Tomer Hemed’s emphatic second-half finish was enough to give Brighton their second home win of the season.
The Isreali international, subject of much transfer speculation over the summer, smashed the ball in from close range to move Brighton up to 13th in the Premier League.
A record attendance at the Amex roared for their side to hold on for a tense victory.
The game started in frenetic fashion as both teams looked to set their stall out and hit their opposite numbers on the break. Mat Ryan, whose role in the team has been put under threat by Tim Krul’s arrival, was at full stretch to push Mikel Merino’s volley away in the opening minutes.
Brighton saw a number of positive attacking moves end in disappointment as the final ball proved to be problematic. On numerous occasions crosses were just out of Hemed’s reach or deflected away by the centre half pairing of Jamal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark.
Bruno, who returned to the side after a hip injury, often looks to get into advanced positions when the Seagulls attack and, upon winning the ball, Newcastle were quick to look for Christian Atsu in a bid to expose the void left by the Spaniard.
This led to what should have been the opening goal. Livewire winger Atsu found himself with room to attack and slide the ball forwards for Ayoze Perez. He drilled the ball into the box and Lewis Dunk, off balance, would only clip the ball. Joselu found himself with the ball but his back to goal. The Spaniard spun and his shot crept inches wide to the agony of travelling fans.
The Albion’s best chance of the first 45 minutes fell to Pascal Gross after yet another swift break. The German, who proved so vital in the win over West Brom, set himself for the half volley from eight yards but his strike cannoned cruelly off of Anthony Knockaert and out for a corner.
Early in the second half a clumsy foul gave Brighton a chance to get the ball into the box. Gross drilled his kick over most of the bodies in the area to find Dale Stephens arriving at the back stick and he headed it into the six yard box. Under pressure and off balance, Tomer Hemed managed to the wrap his foot around the ball and volley it into the roof of the net from close range. The Israeli striker’s second goal of the campaign sent the Amex faithful into rapture and give his side the lead.
With the momentum behind them, Hughton’s men went on the hunt for a quick second goal. Switching the play at pace, the ball was eventually fizzed across the box and Solly March, fresh off his goal in the defeat at Bournemouth, stretched to smash the ball back at Elliot. A perfectly placed foot from Lascelles was all that kept the ball from crossing the line and triggering the referee’s goalline alarm.
Newcastle looked to settle and nearly forced an equaliser. A freekick was blocked by the wall and hammered back at goal by Merino. Duffy bravely threw his head in the way and deflected the ball narrowly over Ryan’s crossbar.
Memories of Newcastle’s late comeback in last season’s fixture and Bournemouth’s dramatic turnaround last week haven’t been forgotten.
Rafa Benitez looked to the bench to try and reinvigorate the Magpies and introduced Jonjo Shelvey and Dwight Gayle in quick succession with little over twenty minutes left. Their arrival marked a period of pressure for the visitors and Mat Ryan was forced to tip away a low corner that look dangerously close to sneaking straight inside the near post.
Newcastle were starting to force Brighton deeper and the fans behind Ryan’s goal were incensed when Bruno, attempting to clear a cross, bundled into Shelvey in the box but the referee had no interest in the penalty claim. Hughton attempted to alleviate the pressure on his side by introducing Jamie Murphy for Knockaert with ten minutes left.
Albion’s defenders were coming to the fore as the game wore on. March, making a rare error, lost possession in his half and the ball was slipped down the line for Shelvey. He drove into the box and drilled the ball across goal where Lewis Dunk deflected the pass wide of goal.
Benitez grew increasingly frustrated with his side’s efforts as Dunk and Duffy proved a formidable pairing. Hughton’s organised defensive shape came under more scrutiny but refused to wilt.
A cynical challenge, and booking, for Lascelles in the final seconds summed up Newcastle’s frustration as Brighton’s defence threw their bodies in front of every shot and cleared every pass.
After the disappointment of Bournemouth and ahead of next week’s trip to the Emirates to face Arsenal, Hughton will be delighted to get another three points under his belt.