Miles Starforth’s match analysis: Newcastle United 2 Brighton and Hove Albion 0

Jonjo Shelvey
Jonjo Shelvey
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Five games gone, 41 to go.

The Championship, as we all know, is a marathon, and not a sprint.

But if Newcastle United can replicate week in, week out the commitment and character shown against Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday, the club will be challenging for automatic promotion come April and May.

Rafa Benitez’s side did not have it all their own way at St James’s Park.

But there was a togetherness and tenacity about them.

And the largest crowd in England that day – there were 49,196 at the stadium to see United win 2-0 thanks to goals from Jamaal Lascelles and Jonjo Shelvey – responded to what they saw on the field.

Newcastle looked uncomfortable with the pace and power of the Championship in their first two fixtures.

However, they now look equipped to deal with whatever the division throws at them over the coming nine months.

It will never be comfortable – the division is unforgiving – but Benitez’s team now know what they have to do to win games.

If they can match their opponents physically, they know they have the quality to score a goal or more.

Brighton, unbeaten in the league since February, won’t lose many games this season.

And their manager Chris Hughton, the last man to guide Newcastle out of the division, left St James’s Park knowing referee Keith Stroud – who had angered both sets of fans before the break – had given United a helping hand with his second-half dismissal of Sam Baldock.

Stroud made some inexplicable decisions in the first half, not least his decision to book Ayoze Perez for accidentally running into an opponent.

Baldock was also shown a yellow card before the break.

Stroud’s willingness to freely show yellow cards saw players try their luck with some playacting.

Brighton had made a bright start on a brighter day, and it was not hard to see why Newcastle tried to sign winger Anthony Knockaert earlier this month.

They played with energy and enthusiasm, but set-pieces are all-important in the Championship.

Day in, day out, Hughton worked on corners and free-kicks during his time in charge of United.

Benitez now has the height and power he needs to attack them.

Lascelles, his captain, lost his marker in the 15th minute to head Matt Ritchie’s free-kick past David Stockdale, and Shelvey’s second-half strike, which left the goalkeeper rooted to the spot, came from another set-piece.

There were other positives.

Yoan Gouffran, having played his way back into Benitez’s plans in recent weeks, was an influential figure on the left side of midfield.

The forward struck the crossbar from 30 yards after nutmegging an opponent.

Even Gouffran, it seems, has joined what has been dubbed the ‘Rafalution’.

Under-scrutiny goalkeeper Matz Sels had seen Karl Darlow put in a confident performance in last Wednesday’s EFL Cup win over Cheltenham Town.

Sels, under pressure after four games, responded with his best game yet for the club.

The 24-year-old, a good shot-stopper, was more dominant in dealing with balls into the box, something that will be fundamental to the team’s chances of promotion this season.

Newcastle had chances to score a third goal after Shelvey’s 64th-minute strike.

It wasn’t to be, but the game was won without Dwight Gayle and Aleksandar Mitrovic, both ruled out with the concussions they suffered against Cheltenham.

United have now won their last four games – three of those victories came in the league – and the club is well-placed going into the international break.

Summer signing Mohamed Diame feels they have drawn a line under what happened last season.

“When you start a season, you’re still thinking about last season, and maybe the mood is still about the games we lost last season,” said the midfielder, signed from Hull City.

“But the team is feeling better now and working hard.

“It was important to finish this month well.”

By the time Diame and his team-mates take to the field again – Newcastle’s next game is against Derby County at the iPro Stadium on September 10 – the club will have long concluded its transfer business.

Diame believes there will be an even greater focus within the four walls of the dressing room once the transfer window closes.

“Soon we will know who is going to leave, and the squad will be focused on the same target,” said the 29-year-old.

United have all but done their business, though the future of Moussa Sissoko must be decided before Wednesday night’s transfer deadline.

Sissoko was quoted in France at the week bemoaning his £35million price tag.

If the 27-year-old goes, it will be for less than that figure, but amid the uncertainty, one thing is clear. Sissoko is undoubtedly talented, but he would not add to the team if he stays.

Benitez knows he could instead subtract from the togetherness United fans have seen on the field this month.

And, surely, he must go.

PLAYER RATINGS

Matz Sels: Responded to the challenge from Darlow with his best performance yet 7

Vurnon Anita: Showed Yedling can’t expect to walk into the game at right-back 6

Jamaal Lascelles: Turned the game with his superb header from a Ritchie corner 7

Chancel Mbemba: Strong and steady, quickly getting used to the Championship 7

Paul Dummett: Knows he faces competition from the imminent arrival of Lazaar 6

Isaac Hayden: Let Shelvey roam with solid performance in front of United’s back four 6

Jonjo Shelvey: Capped off his best performance yet this season with a superb goal 7

Matt Ritchie: Always a threat with the ball at his feet and a willing worker 7

Mohamed Diame: Looking much fitter and sharper with each performance 7

Yoan Gouffran: Was a threat in the first half when he almost scored from 30 yards 7

Ayoze Perez: Quickly adjusting to the pace and intensity of the Championship 7

SUBSTITUTES

Jesus Gamez: (for Anita, 72) Came on to make his league debut 6

Jack Colback: (for Diame, 81) Brought on to see the game out 6

DeAndre Yedlin: (for Gouffran, 88) Made his United debut 6

Subs not used: Karl Darlow, Ciaran Clark, Grant Hanley, Adam Armstrong.

REFEREE

Keith Stroud (Hampshire): One of the worst refereeing performances seen at St James’s Park recent years 2

ATTENDANCE

49,196