Albion finished just a point behind Toon in Championship but have improved almost everywhere on the pitch
THE Championship’s two outstanding teams from last season meet at the Amex as Newcastle make the long trip to Brighton for an ever thoughtful-for-the-fans 4pm Sunday kick off.
Only a point separated us last season – following the seven-point lead Albion blew with three games remaining after promotion was won – yet we have enjoyed contrasting starts to life in the Premier League.
Newcastle sit fourth while Brighton, well, don’t sit anywhere near fourth.
Both of us endured frustrating transfer windows with Rafa Benitez apparently on the verge of quitting due to a lack of support. Chris Hughton is far too magnanimous to do the same, but even his loyalty and patience must have been tested by the Albion failing to buy a striker.
We broke our transfer record three times and every player we brought in improved the squad yet the one position we desperately needed to strengthen, and failed to do so, was in attack.
That led to much frustration on transfer deadline day and a disappointment that was comparable to matching with Taylor Swift on Tinder, only to have Stuart Taylor turn up to the date.
Without a proven top-flight goal-getter, this season was always likely to prove to be a struggle but we are probably where most fans expect us to be, which is averaging around a point a game.
We are never going to pick up wins on the road as we are far too defensive a side to do that at this level.
Whether we can make this more than a brief stay in the Premier League comes down to how well we do at home.
The signs in that regard are promising.
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We kept Manchester City at bay for 70 minutes and “only” lost 2-0 which, given their recent score lines, looks like a good result.
We then completely outclassed West Brom to win 3-1 which went some way to lifting the doom and gloom that had enveloped the club after the end of the transfer window.
The game with Newcastle then is hugely important.
Despite them flying high, there actually isn’t much between the two sides. Their one huge advantage is having a top-six manager managing bottom-eight players.
We saw that last season when Benitez changed personnel and tactics to score twice in the last ten minutes to win the game 2-1 at the Amex.
He is class manager and if or when he goes, Newcastle will be sucked into trouble with the rest of us floating around the bottom.
That is why we need three points from their visit. Three points puts us on seven from six games ahead of a trip to Arsenal and difficult games against Everton and West Ham.
It keeps us on that point-a-game average which keeps us on track for safety.
Can we get them? If the Albion play to their full potential, yes.
They have one of the most underrated players of the Premier League season so far among their ranks. Pascal Gross cost just £3m from Ingolstadt but has been involved in every goal we have scored so far.
I’m loathe to give away any Fantasy Football tips from my colossus Fred West Ham squad, but getting him in your side is a complete no-brainer.
Anthony Knockaert is due a good game at some point and we are yet to unleash record signing Jose Izquierdo.
The aforementioned one point was the only difference between us and Newcastle last season, and we are better than we were then so there is no reason to avoid a home win from your accumulator.
Watching Gross in particular has been a pleasure this season, as has seeing Riyad Mahrez tear us apart at the King Power, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus score at the Amex and even Troy Deeney waddling at Watford to give hope to all us blokes with a belly that we could make it in the Premier League.
Yeah, it does take a bit of getting used to not turning teams over every week as we had in the Championship for the past two seasons.
But I wouldn’t change this Premier League adventure for anything. We’ve waited 34 years for top flight football, and we are enjoying every minute.
Victory over Newcastle would make it even better.