Brighton to rock Newcastle's promotion dreams
Flying Seagulls value for crunch clash
Sky Bet Championship
Sky Sports 1, 7.45pm Tuesday
Chris Hughton was the toast of Newcastle after leading the Magpies to a convincing promotion to the Premier League in 2010 but he can deliver a damaging blow by masterminding a victory for Brighton in the biggest game of the Sky Bet Championship season.
Brighton and Newcastle have occupied the top two positions for over four months but they would be wise not to focus entirely on each other.
Third-placed Huddersfield are snapping at the heels of the top two after taking 19 points from the last 21 available and host Newcastle on Saturday.
It is a decisive week for Newcastle, and it hasn’t started well. Top scorer Dwight Gayle has been ruled out and they are also without combative midfielder Isaac Hayden, who has been one of the unsung heroes of their promotion push.
Since Hayden sustained an ankle injury Newcastle have won two and drawn two of their four games.
Neither of the victories were totally convincing. They lost the shot count 13-6 in a 1-0 success at Wolves and produced an ordinary first-half performance in a 2-0 victory at home to Aston Villa.
Getting good results without playing well is part and parcel of solving the Championship promotion puzzle but Brighton - the first top-six team they have faced since December 26 (when they lost 1-0 at home to Sheffield Wednesday) will offer a much sterner test.
The Seagulls have collected 42 points from a possible 51 at home - more than any team in the top four divisions of English football - and have won all of their four home games against teams in the top six.
Star striker Glenn Murray has gone off the boil this year, scoring once in ten appearances, but winger Anthony Knockaert and striker Sam Baldock have come to the fore.
Knockaert is the joint-highest scoring wide player in the division alongside Derby's Thomas Ince with 11 goals but Baldock has been the star man recently, netting four goals in the last four matches.
The midfield axis of Steve Sidwell and Jack Stephens is functioning so smoothly that Beram Kayal and Oliver Norwood cannot regain the places they held in the earlier part of the campaign.
And Brighton's defensive qualities are showcased by conceding a league-low 26 goals in the Championship.
They went so close to promotion last season, collecting 89 points and finishing below second-placed Middlesbrough on only goal difference, but Brighton look an even better side this term and should be backed to defeat their main title rivals.
1pt 8-5 general
Sebastien Pocognoli has shrugged off a slight groin strain but Gaetan Bong and Liam Rosenior are still sidelined.
Top scorer Dwight Gayle (hamstring) and midfielder Isaac Hayden (ankle) are ruled out.
Brighton are unbeaten in their last 14 Championship home games.