Brighton leave Pardew all at sea
Brighton & Hove Albion manager Gus Poyet wrote in his programme notes prior to his side's FA Cup third round tie with Newcastle of "showing the watching football world their identity". In that respect, and with the result too, they did the Uruguayan proud. The club who ply their trade in England's second tier outplayed a depleted, in terms of key personnel and confidence, Newcastle United outfit to win 2-0 at the Amex Stadium, adding to the Seagulls' rise and the pressure on Magpies boss Alan Pardew.
The peculiarity of the eight-year deal handed to Pardew in September was intensified by this tenth defeat in 12 matches. This was a second 345-mile trip from the North East to the South Coast in the space of 12 months that ended in an exit from this competition, for Newcastle were beaten by Brighton in the fourth round last season. While Pardew was without several key players this time around - Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and new Chelsea signing Demba Ba to name but a few - the manner of the loss brought Pardew's tactics, coupled with the tools at his disposal, into sharp focus.
Pardew was frank in his assessment of his selection, stating that the quality was not sufficient. In his post-match interview, he sighed: "I am aggrieved I couldn't put out a stronger team than that. Unfortunately these players shouldn't be playing for Newcastle in the third round. They should be in our development team. I think it is important to spend this month. We need our best players back. I never thought we'd be in this position. I think we've been terribly unlucky. The window is open. It gives us an opportunity to strengthen the squad. I think [the board are going to back me]."
Pardew was clearly hurting: "I love this competition," he said. "There can't be an English manager who loves it more than me." Sadly for Pardew, the writing was on the wall from kick-off. Craig Mackail-Smith offered an early indicator of Brighton's approach under manager Poyet; his effort matched by craft. A willing runner, the Scot's locks were seen flowing down the right channel in the opening minutes to win a corner. Dean Hammond subsequently skied over the bar. Yet the pressure continued, as Wayne Bridge's deep cross caused havoc in the penalty area.
Brighton's impressive, and Newcastle's unimpressive, beginning was extended when a David Lopez cross was nodded back across goal by Gary Dicker, only for James Perch to clear and deny them what looked set to be the opener. Poyet's side were out-passing their Premier League opponents, stretching them every which way.
Newcastle rarely threatened in the first half, and when they did it was tentative at best: a deflected Gabriel Obertan shot caused an intake of breath and a central Gael Bigirimana shot stung the palms of Caper Ankergren. When in possession the Magpies looked short of ideas and belief. The home side were comfortable, their on-the-deck football easy on the eye - although at times invoking anxiety from the supporters as they played it tightly and riskily out from the back.
Unusually for football, however, Brighton got what they deserved in the 33rd minute. Centre-back Gordon Greer pinged a diagonal ball towards the corner flag, yet it looked beyond the 32-year-old legs of Bridge. But the left-back, on loan from Manchester City, strove to keep it in play and he superbly dug out a cross that was controlled and then cutely finished with the outside of Andrea Orlandi's boot - it was a goal described as "worth the value of the ticket" by Poyet.
Pardew, who was seen prowling the touchline unhappily for much of the 45 minutes, reacted at the interval by bringing on Nile Ranger and Paul Dummett for Mehdi Abeid and James Perch, switching to two up front. But their frustration was not eased - captain Shola Ameobi demonstrated as much when he was booked for clipping the heels of Dicker. Ranger, meanwhile, ballooned into the cloudy sky.
Poyet sensed the need to inject further impetus and did so by bringing on former Newcastle player Kazenga LuaLua for goalscorer Orlandi. It would not be long before the gradient of the visitors' task was increased to 'mountain to climb'. Ameobi was given a second yellow card for a challenge on David Lopez - although it looked a harsh booking from referee Lee Probert, as there was little contact and the most of it was made by the Spaniard, who rolled about theatrically.
The dismissal did not change the pattern of the game, as Brighton's owning of the football continued in earnest, until the final quarter of an hour, when Newcastle's longer approach began to force opportunities as they seized on the growing nerves among their opponents. Sylvain Marveaux, on for the barely-existent Obertan, was denied by a fantastic block by Bridcutt, before Sammy Ameobi's deflected cross off Greer was clawed awkwardly away by Ankergren.
Soon, though, the result would be sealed. Substitute Will Hoskins, who replaced Mackail-Smith, darted onto a through-ball from Lopez to coolly roll past Rob Elliot, ensuring that Brighton's 2013 reads played two, won two - their 3-0 win at Ipswich on New Year's Day followed a disappointing period that yielded no wins from five league matches.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Wayne Bridge. His experience and quality told. Bridge has been derided for a come down that followed a £12 million switch from Chelsea to Manchester City in 2009. Loan spells at West Ham and Sunderland have followed, but here, on the seaside, he appears a settled player, with three goals scored in his 21 Championship appearances thus far. Against Newcastle the left-back demonstrated a high level of fitness - as per his oxygen-gobbling run that led to his assist for the opener. Poyet said of Bridge: "He is a Premier League player. We are lucky to have him here. People ask me if he is going to stay for next season. It is going to be difficult."
BRIGHTON VERDICT: Overall, excellent - although the manager was not getting carried away. A grounded Poyet said: "I thought we had a great opportunity because of the players Newcastle were missing. We had to take it. We were the better team in the end today. The players want the biggest team away in the next round and I want the smallest team at home. Let's see tomorrow." Yet it was hard not to get whipped up in the performance, with the ethos instilled one that is befitting of a stage viewed by as many as this.
NEWCASTLE VERDICT: Trouble has gone beyond a-brewing and is now on full boil. Their run of form was been torrid, in particular their results away - not one victory on the road has been achieved this season. Pardew is aware of the issues and will hope that owner Mike Ashley releases the cash for his heralded scouting department to work its magic. Attention will swiftly turn back to the league, when crunch games await, as, make no mistake, they are in a relegation fight.