Callum Wilson scored Newcastle's third and set up their fourth as they thrashed Brighton 4-1 at St James' Park on Thursday; Magpies sit four points above fifth-placed Liverpool and need just one win from their final two games to secure a return to the Champions League
Friday 19 May 2023 11:11, UK
Eddie Howe reserved praise for Callum Wilson in the wake of Newcastle's 4-1 thrashing of Brighton, saying the striker produced one of his best performances to help his side close on a Champions League place.
The Magpies now require just one win from their two remaining matches - at home to Leicester on Monday, live on Sky Sports, and away to Chelsea on May 28 - to secure a return to the Champions League group stages for the first time in 20 years.
Brighton were chasing an equaliser at St James' Park until the 90th minute, when Wilson breached Brighton's offside trap to race onto Miguel Almiron's through ball and slide a finish past Jason Steele to secure the three points.
Wilson then set up Bruno Guimaraes for Newcastle's fourth moments later but it was the tactical intelligence that most impressed Howe after the game.
Speaking to Sky Sports, the Newcastle boss said: "He's been incredible and I feel that his performance was right up there with one of the best I've seen him play, purely from a tactical perspective.
"He has to lead the press and the one we bounce off initially. He kept going right until the end and his goalscoring record is excellent.
"I'm delighted for him, he's a huge player for us and a big presence in the dressing room."
Wilson has 18 Premier League goals this season, making him Newcastle's highest scorer in a Premier League campaign since Alan Shearer 19 years ago.
The 31-year-old has hit top form in the final weeks of the season, with the 11 goals he has scored since the start of April being three more than any other player has managed.
Newcastle could now seal a Champions League place at home to struggling Leicester on Monday, with Howe saying: "It would be incredible."
However, the former Bournemouth boss added: "This is the Premier League and we take nothing for granted. Leicester are fighting at the other end of the table and we just need to be at our best."
Newcastle were dominant during the opening 45 minutes against Brighton, consistently disrupting their visitors' attempts to build play from the back, and Howe said: "I thought we were outstanding.
"I feel that's very much us at our best in that first half. We were relentless with what we did and full credit to the players for what they gave physically.
"It's very difficult to maintain that for the full game. When Brighton scored, we were mature with what he had to do during that period before we got the late goals.
"I thought we were fantastic in the details and the distances. We won the ball back so many times and we were just frustrated [in the first half] we hadn't scored from open play.
"We were reliant with set-plays but as first halves go, we were delighted by half-time. The players adapted really well and we were patient.
"The crowd helped us get over the line and the third goal was crucial."
Roberto De Zerbi bemoaned Brighton's lengthy injury list but admitted Newcastle deserved their win - and deserve to qualify for the Champions League.
The Seagulls were without Tariq Lamptey, Solly March, Joel Veltman, Jeremy Sarmiento, Jakub Moder, Adam Webster, Adam Lallana and Levi Colwill against Newcastle, and De Zerbi told Sky Sports: "We deserved to lose the game.
"I don't want to make any excuses. We didn't play well in the first half so we deserved to lose the game.
"We conceded two goals from two set pieces but we didn't play well. We didn't stay in the best conditions, we have a lot of injuries, but we have the possibility to win on Sunday.
"We knew it would be a tough game but we're strong and we'll prepare the next game in the best way.
"We suffered physically against Newcastle and there were many players who didn't play in the last period, but I don't need to say anything because we knew it would be difficult.
"We have to forget this day and prepare the next game [against Southampton]. It is a very important match in front of our fans.
"Newcastle deserve to qualify for the Champions League."