the wins!
Thankfully, Bielsa’s Leeds did Bruce and nervous Newcastle fans watching on from their sofa a big favour at Craven Cottage last night, meaning we go into the Brighton game knowing a win could send us FIVE clear of Fulham with a game in hand.
If that doesn’t motivate Bruce to go for all three points and put fire in the bellies of our players, I’m not sure what will!
- Miguel Almiron – Trained on Thursday and “has a chance” of returning to the side. Seems likely to make the squad, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be named on the bench or in Bruce’s starting 11.
- Callum Wilson – Back on the grass but won’t be fit for first-team action until the international break.
- Allan Saint-Maximin – Spotted on the treadmill this week, however he’s another who won’t feature at The Amex.
- Fabian Schar – Is said to be ‘progressing well’ from knee surgery, but Bruce insists this one will come too soon for the Swiss international.
- Javier Manquillo – Fit enough to return to the squad in our last two, but started on the bench in both. Will Bruce bring him back into his XI here? I hope so.
(4-3-1-2): Dubravka – Manquillo, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett – Willock, Shelvey, Hayden – Fraser – Joelinton, Murphy.
I would love to see Almiron back in the side – he’s been our best player since the turner of the year for me and the key cog in this 4-3-1-2 formation – however I think he’ll start on the bench.
Manquillo IN, Krafth OUT? – Bruce said that Manquillo didn’t start in last week’s draw with Aston Villa because he was ‘erring on the side of caution’ regarding his recent recovery from an ankle injury. With this a must-win game and Krafth limited at both ends of the pitch, you’d like to think Bruce will bring the club’s best right-back into the side for this one!
Murphy IN, Gayle OUT? – The latter may have been the victim of a manager who decided to play him out wide last week, but it’s fair to say Murphy offered more in 10 minutes than Gayle did all night against Villa. Murphy looks hungry, hard working, direct and has the pace to hurt a slow Brighton defence on the break.
Elsewhere, I feel Shelvey’s lack of mobility could be found out if Brighton move the ball quickly and dominate possession as they so often do, but with Hendrick no better and the two Longstaff’s frozen out at present, I’d expect our midfield to be unchanged.
In attack, I’d like to see Almiron in the false 9 role (if fit!), with Murphy and Fraser wide. No strikers but three players who’d possess the pace to hurt Brighton on the break. That said, Bruce has talked up Joelinton ahead of this one and defended his promising yet wasteful display against Aston Villa, so that combined with his height from set pieces (Brighton have plenty giants!) could see the Brazilian stay in the side.
Whatever happens, Jacob Murphy deserves a start, having changed the game last week before bagging a crucial late assist for Lascelles’ leveller.
I’d love to say we’re going to turn up and pull off the biggest win of Steve Bruce era, but I just struggle to see it.
Our record against Brighton has been abysmal since promotion, but it’s more the fact they have the momentum, the far superior playing style and a manager who absolutely schooled Bruce the last time the two clubs met, beating us 3-0 at St James’ Park.
I see us putting in a fight and trying to hurt them on the break, however our lack of fit goalscorer’s combined with their suffocating style of play that sees them dominate the ball and create chances could be a recipe for disaster.
Hopefully they prove me wrong and frustrate a Brighton side that’ve found wins at home hard to come by this season. Even if we did, have we got enough at the other end to pull off that win we so desperately need?
All we be revealed come 10pm Saturday, however I’m fearing we’ll follow in Fulham’s footsteps with a slip up of our own!
Prediction: Brighton 1-0 Newcastle