NEWCASTLE UNITED signed off for 2017 in a frustrating fashion as they were held to a goalless draw by Brighton.

The game was one of the poorest seen at St James’ Park all year, with neither side displaying much in the way of attacking fluency.

Brighton goalkeeper Matt Ryan made an excellent second-half save to keep out a header from Dwight Gayle, and Karl Darlow also produced a couple of decent stops as Brighton threatened from set-pieces.

However, a goalless draw looked inevitable from an early stage of proceedings, with the result leaving Newcastle a point clear of the drop zone in 16th position. The Magpies have now failed to win any of their last six home matches, and have only scored two goals in those games, both of which came in the defeat to Leicester City.

While Rafael Benitez claimed he did not select the side that started against Manchester City with half a mind on this afternoon’s game, he was always going to make wholesale changes for the visit of relegation rivals Brighton.

Sure enough, there were seven changes to the team that played City, only one of which was enforced. Darlow replaced the injured Rob Elliot in goal, but the rest of the alterations were all down to Benitez, with the Magpies manager abandoning the five-man defence that had lined up three days earlier in order to revert to a 4-4-2 formation.

The plan was to be far more attack-minded than had been the case against City, but while they might have enjoyed much more possession than they had three days earlier, Newcastle found it just as difficult to create chances.

It was the 21st minute before they even came close to threatening the Brighton goal, and even then, Seagulls goalkeeper Ryan was able to claim Gayle’s driven cross relatively comfortably after the Newcastle striker drove into the right-hand side of the area.

Brighton had already gone close by that stage, with Shane Duffy heading Solly March’s corner over the crossbar, and the visitors’ threatened to cause problems whenever they had a set-piece.

Duffy lashed over from the edge of the area after a Pascal Gross corner ricocheted around the 18-yard box, and the centre-half went even closer on the stroke of half-time as he rose at the back post to head another Gross set-piece over the crossbar.

Anthony Knockaert fired another first-half effort straight at Darlow, but while Newcastle never really looked like breaking the deadlock before the interval, they at least became marginally more effective in the final third in the closing stages of the first half.

Mikel Merino drilled a long-range effort wide after Gayle’s initial shot had been blocked, and Joselu fired another 25-yard strike wide after cutting in from the left-hand flank.

Having finished the opening period reasonably strongly, Newcastle enjoyed their best spell of the game at the start of the second half.

Isaac Hayden almost claimed an opener four minutes after the interval, but while his deflected shot was heading in after Matt Ritchie’s corner was cleared into his path, Ryan got down superbly to claw the ball away.

Darlow was forced into action shortly after, getting down to his left to keep out Pascal Gross’ curled free-kick, but it was Ryan who was performing heroics again shortly before the hour mark to ensure the scoresheet remained blank.

Gayle stole in front of his marker to glance Christian Atsu’s header towards goal, but Ryan made an excellent one-handed save.

That was the best stop of the game, but Brighton continued to cause problems from set-pieces, and Darlow was forced into action again midway through the second half. Duffy headed Gross’ corner back across goal, and Darlow did well to keep out Lewis Dunk’s subsequent header.  

Benitez brought on Ayoze Perez, Jonjo Shelvey and Jacob Murphy in an attempt to add some extra creativity to Newcastle’s late attacking, but the changes did nothing to change the outcome of the game.

Newcastle (4-4-2): Darlow; Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett; Ritchie (Perez 72), Hayden, Merino (Shelvey 76), Atsu; Gayle, Joselu (Murphy 84).

(not used):  Woodman (gk), Manquillo, Mbemba, Diame.

Brighton (4-2-3-1): Ryan; Bruno, Dunk, Duffy, Bong; Stephens, Propper; Knockaert, Gross, March; Murray (Hemed 62).

Subs (not used): Krul (gk), Kayal, Goldson, Izquierdo, Schelotto, Baldock.