Newcastle rounded off their participation in the Premier League US Summer Series with a somewhat undeserved 2-1 win over Brighton. Elliot Anderson scored two late goals to preserve the Magpies' unbeaten record this pre-season.
The sweltering Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey was predominantly black and white in the stands. However, there were a lot of empty seats on display despite the minimal 25,000 capacity. Perhaps some planning to attend saw the team selection and decided not to bother!
Eddie Howe named an entirely different XI to the one that drew with Chelsea two days prior, as he said he would in the build-up, with Nick Pope starting between the posts and completing the full 90 minutes as he seeks to regain match sharpness following hand surgery in May.
He was by far the busier of the two goalkeepers, making several good stops and sweeping up well behind a makeshift back four of Harrison Ashby, Jamaal Lascelles, Paul Dummett, and Matt Targett.
Brighton were undeniably the better side, showing good resistance to Newcastle's faltering press in the 32-degree heat and also disrupting the Magpies easily as we tried to build from the back ourselves. As such, it was a surprise that the game reached half-time scoreless.
It didn't stay 0-0 for long, though, with Danny Welbeck giving Brighton the lead after 49 minutes with the simplest of finishes. Kaoru Mitoma skinned Ashby and centred for the unmarked former Arsenal and Manchester United forward to stroke the ball home from less than 10 yards.
There wasn't much of a response from Newcastle thereafter, with Bruno Guimarães struggling to make an impact on the game, Callum Wilson barely getting a kick, and Matt Ritchie finding it difficult in an unfamiliar central midfield role. Harvey Barnes and Elliot Anderson were the only bright sparks, though Barnes unsurprisingly tired quite early and Anderson found it tough going without much support.
Howe then turned to the youth on his bench, and the kids were more than alright. Lewis Miley showed some lovely touches again after replacing Ashby on the hour, one pirouette and through-ball for then right-back Murphy particularly catching the eye. Ben Parkinson added some much-needed hustle and urgency coming on for Wilson after 75 minutes, with Alex Murphy again improving the backline when replacing Dummett at the same time.
Remi Savage and Jay Turner-Cooke were on for Lascelles and Ritchie five minutes later and also helped swing momentum back Newcastle's way, though it must be said that Brighton also made a huge number of changes as the half wore on. The game had a decidedly under-21 look to it by the end, but that allowed Anderson to shine once more this pre-season.
His first goal was a bit scrappy, as he took two bites of the cherry from a Parkinson cross that the young Brighton defence slept on, seeing his initial effort well blocked before firing past Bart Verbruggen with aplomb. The Whitley Bay-born midfielder wasn't finished there, though, rushing onto a Fabian Schär-esque ping from Jacob Murphy and holding off opposing defender Ed Turns superbly before slotting past Verbruggen with his left foot.
It was a brilliant end to an expectedly disjointed performance from Howe's makeshift side, who all deserve immense credit for sticking. The young substitutes, in particular, were a breath of fresh air and collectively made a massive impact on the final scoreline.
Here are full highlights of the win, courtesy of NUFC's YouTube channel:
Of the starting XI, only Anderson stood out, with his two late goals further elevating his score. Otherwise, Pope had a typically solid game, sweeping well and making several good saves, while Barnes was a considerable threat before he tired early on his first start of pre-season.
Jacob Murphy's score was saved by his late assist for Anderson and, to be fair to Murphy, he was much better when moved to right-back on the hour. Wilson also did well on the rare occasions he was brought into the game, showing some lovely touches and a lot of sharpness.
Pope – 7
Ashby – 6
Lascelles – 6
Dummett – 6
Targett – 6
Ritchie – 6
Guimarães – 6
Anderson – 9
J. Murphy – 6
Wilson – 7
Barnes – 7
Of the substitutes, it was Lewis Miley who caught the eye again, but Parkinson also put in an excellent shift after replacing Wilson. The young forward backed up Howe's recent positive comments about his strong performances in training this pre-season.
L. Miley – 7
A. Murphy – 6
Parkinson – 7
Turner-Cooke – 6
Savage – 6
J. Miley – 6
Our head coach spoke to Dan King of NUFC TV on the pitch immediately after the game, despite having lost his voice due to the amount of shouting he was doing. Here are his comments:
"It was a really tough game today. We always know that when you play Brighton it's a really tough examination of you tactically. I thought defensively we were excellent, in both halves, it was more in possession that I thought we really struggled. We had a couple of players out of position, which is always difficult, but I have to praise the attitude and commitment of the players to deliver what we asked them to do.
It was tough for us because we were out of possession for long periods. You've got to keep your concentration because when you get tired you can get lazy with your positioning. I think we were quite unlucky with the goal they scored, as I don't think they had an amazing amount of chances. I thought we were a threat throughout the game, too.
Both teams made a lot of changes. They got younger, we got younger, and that maybe changes the momentum of the game. Tribute to the players for coming back and it was great to win the game.
We need everyone fit to hopefully play 90 minutes. In this heat that will do us the world of good. The players did very well to combat the weather and maintain their intensity. No more than Elliot (Anderson) who was still running right at the end. He came back the fittest of the entire squad in all of our tests. He's always been a goalscorer and goal-creator, but what pleased me was that last part of the game for him. The two goals were excellent finishes.
I think the tour has been really good, first and foremost playing in front of our supporters. We've met some really good people and done some really good training. It's been really hard work for the players, we've worked them every day. I think we go back as a more united group for that and the new players will feel a lot more acclimatised to the group.
We hope Sean Longstaff will be involved next week in the double-header, Harvey Barnes is fine despite the knock he got tonight, but Joe Willock may still not be ready for those games."
Two-goal Anderson also gave King a couple of minutes of soundbites post-game:
"It was a really tough game in the heat. They're a great side, but we knew what we set out to do and followed the plan. Coming out on top was something we really wanted to do and we managed to sneak it at the end.
I'm buzzing to get back to St. James' Park. Hopefully, those two games will be great. It's been a really tough pre-season, so it puts us in good stead for the new season. It's much tougher with the heat here, which should help us when we get back to the UK. Everyone's been at it in training and the fitness levels are great, which should give us an advantage back at home.
I'd love to (score more) and I could have more, I just need to tidy a few things up. I set a few goals before coming out to the US and before pre-season and one of them was to score more, I'd love to score at St. James', it would just top pre-season off."
And Matt Targett also spoke to NUFC TV:
"It was a really tough game in super hot conditions, so it was really difficult to try and press them. We showed great character. Special mention to all of the young lads that came on and lifted us, gave us energy, and made a real difference to the game. Overall it was a great way to end the trip.
It's the structure that we build up in. The manager wants the number eights making the runs in behind sometimes, not always just the striker or the wide men. Elliot's done that this pre-season and certainly got his rewards.
Every time you play Brighton, they're so good in possession and make little triangles so it's hard to press them. The lads dug in. Sometimes we need to be more clinical when we do nick the ball, we wasted a few three-on-two moments, but I'm sure that will come the sharper and fitter we get.
It's been brilliant here. The warm weather training is good for the body. Everybody's in a much better place than last pre-season and when we've played the quality of opposition that we have out here it gets us in good shape for the start of the season.
We've brought in Harvey, Sandro, and a few young lands have come on this trip. We've made them feel welcome and made them feel a part of the team as soon as possible. We've made sure we've got the best team spirit possible ahead of the new season.
The Sela Cup will be a great test. It gives us a good chance to play against something different tactically. It will be a good test, but it's one we're looking forward to being back at St. James' Park."
So that's it for the US Summer Series, which seems to have been a huge success for the club on and off the pitch.
Next up is the Sela Cup at St. James' Park, with Newcastle hosting Fiorentina next Saturday, the 5th of August, with a 3.30 p.m kick-off. Tickets are still available to purchase on the NUFC booking website.