When your closest rival is writing off any chance of challenging you, it has to be a positive, unless of course Jaap Stam has picked up some devious mind games from working with Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford back in the day.

Despite once again moving into third spot, the Reading boss thinks that Brighton and Newcastle have such an advantage in terms of their overall set-ups, as well as the current points advantages, that he isn’t even considering the possibility of his club ‘trying to beat them and end up first or second’.

Tuesday night saw both Reading and Brighton get single goal wins (Brighton 1 Cardiff 0 & Reading 1 Fulham 0) to now leave the table looking like this, all teams having played 27 games and having 19 matches left:

60 Brighton (GD +25)

58 Newcastle (+33)

49 Reading (+3)

49 Huddersfield (+2)

48 Leeds (+10)

45 Sheffield Wednesday (+5)

Jaap Stam saying after the victory:

“It’ll be very difficult to catch Brighton and Newcastle.

“Brighton have been up there the last couple of seasons, working on their team, getting players in and playing a certain way.

“If you get that time and opportunity to bring players in every season, you can build towards something – you can see it works out and it’s very difficult for other teams to beat them.

“Newcastle got relegated but spent a lot of money to get in quality players.

“If you do it well, it is then very hard for the other teams who don’t have that money, to get even close to them.

“We are third in the league but we are not thinking about trying to beat them and end up first or second.”

Looking at NUFC’s upcoming fixtures (see below), with two home games up next against QPR and Derby, United need the six points to then prepare for a tough schedule ahead.

The following seven games then sees five of them away and by the time the 28 February comes around (unless the FA Cup leads to the Brighton game having to be postponed again), you have to hope Newcastle will have grown the advantage even further by then.

Playing top four teams Brighton, Huddersfield and Reading in consecutive away matches could be a critical time and whatever Jaap Stam says, it could be more than possible for Reading to gain six or more points on Newcastle in that trio of games, if Rafa doesn’t have the team on top form.

Wednesday 1 February – Newcastle v QPR (7.45pm) – SKY SPORTS

Saturday 4 February – Newcastle v Derby (3pm)

Saturday 11 February – Wolves v Newcastle (5.30pm) – SKY SPORTS

Tuesday 14 February – Norwich v Newcastle (7.45pm)

Monday 20 February – Newcastle v Aston Villa (8pm) – SKY SPORTS

Saturday 25 February – Newcastle v Bristol City (3pm)

Tuesday 28 February – Brighton v Newcastle (7.45pm) – SKY SPORTS

Saturday 4 March – Huddersfield v Newcastle (5.30pm) – SKY SPORTS

Tuesday 7 March – Reading v Newcastle (7.45pm)

Saturday 11 March – Newcastle v Fulham (3pm)

Saturday 18 March – Birmingham v Newcastle (3pm)