Brighton & Hove Albion vs Newcastle United
Venue: The Amex
TV: BT Sport
Referee: Mike Dean
The Amex Stadium will be a torrent of nervous energy on Saturday evening as Brighton play host to Newcastle United in their most important game of the season so far.
Though a loss would not put Brighton into the relegation zone, they would only sit above it courtesy of their vastly superior goal difference if Cardiff beat Fulham. In that eventuality, both sides would have 34 points with two games to go, but Cardiff’s have the more favourable run in which will make for a nervy ending to the campaign for the Brighton fans.
Even a draw may not be enough to maintain Brighton’s top-flight status as their final two games come against an Arsenal side fighting for the Champions League and Manchester City vying for the title.
Whilst a Newcastle win would see Rafael Benitez equal his sides total that earned them a 10th place finish last term, it would be catastrophic for the hosts. This game isn’t just important in the context of Brighton’s season, it may be the most crucial clash of the Seagull’s recent history.
Even though survival is already assured, Newcastle have the opportunity to leapfrog Crystal Palace and West Ham United at the weekend and make a late break for a top half finish depending on other results. The Magpies managed to squeeze into the top half last term and repeating this feat would be a minor miracle considering their start to the campaign.
Ultimately dropping points would be quickly forgotten but maintaining last season’s top half finish may go a long way to persuading Benitez to remain at the helm.
Davey Propper is a slight doubt and may have to be introduced as a substitute. However, Brighton’s most significant concern should come from their lack of goals. In the past, six Premier League fixtures they have failed to score and an overreliance on the ageing Glen Murray is taking its toll.
The Albion have also only managed a dismal three points from their last four home fixtures, including games against Cardiff City, Bournemouth, Southampton and Huddersfield. Even their sole victory of that run was only by a single goal over the Terriers, who are having one of the most abject campaigns in Premier League history. Chris Hughton will have to find a method of changing that against his former side if he is to relieve some of the pressure on himself.
After a promising introduction to life on Tyneside, Miguel Almiron will miss the remainder of the campaign after sustaining a hamstring injury in the win over Southampton. Fortunately for the player himself, he is expected to return in time to play for Paraguay at the Copa America this summer.
There is rarely a dull moment in the North East, and once again Benitez reiterated his desire to compete with the upper echelons of the Premier League table after the weekend’s convincing victory. After midweeks suggestions the manager wishes to compete in the Champions League again before his retirement, Mike Ashley better show Benitez the chequebook if he doesn’t want to see the back of the Spaniard.
Predicted starting XIs
Brighton (4-5-1): Ryan; Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Bong; March, Gross, Stephens, Bissouma, Izquierdo; Murray
Newcastle (5-2-2-1): Dubravka; Manquillo, Schar Lascelles, Dummett, Ritchie; Hayden, Ki; Perez, Atsu; Rondon
Score Prediction: Brighton 0 Newcastle 1
Without Almiron, Newcastle head into this fixture as only slight favourites though they should win considering Brighton’s dire recent home form.