For Newcastle United’s journey to the south coast, Steve Bruce elected to revert to a back five which the Magpies had utilised for long periods throughout the season. The result was similar to what fans had witnessed with the system previously, a turgid, uneventful, defensively orientated display which got a result but was energy-sapping to endure watching.
The Toon had just one shot on target at the Amex Stadium, meaning they have now had one shot or fewer on target in seven Premier League matches this term, the most since the 2006/07 campaign. Newcastle also kept a clean sheet for the first time since June, having shipped ten goals in the last three Premier League matches.
It may sound misleading, but the nature of the display in the goalless draw against Brighton actually showed how far Newcastle have come under Bruce. Reverting the five-man defence which Rafael Benitez first introduced reduced the Toon to muster just one shot which forced Matt Ryan into a save.
Despite a 3-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in the previous encounter, Newcastle were spectacularly more threatening in attacking areas, taking on 22 shots, six of which were on target. Clearly, a four-man backline allows Newcastle to be more creative in the final third, based on recent performances, rather than results.
While having an extra body at the back does improve defensive stability, if the Magpies can only muster one shot on target or less, as they have done on seven occasions, their chances of winning matches are incredibly slim. Bruce proved against the Seagull’s that reverting to the old system may help get Newcastle out of a rut, as they picked up their first point in four matches, but it leaves the side incredibly blunt in forward areas.
Even when they have lost using a 4-2-3-1 formation, Newcastle have threatened the opposition, as they did against Spurs. Bruce has used a four-man defence in every single Premier League fixture since the restart, except for against Brighton, and as a result, Newcastle have scored 12 goals in eight matches, for an average of 1.5 goals per game. Before the restart, the Magpies had 25 goals from 29 matches, with an average of 0.86 goals per game.
It is clear to see that the Toon are considerably more effective in attacking areas with an extra man in midfield, based on their goals per game increase of 0.64, after the restart. The 0-0 draw with Brighton was a frank reminder of how Bruce has made progress this term, especially in attacking areas.