Kieran Trippier could have been trading the Champions League for the Championship. When his Newcastle career had the falsest of false starts, his debut a dispiriting defeat to Cambridge, his new team in the drop zone, the temptation was to wonder quite what he had swapped Atletico Madrid for. Sixteen months later, the answer is becoming clearer: with one more win, Trippier will be back in the Champions League.
For Dan Burn, Newcastle’s takeover and the concurrent injections of ambitions and funds initially brought a different sense. By his own admission, it seemed his chance of playing for Newcastle, the club he supported in his boyhood in Blyth, was over. Now an unconventional journey from non-league to Champions League will be completed with one more victory.
Burn represents the feelgood story in Newcastle’s rise, the ungainly, endearing local who, at 31, scored a first league goal for United to enable them to imagine dates with Barcelona or Bayern Munich. Trippier has proved still more of a catalyst. Two swings of a set-piece specialist’s right book brought two goals – one headed in by an opponent, one a teammate – though only one qualified as an assist. But, even as Callum Wilson added to his rich vein of form with a goal and an assist in an emphatic end, full-backs powered Newcastle forward.
Money has helped but when Trippier agreed to be the first signing of the new regime, he brought credibility, offering others reasons to join. Bruno Guimaraes, who followed him to St James’ Park in January 2022, illustrated his impact again with the injury-time fourth against Brighton; without Trippier, would he have signed? A trailblazer has been a leader in other respects: the armband resides with Trippier and he is on course to become the first player since Alan Shearer two decades ago to captain Newcastle in the Champions League. Shortlisted for the Premier League player of the year award earlier in the day, he helped restore Newcastle to winning ways.
After a solitary point from their previous two games, albeit from fine performances, Newcastle have momentum again. Monday’s game against a Leicester side seemingly in freefall could end their exile from Europe. They have the insurance policy of a final-day trip to Chelsea. They would not need either result if Liverpool were to lose on Saturday; the chances, though, are that Newcastle will do it in front of their own public. Given their home form – this was a fifth win in six on their own turf – it might feel fitting. Brighton had seemed to provide the greatest obstacle in the final fortnight of a season of overachievement but the conquerors of Arsenal could not produce a repeat performance in the North East.
Newcastle prevailed after the almost statutory ferocious start at St James’ Park, the latest demonstration of this side’s running power, but because of two late goals and the platform laid by the class of Trippier’s dead-ball delivery. It is a way of adding another dimension as a corner and a free kick sufficed instead.
He received inadvertent assistance from Deniz Undav; the cliché of a game of two halves had a certain truth in his case. In a disastrous first, Brighton’s German striker scored an own goal and conceded the free kick for Newcastle’s second. In a more auspicious second, he added to his strike against Arsenal by scoring against another of the top three, beating Nick Pope after racing on to Billy Gilmour’s pass. It means Newcastle only have a solitary clean sheet in their last 16 league games.
They built from the back in the first half of the season. Defenders had to show a solidity in a nervy second half but proved the best form of attack before the break. When Trippier whipped in a corner, Undav only succeeded in glancing his header beyond Steele. When Trippier curled in a free kick, Burn, all 6ft 7in of him, rose highest to plant in a header; it was one way of repaying Brighton for allowing him to get his dream move last January.
Brighton had performed a demolition job on Arsenal four days earlier; this, however, was a weaker Albion with Alexis Mac Allister, Evan Ferguson and Julio Enciso benched. Roberto de Zerbi sent for the cavalry when he brought them on in a triple substitution. And then, when they threatened to procure a point, the dam burst. Steele had made stunning saves from Miguel Almiron and Alexander Isak. Wilson had missed a sitter.
But then his golden run continued. Wilson’s seventh goal in five games was slotted past Steele after Almiron carried the ball from deep in his half and released him; that, in turn, stemmed from Trippier winning possession by his own corner flag. Wilson then had the selflessness to tee up Guimaraes for a tap-in. His alliance with Eddie Howe began nine years ago, when Bournemouth signed the striker from League One Coventry. And now a very different league beckons for both.