Two late Newcastle United goals stunned Brighton as the Magpies moved back to the top of the Championship last night.
The Seagulls were leading through Glenn Murray’s controversial penalty until a fluked 81st-minute effort from Mohamed Diame hauled Newcastle level.
Then, with a minute to go, sub Ayoze Perez dramatically secured a 2-1 victory, lifting Rafa Benitez’s side back above the Seagulls, going two points clear.
Benitez admitted: “It was difficult. When you play against a good team, with the advantage of the goal from the penalty, which was not, it’s always more difficult.
“A loft of things were against us, but the reaction of the team was good. There was a risk of being caught on the counter, but we created chances and we have to be pleased with the teamwork.
“We were creating chances and you have to be pleased with the performance of everyone, on the pitch and off the bench.
“Watching the replay of the penalty, he was pushing our player – you can’t give a penalty (for that) in this type of game.”
Ciaran Clark was penalised for pulling down Glenn Murray, who stepped up to convert the resulting penalty to give the home side a 14th-minute lead.
“Watching the replay, you cannot give a penalty in this kind of game from that kind of situation,” said Benitez. “We have had two penalties this season, as the division’s most offensive team.”
Newcastle should have equalised in first-half stoppage time. DeAndre Yedlin’s cross was met by Christian Atsu eight yards out, but he placed his shot too close to David Stockdale, who made a fine point-blank save.
Moments into the second half, Brighton went agonisingly close to doubling their lead, Lewis Dunk’s header beating Karl Darlow but cleared from under the bar by Paul Dummett.
The equaliser came when Stockdale punched a corner to the feet of Atsu.
He mis-hit his shot completely on the edge of the area and it was hurtling yards wide. However, the ball spun off Diame and looped into the air, eluding Stockdale and finding the top right corner, leaving the keeper crestfallen and both Magpies looking at each other in disbelief.
Perez then claimed all three points with an 89th-minute winner, sidefooting home Atsu’s left-wing cross.
Benitez added: “We created a lot of good situations before Diame, who was lucky.
“The winning goal was calm and composure of Ayoze. We had to change a bit to be more dangerous, but I’m really pleased with the players’ reaction, the way they understood how we had to be playing. We had to take a risk, playing between the lines.”
Asked if it was a “big moment” in the Tynesiders’ promotion challenge, Benitez added: “It’s good to get three points, away, on this pitch against a very good team.
“Still I have the same feeling – April will be crucial.”
Newcastle face another crucial clash at third-top Huddersfield, who are eight points behind the Mags, on Saturday evening.
Brighton: Stockdale, Saltor, Duffy, Dunk, Pocognoli (Tomori 18), Knockaert (March 88), Stephens, Sidwell, Murphy, Baldock (Kayal 82), Murray. Subs not used: Hunemeier, Hemed, Walton, Akpom. Booked: Knockaert, Duffy, Murray. Goal: Murray 14 pen.
Newcastle: Darlow, Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett, Atsu, Shelvey, Colback (Murphy 74), Ritchie, Diame, Gouffran (Perez 82). Subs not used: Hanley, Anita, Elliot, Gamez, Mitrovic. Booked: Yedlin. Goals: Diame 81, Perez 89
Ref: Robert Madley (West Yorkshire).