Guimarães seals rout of Brighton as Newcastle close on Champions League


For Newcastle the equation is simple; win one of their remaining two games and Tyneside’s 20-year exile from the Champions League will be over.

The celebrations could well begin on Monday night when Leicester travel here but, should Aston Villa triumph at Liverpool, might be triggered as early as Saturday. On this evidence though, a few of Eddie Howe’s players could be almost too tired to party.

The indefatigable Lewis Dunk and Jason Steele excepted, much the same could be said of Roberto De Zerbi’s evidently fatigued team as they aim to take Brighton into Europe for the first time.

While Newcastle pushed themselves defiantly, and often magnificently, through the pain barrier, De Zerbi’s side were way below their mesmeric best and never looked like sustaining a brief second-half revival. The usually influential Moisés Caicedo and Pascal Gross were particularly poor.

“That’s how we want to play, fast and with high intensity,” said Howe. “It was a brilliant performance, especially out of possession. But maintaining that sort of rhythm throughout is not easy and involves taking risks. When Brighton scored they made it a bit nervy.”

Newcastle’s manager refuses to discuss securing a top-four finish just yet. “I actually can’t pronounce the CL words at the moment, they go funny against my lips,” joked Howe, whose side visit Chelsea on Sunday week. “Nothing’s been achieved. We’re close but it’s still so far away. We’ve tried not to talk about it in meetings. We can’t take anything for granted.”

Evidently heeding Howe’s instruction to remind everyone they remain “a force”, Newcastle began with a zeal that soon had De Zerbi’s side penned into their own half, gasping for breath. Brighton looked a barely detectable shadow of the team which had won 3-0 at Arsenal last Sunday.

As Joe Willock, Joelinton, Alexander Isak, Miguel Almirón and company forced their guests into a series of errors, rarely permitting them to hold onto the ball for more than a matter of seconds, it seemed a repeat of the visitors’ 5-1 home surrender to Everton earlier this month was a real possibility.

Only Dunk, fighting a valiant rearguard effort at centre-half, and Steele, demonstrating why he has displaced Spain’s Robert Sánchez in goal, mounted a significant resistance effort.

Shortly after Dunk had performed heroics to block Joelinton’s shot, Brighton finally fell behind. The goal came from a corner, expertly whipped in by Kieran Trippier and headed into his own net by the helpless Deniz Undav.

Sánchez, left at home on the south coast after exhibiting a marked reluctance to sit on the bench, may have felt that, in throwing his toys out of his pram, he had made the right decision.If Steele looked suitably relieved when VAR officials confirmed that Dunk’s challenge on Callum Wilson should not lead to a penalty, Sánchez’s replacement was powerless to prevent Newcastle doubling their advantage on the verge of half-time.

Once again it was created by the excellent Trippier, whose latest free-kick was headed beyond Steele by Dan Burn. It dictated that Howe’s principal interval concerns centred on the yellow cards collected by his key central midfielder, Bruno Guimarães, for a foul on Kaoru Mitoma, and Fabian Schär, for shoving Billy Gilmour in the face.

Burn re-emerged for the second period seeming somehow larger than his customary 6ft 7in. Not only had he scored his first Premier League goal for Newcastle, it had arrived against his former employers. Who would have thought there was a time on the south coast when the defender could barely get a game for Brighton?

Unfortunately for Howe, Burn was soon brought back down to earth when De Zerbi’s side stunned St James’ Park by, albeit temporarily, remembering that they can play a bit after all.

No sooner had Burn crossed, Willock flicked on and Almirón forced Steele into a stellar save, than Gilmour’s superior through pass precipitated the advancing – and by now much-improved – Undav expertly steering his shot beneath the diving Nick Pope.

With that goal having rightly survived a VAR review for a potential offside, De Zerbi opted to further spice things up courtesy of a triple substitution, involving the introduction of Argentina’s Alexis Mac Allister.

Willock has realistic ambitions to win an England cap but they were almost certainly placed on hold when he collapsed with what appeared a serious hamstring injury. Worryingly for Howe, Willock appeared in considerable pain as he was helped off the pitch and replaced by Elliot Anderson. With Sean Longstaff sidelined by an ankle problem and Joelinton collecting a knock here, Newcastle looked somewhat understaffed in that department right now.

At least Wilson remains in good health. In the dying minutes the England striker scored his 18th goal of the season, and 11th since the start of April, meeting Almirón’s pass and advancing 40 yards before side‑footing home. Then Wilson held the ball up adroitly for Guimarães to apply an ecstatically received 12-yard finish.

“It was difficult, very tough,” said De Zerbi. “Newcastle were stronger. We didn’t play well and deserved to lose. To qualify for the Europa League we have to fight.”