Eddie Howe calls on Newcastle to ‘finish the job’ of Champions League qualification | Brighton’s Roberto De Zerbi targets another ‘historic’ result

Newcastle boss Eddie Howe has urged his side to “finish the job” of qualifying for the Champions League, starting with a win over Brighton at St James’ Park on Thursday night.

The Magpies have performed above expectations to be in the top-four hunt all season but defeat to Arsenal followed by a draw at Leeds has given in-form Liverpool hope in fifth place and set up a nervous finale to the campaign for Newcastle supporters.

Qualification for Europe’s elite competition is in their hands, with Newcastle able to secure the prize by winning two of their final three games. But Howe has made it clear that is not as straightforward as it seems, with a Brighton side punching above their weight coming to town with European dreams of their own.

Victory would move Newcastle four points clear of Liverpool with two to play and requiring just two points from their final two games. Monday’s next home game with relegation-threatened Leicester would then be the ideal opportunity to clinch Champions League football in front of their own fans.

Newcastle finish their season at Chelsea on the final day.

But Howe isn’t getting carried away, given the challenge Brighton, fresh from ending Arsenal’s title hopes, will bring.

“It’s massive for us [that it’s in our own hands],” Howe told Sky Sports. “You want that ownership. We’re delighted for that. We can control what happens and not rely on other teams. But then with that ownership and responsibility comes the expectation so we have to deal with that.

“The players have been incredible for me, outstanding all season, the togetherness and spirit has carried us a long way, allied to the fact we have some top players as well.

“I’ve enjoyed every moment with this group but we have to finish the job and that’s the challenge in front of us.

“Our home form has been excellent, our home support has been outstanding. We’re hopeful we can connect together and prove to be a really big force in the next two games.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the 2-2 draw between Leeds and Newcastle in the Premier League.

“I think the three games we have left are all difficult in different ways. We can only take one at a time. We’re onto Brighton and it’s going to be an intriguing match. They’ve had outstanding season, so we’re looking forward to it.

“It’s about focusing on the here and now. We can’t take ourselves anywhere else currently. That would be a negative. We’re very much [focusing] on how can we perform well against Brighton – and we’ll need to because they’ve had a great season.”

Thursday 18th May 7:00pm

Kickoff 7:30pm

When asked about Brighton’s performances under the management of Roberto De Zerbi this season, Howe said: “You can see his stamp on the team, his philosophy, his way of playing is quite unique, tactically they’re going to be quite a challenge for us.

“I like the way they set up, I love the way they play, but we’re going to have to combat that and then try to show our best selves and our strengths. It’s set up to be a great game between two really good teams.”

Seagulls soaring to new heights under De Zerbi

Meanwhile, for Brighton, momentum is on their side after their 3-0 win at the Emirates smashed any suggestion their 5-1 defeat at home to Everton the previous Monday was anything more than a freak result.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Brighton’s stunning win at Arsenal in the Premier League.

Victory for them in the North East would put them five points behind both Newcastle (with a game in hand) and Manchester United in the race for a top-four finish. They’d also be four points off Liverpool with a game in hand.

Champions League football would require a remarkable upset – especially considering they have to play Man City at home and then go to Aston Villa in their final two games, after hosting relegated Southampton at the weekend. But a win on Thursday would be a huge step towards Europa League qualification.

The Seagulls would have a four-point cushion and game in hand over both Tottenham and Villa, with a first-ever season of European football then surely on the cards.

De Zerbi is hoping for another significant result to propel his team towards their goal.

“It’s our target to play another big game in the same way we played at Arsenal. The big teams play in the same way after three days, after four days, after seven days and we have to be ready to forget the last game and start [with] a clean head.

“We are fighting for our historic target. If we want to reach it we have to make historic results. This year we won two times against Chelsea, we won 3-0 with Liverpool, we won 3-0 in Emirates Stadium and we are winning incredible games. But to reach an incredible target you have to win incredible games.

“We can decide our destiny and our future but we know the way is long and still difficult.”

Watch Newcastle vs Brighton live on Sky Sports Premier League from 7pm on Thursday; kick off 7.30pm

Newcastle’s remaining fixtures

May 18: Brighton (H) – Premier League, kick off 7.30pm, live on Sky Sports

May 22: leicester (H) – Premier League, kick off 8pm, live on Sky Sports

May 28: chelsea (A) – Premier League, kick off 4.30pm

Brighton’s remaining fixtures

May 18: newcastle (A) – Premier League, kick off 7.30pm, live on Sky Sports

May 21: southampton (H) – Premier League, kick off 2pm

May 24: Manchester City (H) – Premier League, kick off 8pm, live on Sky Sports

May 28: AstonVilla (A) – Premier League, kick off 4.30pm