Newcastle occupy Championship top spot, but the hard work starts now

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Newcastle United just can’t seem to shrug off Brighton & Hove Albion in their quest to end the campaign as Championship winners. Credit to Chris Hughton’s men, who are just a point off the Magpies, but the hard work starts now for the Tyneside outfit.

And we’re expecting the Magpies to rise to the challenge and open up a healthy gap by the end of the month. They’ll have the chance to take three points off the Seagulls on February 28, but there are three games to play between now and then.

For Benitez’s men, there are clashes with Norwich City, Aston Villa and Bristol City. The Canaries will probably pose the biggest threat of those three sides, especially with the game being at Carrow Road.

And thanks to Norwich’s current form, it’s a game that Newcastle will head into as slight outsiders. But knowing how much is at stake in the coming months, we’d hardly be surprised to see the Magpies leave East Anglia with three points.

Brighton, meanwhile, will this week welcome Ipswich Town to the Amex – a side who held the Seagulls to a stalemate earlier on in the season.

After that, Newcastle face Aston Villa at St James’ Park. And Steve Bruce’s men head into this game off the back of a dreadful run which has seen them pick up just one point from a possible 18. And as things stand, that kind of form doesn’t look like changing between now and next weekend.

But before that, Brighton will have the chance to top the table, albeit temporarily.

That’s because they play 48 hours before Newcastle do. Victory for the Seagulls against a Barnsley side currently exceeding expectations in their first season back in the Championship would put pressure back on the shoulders of Benitez.

Before Newcastle meet Brighton, the pair will face Bristol City and Reading respectively.

Given City’s current position in the table compared to the Royals’ you’d have to say the Magpies have the easier fixture.

With Reading chasing promotion themselves, they’ll prove a hard nut to crack for Brighton, while the later kick-off allows Newcastle the opportunity to bridge the gap at the top.

Three days later is arguably the biggest game of the season for both clubs.

If both sides were to win their upcoming three fixtures, Newcastle would head to Brighton knowing victory would see them some four points clear at the top of the Championship table – with 12 games to play.

It would also give them an average of 2.26 points per game for the season. And based on the form the Magpies are in right now, their title-chasing rivals will have it all to do if they’re to leapfrog Newcastle come May.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing

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Alex Apati

Having graduated from Birmingham City University with a degree in Creative Writing with English, Alex joined the News team following a three year stint working for Ladbrokes behind the counter. When he's not watching darts, he's throwing them. Failing that you'll find him YouTubeing Thierry Henry's greatest Arsenal goals.