Before they play again in the Championship, Newcastle United could be five points behind Brighton and have both Reading & Huddersfield only three points behind.
Newcastle are scheduled to play Brentford away on Monday 16 January but before then, Reading are home to QPR (Thur 12 Jan) and Brighton travel to Preston (Sat 14 Jan) & Huddersfield are at Sheff Wed (also Sat 14 Jan).
Whatever happens in between, Newcastle United do really need to start and make the most of their biggest advantage.
At the beginning of the season, it was generally agreed that whilst the 2016/17 team may not be better than the 2009/10 promotion one, the squad this time was far far stronger.
Whilst Chris Hughton had to rely on out of contract players & loan signings, with not a single penny allowed to be spent, instead Rafa Benitez had the freedom and ability to build what most neutrals agree is the strongest squad the Championship has ever seen.
United are losing Mbemba, Atsu and Diame to the African Cup on Nations, plus Shelvey is currently suspended, but as a Newcastle fan (or manager) you can hardly claim to be badly done to.
Newcastle have just lost twice in the last six weeks to a team (Blackburn) who had to sell their two best players (Duffy and Hanley) to balance the books in the summer, then bring in free transfers and loan signings to give them a team/squad.
In contrast, Newcastle United have four signings who cost £30m and who have made five starts between them this season.
Mitrovic of course signed a year earlier and has made only four Championship starts, whilst summer signings Grant Hanley, Achraf Lazaar and Daryl Murphy have made one between them, but between them that is £30m worth of talent that has been sat there unused – four players who would arguably walk into any other Championship team.
This must surely be the time when Rafa Benitez starts to freshen things up and make Newcastle a little less predictable, after hitting a flat spot that is threatening to make things very uncomfortable in the coming weeks and potentially months.
Hanley & Murphy are proven solid Championship performers, Lazaar looks to have real ability & promise, whilst surely Mitrovic (three in four starts) would score goals in this league given the chance.
New signings yes…but at the same time let us play to the strengths we already have and that means using this great squad that Rafa Benitez assembled in the summer.