Peter Beagrie believes that the top two in the Championship will remain the same, but the play-offs is anyone’s to win.
Reading currently sit five points behind Brighton in second place, with Huddersfield Town a point behind Reading with a game in hand.
Newcastle meanwhile recorded a crucial win over Derby at the weekend to go back top of the Championship as Brighton drew at Brentford, and the Terriers won the West Yorkshire derby to leapfrog neighbours Leeds United.
“I think recent results show how intense the Championship is because both Newcastle and Brighton have been beaten several times this season.
“But after Brighton’s last two results, Newcastle have the edge in the title race.
“Beating Derby was a massive result, especially after dropping points at home to QPR, and Benitez’s side are the favourites for me.
Could anyone make up the ground and challenge for the top two spots in the Championship?
“At the start of the season I went for Newcastle and Brighton to get the automatic promotion spots and I don’t see a reason to change that,” Beagrie said, quoted on Sky Sports.
“Reading have been amazing. For Jaap Stam to change the dynamic, the shape of the team, the way that they are playing – out from the back, despite the natives being restless – was very brave.
“They needed a centre-forward and they got one in Yann Kermorgant but I just think the top two have so much quality, so much strength in depth and they’ve proved they can bounce back from disappointments.
“Every time they have a set-back Newcastle and Brighton have proved they can win their next game and then go on a run.
“I think with the points deficit that’s already there, the squads and the experience of the managers, they are signed and sealed – but it is the Championship, so we shouldn’t be surprised by anything.”
Leeds United suffered yet another derby defeat, this time losing 2-1 at Huddersfield to slip below them in the table not long after losing 3-2 at Barnsley.
“It was a disappointing result for Leeds at Huddersfield and they’ve got another Yorkshire derby coming up at the end of the month,” said Beagrie.
“I made the point at a live game a few weeks back that, looking down the list of fixtures coming up for the Leeds, the two derbies against Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday would be pivotal.
“The Yorkshire teams are doing so well and derbies can be counterproductive.
“Huddersfield’s late win keeps the momentum going for them but after wins against Reading and Ipswich, Derby lost the opportunity to keep the pressure up. “