Graham Potter's Brighton are not normal and Newcastle result will not define season
Not sure whether you have noticed, but this has been a very weird season for Brighton & Hove Albion.
And that weirdness is something that Seagulls supporters should bear in mind should the worst happen and Newcastle United leave the Amex with all three points at the weekend, writes Scott MacCarthy of www.wearebrighton.com
Most clubs who reach the 28 game stage with only one home win to their name would be nailed-on for relegation. Failing to beat fellow strugglers West Brom, Burnley, Sheffield United, Fulham and Crystal Palace at the Amex should under normal circumstances mean trips to glamorous outposts like Luton Town and Rotherham United in the Championship next season.
The Albion though are different. Graham Potter has somehow managed to build a side who struggle to beat anyone in the bottom half of the table but can be more than a match for most sides in the top half. The better the opposition, the better Brighton play.
Tottenham Hotspur at home and Liverpool away? Six points in the space of four days. Jurgen Klopp has failed to mastermind a win over Brighton this season.
Manchester United at the Amex should have yielded a point at the very least until that interesting decision to award the visitors a 97th minute penalty after the final whistle had blown.
Chelsea needed an individual error from Steve Alzate and a lucky deflection to leave Sussex with all three points. Manchester City were in rampant form at the start of their record-breaking winning streak when Brighton went to the Etihad and yet Pep Guardiola’s side only squeezed 1-0 past a much-changed Albion line up.
Potter may want Brighton to play possession football, but the ultimate irony is that they are better when they have less of the ball.
Of the Albion’s 10 Premier League wins in the past 15 months, only one has come from a game in which they dominated – the 3-0 success against a terrible Newcastle in September.
Brighton have a squad of clever players who work best when playing quick, incisive passes that cut through opponents on the counter. Look at the move which won the game at Anfield, or the winning goal against Leeds, or the way in which Danny Welbeck and Adam Lallana linked up against Southampton to tee up Leandro Trossard last time out.
When Brighton face teams who want to play on the front foot like Liverpool or Spurs, they thrive.
Against teams like Palace and West Brom who sit in two banks of four, the Albion struggle. They cannot break dogged defences down and instead spend most of their time stroking the ball aimlessly from side-to-side in the final third.
That might lead to 60 or 70 percent possession for Potter to marvel at, but it also provides few wins – and as we all know, it is points on the board that keep you in the Premier League rather than xG or possession stats.
So what does all this mean for the six-pointer against Newcastle? Well, first and foremost is that beating Steve Bruce’s side is not a formality.
True, the Albion hammered them at St James’ Park back in but it is hard to recall facing such poor opposition as Newcastle provided that day. Tariq Lamptey was also unplayable, a threat Brighton have to do without for the foreseeable future.
As hated as Bruce might be by the Toon Army faithful, he is a clever manager. He will know that if Newcastle come to the Amex and are well organised, what we have seen so far this season suggests Brighton will struggle to break them down.
Nick a goal at the other end and Bruce will fancy his chances of returning to the north east with all three points.
Normally, that would be a disaster. As we have already established though, Brighton are not normal. After facing Newcastle, the Albion travel to Manchester United, face Everton at home and travel to Chelsea. Three games against opponents all pushing for Champions League qualification.
With the way that this season has gone so far, you could almost make a case that Brighton are more likely to get a result from at least one of those matches than they are of beating Newcastle.
January’s 0-0 home draw with Fulham looked dreadful at the time, only for the Albion to then win against Spurs and Liverpool in their next two.
Which is why we should not get too het up by what happens against the Toon. Three points would obviously be very welcome and go a long way towards pushing Brighton towards safety.
Psychologically, it would deliver a huge blow to Newcastle, especially with rumours already abounding surrounding Bruce losing the changing room.
There will still be nine games left after Saturday though. 27 points up for grabs and most of them from games against top 10 sides who Brighton are proven to be better against.
Newcastle at home may be important, but it will not define the Albion’s Premier League future.