Tomer Hemed gives Brighton the edge over Newcastle

Sides have changed a lot since battle for Championship honours last season

Brighton 1 Newcastle 0

If Brighton and Hove Albion get relegated this season it won’t be for a lack of valour, focus or determination. This narrowest of home wins against a team who were technically their better will be celebrated on the south coast, though probably only briefly. The next test, away at Arsenal next Sunday, is only around the corner.

Rafael Benitez’s visitors played their part in this match and could well have had a goal as reward for the way they controlled the first half. But there’s a difference between deserving a result and earning it and Albion certainly did the latter here.

These two sides know each other well of course, having contested a two-horse race for the title in the Championship last season. But this fixture saw just 10 players who started their last encounter – a late 2-1 win at the Amex for Newcastle in February – selected again. There has been much recruitment over the summer for both teams but also a changing of the guard; Glenn Murray and Jonjo Shelvey were key players for Brighton and Newcastle last season but were both consigned to the bench here.


Instead of Murray, Chris Hughton opted for the similarly muscular but more mobile Tomer Hemed. Alongside him was German Pascal Gross who has been the Seagulls' attacking bright spot in an opening run of three defeats in five matches, with just four goals scored. Gross has two of them and it should really have been three in the opening quarter of an hour.

The home side had been happy to play on the break even during the opening exchanges but that was where the space was and Solly March earned enough room on the left in the 11th minute to whip the ball across the face of goal. It eventually came out to Gross on the edge of the box. The German advanced on to it, and with the goal at his mercy, drove his shot hard into the back of team-mate Anthony Knockaert.

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 Christian Atsu who drove inside and out at the Brighton defence before slipping in Ayoze Perez for the cross. Perez found 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 point the first half declined. Gross put paid to a well-worked counter 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 went, Hughton had a face like thunder.

Within five minutes of the restart however, the Seagulls 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 met 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 turn and on the volley and flashed it into the roof of the net.

Newcastle didn’t 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 rearguard that had been happy to invite them on to them in the first place. For their part, Brighton’s counter-attacks – even with half an hour remaining – were now largely seen as opportunities to run the ball into the corner.

Shelvey duly came off the bench for Newcastle, as did last season's top-scorer Dwight Gayle. For Brighton, meanwhile, the Championship player of the year Knockaert was withdrawn after another performance that fell short of the effectiveness he achieved so consistently last year. Shelvey had one free-kick that he drove over the bar from 25 yards out but, even as Newcastle roused themselves in the final 10 minutes, that was all they could muster.

(Guardian service)