Brighton face Newcastle on Saturday in what could be a pivotal moment in the battle for Premier League survival.
The 16th-placed Seagulls host 17th-placed Newcastle at the Amex on Sky Sports and both clubs know victory will pull them clear of danger – but defeat will leave them fearing relegation.
Ahead of the key clash, the Pitch to Post Preview Podcast spoke with Sky Sports News’ news editor Elliot Cook and North East reporter Keith Downie for the inside track on the tactics, team news, and importance of this clash for both teams…
A pivotal week for Brighton after win at Southampton
Cook: It is a very important game. I would possibly argue it’s a slightly bigger game for Newcastle than it is for Brighton on the basis that if Brighton don’t lose, Newcastle will not leap above them.
Given the run of games Brighton have got after this one – which is Man Utd away, Everton home, Chelsea away – it’s going to be difficult to pick up points in those games. So the Newcastle game is one Brighton will be looking at thinking, this is an opportunity for them to really pull themselves further away from the relegation zone.
Brighton’s Premier League run-in
Newcastle, home – Sat, Mar 20
Man Utd, away – Sun, Apr 4
Everton, home – Mon, Apr 12
Chelsea, away – Sat, Apr 17
Sheff Utd, away – Sat, Apr 24
Leeds, home – Sat, May 1
Wolves, away – Sat, May 8
West Ham, home – Tue, May 11
Man City, home – Sat, May 15
Arsenal, away – Sun, May 23
Biggest match of the season for Newcastle – but Bruce likely to stay either way
Downie: This is Newcastle’s biggest match of the season so far. It’s the classic six-pointer. If they were to lose to Brighton and Fulham get something against Leeds on Friday night, it really is beginning to look bleak for the team.
If Brighton win on Saturday, it will be interesting to see what Mike Ashley decides to do. Will he stick with Steve Bruce anyway and gamble and give him the rest of the season? Or will he think, I need to do something here and give it one last throw of the dice? In my opinion, if he was to do that after Brighton, I think it is probably too late to do that change and I think a lot of the Newcastle fans would say the same. They would have liked that change a couple of months ago.
But Newcastle have done it before, when their backs have been against the wall they have picked up the results and they have still got the players to do it. Even without those front three, they still have the better squad than Brighton. But it is Fulham both teams really have to worry about.
Newcastle’s Premier League run-in
Brighton, away – Sat, Mar 20
Tottenham, home – Sun, Apr 4
Burnley, away – Sun, Apr 11
West Ham, home – Sat, Apr 17
Liverpool, away – Sat, Apr 24
Arsenal, home – Sat, May 1
Leicester, away – Sat, May 8
Man City, home – Wed, May 12
Sheff Utd, home – Sat, May 15
Fulham, away – Sun, May 23
Why aren’t Brighton turning good performances into points?
Cook: I have often heard the phrase, Brighton play nice football but there’s no end product. The problem has been the shot conversion rate has been pretty low. They do create chances – I would not say as many clear-cut as the perception is – but they have come up against some goalkeepers in fine form. I remember the Aston Villa game at the Amex when Emi Martinez was outstanding in that game, making a number of good saves.
Also, defensively they have given one or two silly goals away, late goals – perhaps lapses in concentration – I am thinking about Crystal Palace, when they conceded that late winner. There have been one or two individual errors.
But it’s also worth bearing in mind, Brighton have had injuries to key personnel. Tariq Lamptey, he’s out for the rest of the season, there’s no Adam Webster at the moment and he was in very good form, Solly March is out for the season… that has to be taken into account.
Newcastle fans don’t blame injuries – they blame Bruce
Downie: I don’t think the Newcastle supporters would blame injuries. I know Steve Bruce has bemoaned his luck with injuries and obviously they had the COVID outbreak in November, but if you ask any Newcastle supporter right now why they are in the position they are in, they will say the manager. They feel the manager is to blame for them being in this real precarious position at the foot of the table, which two, three months ago, most outsiders could not see possible.
But Newcastle supporters I speak to have been saying Newcastle have been sleepwalking towards relegation, they feel the manager and those involved in the club have not been alert to the dangers they have faced.
If you ask any Newcastle supporter right now why they’re in the position they’re in, they will say the manager. Newcastle supporters I speak to have been saying Newcastle have been sleepwalking towards relegation and they feel the manager and those involved in the club have not been alert to the dangers they’ve faced.
Newcastle could go into this match on Saturday evening in the bottom three, if Fulham beat Leeds on Friday night. That’s how serious it has got.
The injuries have not helped – and they have come at a time when they have actually been playing better. They are missing their three key players, who had just begun to click. Callum Wilson, Allan Saint-Maximin, and Miguel Almiron.
To miss all three of them at this stage of the season has been awful – but Newcastle should never have got themselves into this situation anyway.
They are clearly in a relegation battle now and as it stands among the three teams – Brighton, Newcastle, Fulham – Newcastle are the most likely to go down.
Have Brighton made progress under Graham Potter?
There’s been a clear style shift at Brighton – but they are a point and a place worse off than they were at this stage in Chris Hughton’s final season.
Cook: It’s a good question and one that divides opinion among Brighton supporters. A lot of keyboard warriors would suggest that no, there has not been the progression they thought there would be or they hoped for. They quite rightly point to the fact that if fans had been in the ground, Brighton have only won one home game all season. If 30,000 were in the Amex week in, week out this season would there be more pressure on Graham Potter? The answer is, there absolutely would be.
I certainly know from the hierarchy, the way they feel about Potter is they are 100 per cent behind him. I would be amazed, if Brighton went down, Potter would not be the manager next season. Early in his tenure he signed an extended contract at Brighton, which raised eyebrows because it happened so quickly.
But Brighton have a very long-term plan. They are building for the future at a very early stage. If you look at how well the U18s are doing… everything is geared towards the future, and they see Potter as the man at the top.
Last season, we should recognise Brighton got 41 points, which was a Premier League record for them in their third season.
I think the players have not quite fulfilled their potential and that has been an issue for him. Justifiably, you can question one or two of his substitutions coming quite late on in games – but at the same time he’s also shown he’s not afraid to make changes very early on in a game.
There’s no definitive answer. In terms of entertainment and watching the team play, it is more pleasing on the eye. But the aim is to stay in the division, that’s what it’s all about, and Brighton need points.
How will the game play out?
Cook: I do not see any reason for Brighton to change their style. Potter has been consistent in what he wants to do. To change the way of playing would be foolhardy at this stage of the season.
Interestingly, Brighton’s wins have come in games where they have had less possession than the other team. What that tells you is they are quite a good counter-attacking team and they have got players who can hurt you.
Downie: I would need to look at the stats, but it feels like that with Newcastle, too. At the start of the season, when they were playing more on the back foot, digging in for a result they seemed to pick up more points and since they have been more attacking they have not been able to finish off games.
Maybe neither team will want the ball on Saturday night!
The two of them have been involved – over the past three or four years, even when they were in the Championship – in these massive games towards the end of the season.
It will certainly be a war of attrition – and it will have a huge bearing on what happens come the end of the season.
Predictions – and what the cost of defeat would be
Downie: It’s got draw written all over it!
If you were to lose, it will have a huge impact on you moving forward for the remaining matches of the season and it might be quite difficult to come back from, for either team. They are probably hoping Leeds win against Fulham on Friday then pick up a point each and off they go to the next game.
But after this one, Newcastle have a horrendous list of fixtures. So tough. Yes, the last two matches are Sheffield United and Fulham, but they need to make sure they have got a fighting chance come those two games.
Cook: I agree with Keith, I think it will be a draw. But if there is a loser, they have got two weeks to mull over it, because it’s the international break. That’s going to be a long time for both sets of players and managers to stew over if they do not get the result they want.
Downie: On a positive note for Newcastle, if they do get that win, go into the international break, they would then hope to have their front three back for the game after that. Suddenly, everything begins to look more positive.
Pitch to Post Preview – Brighton vs Newcastle assessed. Plus: How will Spurs respond to their Europa League shocker, and will West Ham boost their top-four chances against Arsenal?
In this week’s Pitch to Post Preview Podcast Sky Sports News’ Elliot Cook and Keith Downie join Peter Smith to look ahead to a crucial clash in the battle against relegation, which sees Brighton host Newcastle on Saturday night. From analysis of what’s gone wrong this season, to tactics for this clash, and what defeat would mean for both managers, we have the ultimate lowdown on this pivotal game.
We also have the latest on Arsenal, following their progress to the quarter-finals of the Europa League, and ask Sky Sports football journalist Ron Walker whether West Ham can topple their London rivals.
Plus, Sky Sports football journalist Charlotte Marsh reacts to Tottenham’s disastrous defeat to Dinamo Zagreb and discusses whether Jose Mourinho’s side can salvage their season domestically, starting with a tricky trip to Aston Villa.