ALAN PARDEW is hoping for the speedy return of his African contingent as he admitted that their absence has ripped the core out of his Newcastle team.
A lifeless, lacklustre Magpies performance led to their exit from the FA Cup on Saturday evening and, shorn of Demba Ba, Cheik Tiote, unable to call upon new signing Papiss Cisse and missing Fabricio Coloccini through injury, Pardew believes that Newcastle would have otherwise progressed in the tournament where he once reached the final as manager of West Ham United in 2006.
But Will Buckley’s 76th minute goal, deflected in by Mike Williamson has forced, Pardew, as the cliche goes, to concentrate on the league – and with another game two days away against Blackburn Rovers, the hard work starts now.
Pardew said: “We’ve got a game on Wednesday. We have to correct what’s wrong and yet it’s hard to criticise my players because we had a good grip of the game and our balance and commitment was right.
“But on Wednesday we need to do better. I’m not focusing on where we can go from here for the rest of the season because we knew this period would be difficult without big players at the African Nations.
“We’ve lost the core of this team and Coloccini as well.
We knew they’d all be coming back for the next round so to lose in this game makes it all the more galling.
“I’ve no idea whether they will be back for Wednesday.
But I hope so. It will strengthen your team, whether it’s from the bench or starting positions and I’m looking forward to seeing them back for sure. We’ve got a big week this week. We’ve got a big game at Blackburn, we need to get something against Villa and then hopefully we can start looking upwards again.
“We didn’t create enough chances, enough opportunities.”
Danny Simpson came up with the Magpies’ sole effort in a turgid first half of football, when he exchanged passes with Hatem Ben Arfa and shot, only for his goalbound effort to be cut out by Seagulls midfielder Liam Bridcutt.
The game did warm up somewhat in the second half, Leon Best going close when Peter Brezovan saved the Irishman’s low shot on 52 minutes. Shola Ameobi saw his own shot deflected out from the resultant corner.
But Brighton were always dangerous on the break despite Newcastle’s dominant possession, and the tricky Craig Mackail-Smith did well to wriggle clear of his marker and fire towards goal, only to be denied by Krul on 70 minutes.
It was to prove a warning sign, as six minutes later the Seagulls were in the lead when the marauding Buckley, jinked into the box from the left and saw his shot deflected past Krul.
The goal was bittersweet for childhood Newcastle fan Buckley, who, despite his Oldham roots, chose to support the Magpies because of the way that Alan Shearer played at the time.
Brighton’s winger said: “I didn’t really want to celebrate but I ran off and everyone just jumped on me.”
Speaking long after Newcastle’s players departed the Amex, midfielder Danny Guthrie said: “The fans turned out in their numbers yet again and we really wanted to give them something to cheer. I know how much a good cup run means to the Geordies and that’s why we’re so deflated.
“We’ve got Blackburn on Wednesday and need to bounce back there, especially as we lost on our last league outing at Fulham, and of course they did us in the League Cup earlier in the season”
“We’re still a decent team and we aim to prove that again in the remaining league games we have”
• Alan Smith yesterday joined League One side MK Dons on loan until the end of the season. The 31-year-old has barely featured under Pardew, and is available for the play-offs should Karl Robinson’s team get there.