Nick Szczepanik's press verdict: Newcastle United

You hear a lot about bubbles these days. Not the sort blown by West Ham United, but the ‘Westminster Bubble’ and the like. Tyneside, too, is its own bubble, especially where football is concerned. So it was only to be expected that most reports of Albion’s 0-0 draw away to Newcastle United were seen through black-and-white-tinted spectacles by the mostly north-east-based reporters.

By Nick Szczepanik • 22 September 2019

By Patrick Sullivan
Nick Szczepanik delivers the media's verdict on Saturday's game.

But they are a good bunch in the St James’ Park press box and, raised on the teams of Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson, they know good football when they see it. They admitted in their Sunday paper reports that they saw plenty from the visitors - once, that is, they had told their fellow Mags fans about local hero Andy Carroll’s return after almost nine years away, and the pressure building on new Geordies manager Steve Bruce.

Martin Hardy combined both threads in the Sunday Times, writing: “Even the return of Andy Carroll could not save Steve Bruce, who is still searching for his first home victory since becoming Newcastle manager. Carroll had eight minutes to come up with a glorious return to the club of his youth. It did not come, despite a late rally.

“Instead of heroics, there was a smattering of jeers, a reality check and a reminder that Newcastle had been, for the most part, outplayed by Brighton and their progressive manager Graham Potter. Indeed, the hero for the home side was a defender, the Swiss centre-half Fabian Schar making a daring goalline save to deny Aaron Connolly with 15 minutes remaining.

“Both sets of players looked drained at full-time, but the disappointment was justifiably greater for those in green. The control and authority of Brighton in the first half was such that they squandered four chances.”

Dan Burn hooks the ball away from Javier Manquillo.

Even the sub-editors got into the act for The Observer, headlining Louise Taylor’s report “Fabian Schär rescues Newcastle in drab stalemate with Brighton.” True, they had highlighted Albion sub Aaron Connolly’s excellent second-half effort at goal but it was a harsh, Tyne-centric verdict on a match that held plenty of interest for Albion fans. And her intro focused on Carroll, although she recognised the superiority of Graham Potter’s side.

She wrote: “Dusk was fast closing in when Andy Carroll finally rose from the bench and made his second coming as a Newcastle United player but there was still time for Steve Bruce’s very own divine ponytail to offer a tantalising glimpse of what might be possible if he can stay fit.

“Carroll did not score and Bruce’s side were booed off, yet his disruptive presence proved sufficient to spread doubt and uncertainty through a previously assured Brighton side, who had earlier threatened to win at a canter.

“Graham Potter’s players were initially so dominant they barely permitted their hosts a first half touch of the ball. Small wonder Bruce ordered Carroll to warm up.”

By Paul Hazlewood
Aaron Mooy challenges for the ball.

Craig Hope admitted in his Mail on Sunday report that “Brighton will wonder how they left here with a solitary point after bossing the contest from start to finish and there is a clear identity to Graham Potter’s side.

“Brighton were far superior. After half an hour they had enjoyed 79 per cent possession and, save for those two chances, the hosts had struggled to emerge from their own half.

“Bruce tore up his 3-4-2-1 system at that point and instructed his team to adopt a previously untested 4-3-3. It did not make any difference. The manager was soon barking at [Jonjo] Shelvey when he lost the ball cheaply and the midfielder gave as good as he got in the verbal exchange.

“As for Brighton, they teased passes all over the park and would have led had Neal Maupay squared for the unmarked Steven Alzate rather than shoot at the recovering Hayden when free inside the six-yard area.

“It must have been infuriating for Potter that his side just could not find a way to score and Maupay sliced over from 10 yards after yet another intricate approach.”

By Paul Hazlewood
Pascal Gross brings the ball forward.

Luke Edwards agreed in his Sunday Telegraph report. “If there is a worry for Brighton manager Graham Potter, it is that as easily as his side passed and moved, they did not create a host of chances. What they did do is look calm, collected and in control. That simply is not good enough for any home crowd, let alone Newcastle’s, and the home team were deservedly booed off at half time and again at the final whistle.”

Lee Ryder of the Newcastle Chronicle, which tried to stoke an imaginary rivalry in the lead-up to the game, also gave credit to Albion. “After Brighton had dominated this game, United, with Carroll throwing himself around in both boxes, threatened to nick it. But it proved to be too much of a stretch for Steve Bruce's side and his team left the field to pockets of boos.

“Yet on a day in which Brighton conjured up 16 goal attempts some might say a point wasn't a bad outcome because with better finishing this could have been even worse.”

Long-time Mirror Newcastle man Simon Bird focused on Bruce. “Steve Bruce is facing a sustained battle against relegation on the evidence of this dreadful display,” he began. “He is the only Newcastle manager with Steve McClaren to fail to win any of his first three home games in charge, and saw his side jeered off.

“Newcastle are a much diminished Premier League outfit this season, left behind by tactical innovation and clever investment by rivals. This resembled an FA Cup tie with Brighton the illustrious visitors, and Newcastle hanging on.

“Three seasons ago they were promoted out of the Championship together and that is where the Geordies risk heading unless something improves. They had just 29 percent of the possession. At home. To Brighton.”

By Paul Hazlewood
Davy Propper drives forward from midfield.

But if that sounded a tad patronising, Bird was spot on in his assessment of Albion’s showing. “Graham Potter's side bossed the game, were neat and tidy, but lacked the fire-power to turn their obvious superiority into a win. Pascal Gross, Davy Propper and Steve Alzate, on his Premier League debut, ran the game.

“The only big roar from the St James' Park crowd came after 82 minutes but it wasn't for a goal. It was for the introduction of Geordie Andy Carroll, back in black and white for the first time since he become a British record £35m transfer to Liverpool in 2011. That's what it's come to on Tyneside. Roaring on the big man sub, hoping for a hoof-ball miracle, from a player with a chronic ankle injury.

“Brighton boss Potter said: ‘I am disappointed we didn't win it. Our performance level was good. We got into the box often, into the final third, did a lot, but it was just that final bit. I am proud of their effort, courage and desire at a difficult place to come.

“’The final bit will come. We have been competitive in all our games. We did not expect to have 71 percent possession. We had courage and structure’.”

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