Shane Duffy made his debut for Brighton in the 2-0 defeat at Newcastle on Saturday 27 August.
The central defender admits that at that point, he would never have expected to be above Newcastle now.
Duffy says it is meaningless to be top at this point and he and his teammates are only focused on being above Rafa Benitez and his team after the final game.
However, what the season so far has given Shane Duffy and Brighton is ‘The belief in the squad is that we can finish above Newcastle and why not?’.
Why not indeed?
Brighton go into this weekend’s matches two points clear of Newcastle and with a game in hand, Reading’s defeat last night means the south coast team are eight points ahead of those outside the automatic promotion spots, Newcastle with a comfort zone of six points – though both also have a far superior goal difference as well than the other promotion hopefuls, in effect worth another point.
Before Shane Duffy appeared for the south coast team after signing from Blackburn (Newcastle taking Grant Hanley instead), Brighton started the season with two wins and two draws, so stood on only eight points from five matches after losing at St James Park in their fifth game of the campaign.
A shock home defeat to Brentford followed in the next match and pundits were suggesting Chris Hughton and his team were now falling away after being cruelly denied automatic promotion on goal difference last season.
Since then however, Brighton have been undefeated in their following 19 Championship matches, much of that down to the Seagulls defence and Duffy’s partnership with Lewis Dunk, who Newcastle tried to sign once again in the summer. This best defence in the division only conceding 15 goals, five better than Newcastle.
The vast majority of Newcastle fans would choose Brighton and Chris Hughton to be the other club automatically promoted and hopefully the only debating point in the coming months will be which of the two will finish higher in that top two.
Shane Duffy asked by The Argus if it is unexpected to be above Newcastle?:
“From that game (Newcastle 2 Brighton 0), yes, because I didn’t know the way the team played at the time and I didn’t know many players, not anyone.
“I didn’t know the way it was going to go this season, compared to the season before when it was so good and they (Brighton) were so unlucky.
“It’s credit to the team, the squad and the staff where we are at the moment, but it’s the halfway point.
“There’s no point being above them (Newcastle) now, you want to be above them at the end of the season.
“The belief in the squad is that we can finish above Newcastle and why not?
“It’s up to us now, it’s in our hands.
“We’ll just take it game by game. We know we’re hard to beat and we know we can beat anyone in this league.
“That’s what we have got to keep believing and I think that’s what we’re doing.”
The top of the table now looks like this, with all having played 25 games apart from Brighton with a game in hand:
54 Brighton (GD +25)
52 Newcastle (+28)
46 Reading (+3)
46 Huddersfield (+2)
45 Leeds (+10)
42 Sheff Wed (+4)
40 Derby County (+6)
The crazy up and down nature of the Championship for many teams is summed up by QPR.
When Ian Holloway arrived in November they instantly beat Norwich in his first game, then went on a six game run where they lost every game, now they have made it three league wins in a row with the 1-0 victory over Reading last night.
This weekend’s fixtures are all tricky for those in the top seven and a win for Newcastle could be soul destroying for anybody still harbouring hopes of breaking into the top two:
Leeds v Derby (Friday night)
Preston v Brighton
Sheff Wed v Huddersfield
Whilst the size of your crowds isn’t everything, obviously…You do have to wonder whether Jaap Stam is wasting his time, creating minor miracles this season on next to no resources, the Manager and his team could have closed to within three points of Newcastle with a win on Thursday night.
Having won nine of their last 11 Championship matches, the response from Reading fans last night was a crowd of 12,655 AND that included the sparse QPR following as well.