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Newcastle United's two key men versus Brighton

Tuesday 28th February 2017
It could prove to be one of the biggest and most entertaining bouts in the Championship this season as Brighton host Newcastle, first against second. The top two have fluctuated a lot in recent weeks with both dropping points and the gap between second placed Newcastle and third-placed Huddersfield is just five points.

However, the two are probably less worried about third place, and more concerned about ceding any sort of advantage to the other. This is so much so that it is likely both Newcastle and Brighton would settle for a draw, thus keeping the gap to a single point, with both teams preferring to rely on the other dropping points further down the line.

For Newcastle, this is their biggest game since they fell out of the Premier League, a relegation that still bitterly resonates throughout St James' Park. However, with their superb form and new found belief, it seems as though they will be going up in an automatic promotion place this season. Whether it is as the Champions or second place is still up for deliberation, but the team and the fans will feel that just attaining immediate promotion was always the aim, with the title of champions an added bonus.

With Sunderland in huge relegation mire at the moment, it could prove to be the perfect season for the Magpies, who may gain promotion as their fierce rivals are demoted to England's second league after flirting with relegation for so many years.

With both line-ups boasting some of the finest players in the Championship, it is not particularly easy to pick out two men that may dictate how this game goes for Newcastle. With top scorer Dwight Gayle once again missing due to a long-running hamstring injury, and the defence not looking it's best at the moment, there are two men that might play starring roles in their team's efforts.

Karl Darlow

The goalkeeper has battled hard at Newcastle over the last few years in order to get his chance and he has been absolutely fantastic this season with number one goalkeeper Tim Krul allowed to leave on loan in a bid to recover from injury and second choice Rob Elliot also nursing a long-term injury. The goalkeeper, who displaced Matz Sels earlier in the season, has done very well to display to Rafael Benitez what he can offer. His shot stopping and quick thinking have saved Newcastle on more than one occasion, however, his distribution is sometimes wayward, while his decision making has been lax at times with the goalkeeper needing a helping hand from his defenders to get him out of trouble.

With the likes of Glenn Murray, Anthony Knockaert, Tomer Hemed and Sam Baldock all having scored 10 goals or more this season, it is vital that Darlow is at the top of his game. He will likely face multiple spells of prolonged pressure, long shots and the odd one-on-one with both sides boasting some of the most exciting attackers in the league. With so much at stake for Newcastle, Darlow can hardly afford to have an off day.

Jonjo Shelvey

Jonjo Shelvey was one of the players that let down Newcastle's fans last season, but he is doing everything in his power this time to ensure he is culpable for their promotion back to the Premier League. The former Liverpool and Swansea midfielder has been sublime this term. His passing, goal threat, touches and vision are second to none in the league and he is at the heart of every single positive move from Newcastle. He has also added a far more hard-working element to his game as he does not seem content with just playing a pass, instead, he chases after the ball to provide an extra option in attack. It is a marked difference from the player that was so maligned last campaign.

Against Brighton, Shelvey is likely to have his defensive workload increased though with the opposition more inclined to keep the ball than many of their previous opponents, but Rafael Benitez will be desperate to see the Magpies keep the ball, allowing Shelvey to dictate the game from midfield. If Newcastle can get the Englishman onto the ball, then they will have taken a big stride towards winning the game, with Shelvey able to conjure up chances from absolutely nothing.

Both players will be vital for Newcastle tomorrow with the top of the table clash yielding a lead for the victors. With just 33 games having already been played this season, a win for Newcastle will also give them a huge psychological boost as they look to banish the demons of their abject relegation of the year before.
Ben Darvill

I graduated with an upper second class degree in English and Creative writing from Cardiff Metropolitan University. I have been a freelance sports writer since leaving University and have written for a number of online websites. I am a Chelsea and England fan but I enjoy watching any team play as I have an intense passion for football.

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