If you are somebody that rarely scrolls down the page far enough to view the ‘old Second Division’, then now is the time to give it some love. Things are hotting up rather nicely….
Brighton have overtaken Newcastle at the top of the table, with only two points separating the sides and a possible fifteen up for grabs.
Both look well set to secure automatic promotion, but the promise of a trophy at the end of a long season of hard graft is just reward.
So where is the smart money going on the betting floor?
Seagulls Cruising on the Coast
For a side that has gone agonisingly close to promotion from the Championship on more than one occasion, we have to give a lot of praise to all involved at Brighton for bouncing back in fine style in 2016/17.
Burnley won the Championship last season with 93 points, and if we use that as a guide then we note that the Seagulls need just seven more points from their remaining five games to clinch a long-overdue promotion.
But we’ve been here before, haven’t we.
They were flying high in 2015/16 before succumbing to the jitters at Christmas, where a run of four defeats over the festive period – and no wins between December 12 and January 15 – derailed their title charge considerably.
They regrouped and finished the campaign well, but failure to beat promotion rivals Derby and Middlesbrough meant they had to endure the nightmare of the play-offs. Here they suffered heartache against Sheffield Wednesday.
We could forgive their players for feeling nerves as they close in on the trophy, and of course the bigger prize of a place in the Premier League. Can they secure the points they need?
Here are Brighton’s remaining fixtures:
Wolves (a) – April 14
Wigan (h) – April 17
Norwich (a) – April 21
Bristol City (h) – April 29
Aston Villa (a) – May 7
Chris Hughton certainly won’t want the title charge to go down to the wire, especially as Villa away is not an ideal fixture given the Villains’ improvement in form of late.
Wins against Wigan and Bristol City are essential, and then they would only need a point from any of their trips to Wolves, Norwich or worse case Aston Villa to reach the potentially magic mark of 93 points.
For the first time in a very long time, Brighton’s destiny is in their own hands.
Magpies’ Wings Clipped
Newcastle United are going to win the Championship. That’s the message that has been coming from expert pundits and the betting floor alike, and up until very recently few were willing to argue with that.
The Magpies possess the best squad in the division, the most decorated manager and clearly the finest infrastructure that the second tier has to offer, so surely their ascent back to the top flight is guaranteed?
But they have started to drop points rather too liberally – just two wins in their last six – and that comes after losing two over the Christmas period.
There’s no shame in losing to the likes of Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham, but combined with draws here and there it allows the chasing pack to edge closer and closer. And so it has proved with Brighton taking over top spot by two clear points.
At this business end of the campaign any points lost are more harshly felt, and so Rafa Benitez’s men need to get back to form and pronto if they are to secure the title that has felt theirs for the taking since last summer.
Mathematically, you would expect they need ten more points at least to take the spoils.
Here are Newcastle’s remaining fixtures:
Leeds (h) – April 14
Ipswich (a) – April 17
Preston (h) – April 24
Cardiff (a) – April 28
Barnsley (h) – May 7
It’s not the easiest set of games, although it is made somewhat easier by the fact that Ipswich, Cardiff and Barnsley have nothing left to play for. At this stage of the campaign, motivation counts for a lot.
Can Newcastle bank those ten points or more they need? It will be tricky seeing as though they will need to win three of this five – probably Ipswich, Preston and Barnsley – before taking a point against either Leeds or Cardiff.
The worry for them might be that Brighton’s easy run-in – they will surely beat Wigan and Bristol City at home – could render their efforts meaningless.
Brighton have forged ahead in the table and have just nicked favouritism in the betting market too: they can be backed at a general 5/6 with William Hill, with Newcastle trailing behind at 11/10 (bet365).
With two distinctly winnable home games, the Seagulls know that their nearest rivals will need ten points at least to usurp them at the summit of the table. And with the Magpies dropping points all to regularly, Brighton really are the smart bet to win the Championship.