By Tim Hodges from the Amex
Brighton & Hove Albion 1 Newcastle United 2
Albion threw away a one-goal lead in the final ten minutes of this top of the Championship clash.
The Seagulls failed to dominate Newcastle despite going ahead through a 14th minute Glenn Murray penalty after Jack Colback and Ciaran Clark tangled with him and Sam Baldock in the six-yard box.
Prior to this captain Bruno Saltor saw a rasping drive beaten away by United keeper Karl Darlow.
Albion were managing to get Jamie Murphy in behind the Newcastle defence but Jonjo Shelvey began bossing the central midfield area from an early stage, with neither Steve Sidwell nor Dale Stephens able to get near enough to the former Liverpool man.
It was still Albion who created the best chances.
What looked like a training ground set-piece, saw Anthony Knockaert loft the ball over the Newcastle wall for Baldock, who miscued and sent his shot fizzing over the bar.
The Amex atmosphere on a clear late winter evening was electric. Perhaps for the first time reminiscent of the how the Goldstone was in its big match pomp.
Murray saw a half volley expertly pushed away by Darlow as Albion sensed a second goal was vital.
Matt Ritchie and Mohamed Daime were starting to work openings, then with almost the last kick of the half Christian Atsu pulled the trigger and forced David Stockdale to pull off a first-class save.
At half time many Albion fans tried to catch a glimpse of ITV stars Ant and Dec who were in the 1901 area.
They might have missed the chance that Lewis Dunk had as his header was cleared of the line by Paul Dummett.
Newcastle still a goal down, were beginning to control the match.
Albion’s quick and slick passing did not have its usual fluidity. Newcastle really are a premiership team in a championship disguise. Albion were starting to send passes astray, none more so than Stockdale, who passed the ball straight to Yoan Gouffran but them made a superb instinctive stop to redeem himself.
On the bench, despite challenging the fourth official about almost every decision, Rafa Benitez did have some heavy artillery in the shape of Daryl Murphy and Ayoze Perez.
Murray was beginning to look leg weary. The striker seemed unable to beat Jamaal Lascelles or Ciaran Clark for pace.
Chris Hughton opted for what appeared to be a 4-5-1 and instead replaced Baldock with Beram Kayal.
As a result the ball began to come back a lot quicker as Newcastle cleared their lines. With Murphy making his presence felt the ball fell to Atsu who miscued his shot from a corner. Murphy had an off-balance flick at it and the ball finally deflected off Diame’s heel and past a despairing Stockdale and Fikayo Tomori on the goal line to draw Newcastle level. A likely goal, but a complete fluke of process to get it.
Albion tried to muster a challenge but, with Murray looking like he was out on his feet and no sign of Tomer Hemed coming off the bench, they had little outlet.
Seconds after Solly March replaced Knockaert, Atsu got clear of Bruno and found Perez, who calmly slotted home Newcastle’s winner with a minute plus stoppages left to play.
Albion had no more to give and it was Newcastle, in this cat and mouse battle, who go back to the top of the league.
Albion can get back on track at Nottingham Forest on Saturday (4 March).