There were plenty of numbers that could you tell the story of Saturday’s trip to St James’ Park. 27 was the number of shots Newcastle United managed. 68 was their possession percentage.
19 was the number of hours that was the rough travel time door-to-door. 140 was how many stairs you have to climb to get into the away section and, perhaps for the best in case any qualified medical professionals are reading this, no record could be kept of the number of beers consumed by those present.
The number that tells the real story of Brighton’s 1-0 win over the Toon though was 34. That was how many clearances Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy made combined, with 15 for the former and 19 for the latter. On average, Dunk and Duffy were clearing the ball around once every 2.6 minutes.
There is something quite beautiful about watching Brighton’s defensive duo when they are in this sort of mood. In a day and age where skill in the final third, 20 team passing moves and ball-playing centre-halves are what everybody seems to find aesthetically pleasing, they are two defenders who throw themselves in front of everything, blocking and heading the ball with parts of the body you’d otherwise forget existed.
Defending like that is an art form in itself. At times, they resemble two world-class dancers on different ends of the floor. They may not be able to see each other, but they know exactly where the other one is and what they are doing.
It’s like seeing two life-long friends in a pub exchanging old stories and finishing each other’s sentences. There is a pathological link between the two that runs deeper than being two blokes who wear blue and white shirts with numbers four and five on the back.
It’s their appreciation of this side of defending and their partnership that is the foundation upon which Brighton’s success is built. Keeping a clean sheet against a side who have 27 shots and over 60 per cent possession is astonishing, even if you take into account that the main reason for it was that all of Newcastle’s pressure was toothless, a cautionary tale in what happens if you don’t have a Premier League-standard striker.
Both had poor games at Watford on the opening day of the season. Dunk then got injured against Manchester United, was rushed back for Fulham at home and looked rusty for the remainder of September.
In that period, we leaked two goals a game which makes it all but impossible to win matches, especially when you don’t score many yourself. Against West Ham at home, the Dunk and Duffy partnership was back to it’s best and since then, it is two clean sheets recorded and six points on the board.
Between now and the visit of Chelsea just before Christmas, there are seven more winnable games against sides around us in the table. These next seven games could define whether we’re playing Premier League or Championship football next season. With Dunk and Duffy are their beautiful best, clearing the ball every three minutes, we’ll be very hard to beat.