Newcastle United and Brighton looked like two promoted clubs as they played out a boring 0-0 draw at St James’ Park. Neither side were able to create enough clear-cut chances to win the game and both managers will be looking at the upcoming January transfer window as a crucial period. Without reinforcements, both of these sides will be in a relegation battle. They did manage to keep clean sheets on Saturday, but that was more to do with the lack of attacking quality rather than excellent defensive showings. Here are three talking points from St James’ Park on Saturday:
Is Mike Ashley going to cause a third Newcastle relegation?
There were fresh reports in the morning that cast doubt over the ongoing takeover. The slow progress was concerning enough, but if the deal was to fall through entirely, it would leave Newcastle in a perilous position. Rafa Benitez is the most important figure at the football club and he is the symbol of a greater future. However, he won’t remain past the current season if a takeover doesn’t take place. Mike Ashley has broken too many promises to the Spaniard and their working relationship is strained.
Benitez is going to have to rely on Ashley one more time, as it is becoming increasingly clear that this squad isn’t good enough for the Premier League. The manager is doing the best that he can and their poor results hasn’t been for a lack of trying, rather a lack of talent. The team showed little ambition on Saturday and created few chances, despite being at home. Supporters left the stadium with a sense of disappointment as it was a fixture they had earmarked for three points, but they had no right to think in that manner. Brighton are higher in the table and spent more money on their squad during the summer.
If the outgoing owner wants to maintain a strong position in negotiations, he needs the club’s Premier League status to be secure. At the time of writing, it is under huge threat and investment into the playing staff is needed. Without it, a third relegation in the Ashley era is a real possibility.
Brighton must improve in the final third
This was a winnable away fixture for the Seagulls and a great opportunity to put more daylight between them and the bottom three. Newcastle had lost their previous five home Premier League matches and looked nervous throughout the game on Saturday. Brighton were allowed to dominate the possession, but they failed to create a single clear-cut chance.
Their set pieces caused problems for the home side, but given the players they had on the pitch, they should have done a lot better in open play. Anthony Knockaert and Pascal Gross are both very good at creating, but neither had much impact on the game. This was Brighton’s fifth successive away match without a goal and their 11th blank of the Premier League season.
Chris Hughton has the team well organised, but they need to score more goals if they are to survive comfortably. They may be in 12th position now, but they are only four points above the relegation. If they are to stay up with comfort, they are going to have to improve in the final third. Glenn Murray was a great striker in the Championship, but he doesn’t threaten often enough in the top-flight. A striker has to be at the top of the Seagulls shopping list next month.
Matt Ritchie’s place is under threat
Last season, the winger was one of Newcastle’s most important players and it was hoped that he would be able to make the step up to the Premier League. However, he has struggled to make the adjustment and it is becoming clear why Bournemouth were willing to sell him over a year ago. He lacks the dynamism to cause top-flight defences problems and he was ineffectual on Saturday.
The Scottish international does have five assists this season, but the majority of those have come from set-pieces. The problem against Brighton was that his set-piece delivery was poor and the reason for him being in the team was becoming less clear. This was a game Newcastle wanted to win, but their right winger was offering nothing in the attacking half.
He was the first Newcastle player to be taken off and the supporters are beginning to lose patience with him. Jacob Murphy’s end product has been questionable this season, but he has shown that he can beat opposition players and cause problems in the final third. There is no doubting Ritchie is a great player, but he is yet to prove himself in this division. It may be time to take him out of the starting eleven for a period.