The Championship has had two outstanding teams this season and both look set to clinch promotion over the coming weeks.
Brighton and Newcastle United are twelve and ten points clear of Huddersfield Town respectively. Although the Terriers have a game in hand, it looks unlikely that they will have enough time left to catch either of the top two. This means that the focus at the top of the Championship now turns to the title race.
These two sides have swapped places an incredible 19 times in only 24 weeks and it will go all the way to the wire. They each have five matches to play before the end of the season and Newcastle need to make up a two-point gap. The Magpies have a better goal difference and that could come into play.
Brighton have a relatively comfortable looking run-in and they certainly position themselves as favourites to lift the Championship trophy. They have been superb at the Amex Stadium this season, losing only once and that was ironically against Newcastle.
Their last two home matches are against Wigan Athletic and Bristol City. Although they are both fighting for their lives at the bottom of the division, it is difficult to see either troubling the Seagulls.
It could be away from home that they struggle as they will travel to Wolves, Norwich City and Aston Villa. Wolves have won five of their last six matches; Norwich City haven’t lost at home since December and Villa have only lost once in nine matches.
Meanwhile, Newcastle United have the advantage of playing three of their last five matches at home. Although based on their home form this season, that may not be the advantage that it seems to be. Five of their nine league losses have come at St James’ Park. In those three home matches, they face Leeds United, Preston North End and Barnsley.
They all pose different threats as Leeds are trying to consolidate a play-off position; Preston are scrapping to find a way into the top six, while Barnsley can play without fear as they are already safe. Away from home, the Magpies face trips to Ipswich Town and Cardiff City, but these should be routine wins as both are safe in mid-table.
Does the title matter?
There has been a lot of discussion about whether the title is important, but both clubs will be eager to lift the trophy. For Brighton, they have an opportunity to finish ahead of one of the most expensive squads in Championship history and it would send out a statement that they can compete with Premier League clubs.
Newcastle United are a Premier League club in all but name and it would be a shot in the arm for the Seagulls if they manage to beat them to the title. For the Magpies, it would be billed as a failure as they were big favourites to win the title at the start of the season.
Furthermore, Rafa Benitez is seen as a world class manager and it would be a stain on his CV if he wasn’t able to win the Championship title given the resources that were available to him.
It is going to be extremely close and likely to go to the final day of the season. Brighton are custom built for this league and would probably be running away with it during any other season. They have a savvy manager, great facilities and a squad that is perfect for this division.
That said, they have lost two of their last four away matches and they are likely to drop more points on the road before the end of the season.
Newcastle have a slightly easier run-in, but the match against Leeds could be a tricky test. They haven’t coped well with the pressure at St James’ Park and Garry Monk will be keen to expose that weakness. At this stage, it is difficult not to think that Brighton will finish the job.
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