As we rapidly approach the halfway point, things are starting to look a lot clearer for Newcastle United and the rest of the Championship.
The Magpies will reach halfway (23 games) when they play Sheff Wed on Boxing Day, then the busy festive period sees them hit the 25 matches gone mark, once they go to Blackburn on 2 January 2017.
Tuesday night’s results have shaken things up a bit again, with the following outcomes affecting clubs in the top 10:
Birmingham 2 Ipswich 1
Blackburn 2 Brighton 3
Burton 0 Huddersfield 1
Fulham 2 Rotherham 1
Leeds 2 Reading 0
Norwich 1 Aston Villa 0
Sheff Wed 2 Barnsley 0
The most obvious fact is that Newcastle are no longer top of the table after Brighton’s win against 10 men Blackburn, United needing to win tonight to go back to the summit.
However, underneath the top two it is beginning to really open up, with a Newcastle win at Wigan meaning a nine point gap back to third placed Reading after their defeat at Leeds.
On top of that, the goal differences are quite mad when you see both Brighton and Newcastle with such huge surpluses of +20 and +25 respectively, then third placed Reading with a zero goal difference.
Nobody is counting chickens but this surely reaffirms that the automatic promotion spots are for Newcastle and Brighton to lose.
The clubs below are so much of a muchness, taking turns to have little runs of form before then falling away and trying to crawl back up into the play-off spots.
I’m just thankful that we’re not in the National League, where only one club is automatically promoted and then second to fifth play-off.
How dispiriting must it be in that fifth tier when a club runs away with the league, everybody else left fighting to be part of the play-offs lottery.
That is what is staring the rest of the Championship in the face and I’m just grateful it is the top two who go up, as Brighton are looking serious contenders.
If you leave aside their defeat at Newcastle in August, Brighton under Chris Hughton have only lost one of the 20 matches, picking up 45 points from a possible 60. For Newcastle, excluding the Brighton win, they have played 19 games and have lost five, picking up 40 points from a possible 57.
The opportunity is there for Newcastle and Brighton to smash this league and everything crossed that as the season progresses, the big debate is simply whether it is Brighton or Newcastle who are going to be top.
(As well as Newcastle visiting Wigan, QPR are home to Derby County on Wednesday night)
As the table now stands:
45 Brighton (+20 GD)
43 Newcastle (+25)
37 Reading (0)
36 Huddersfield (-1)
35 Leeds (+3)
34 Sheff Wed (+2)