Hughton still believes Newcastle will win Championship


Chris Hughton: Hoping to continue home form

Brighton extended their unbeaten run in the Championship to 15 games by beating Blackburn 3-2 to go top, though Seagulls boss Chris Hughton admits previous leaders Newcastle remain the team to catch.

Former Rovers defender Shane Duffy scored past goalkeeper Jason Steele for the fourth time this year in the league, though the previous three had come when he was a Blackburn defender in the form of own goals, before Dale Stephens and substitute Glenn Murray netted in the second period.

Sam Gallagher’s double kept the hosts in touch, yet with ex-Brighton captain Gordon Greer also sent off for them, Hughton’s visitors never looked troubled as they moved above Newcastle into first ahead of the Magpies’ visit to Wigan on Wednesday.

Rafael Benitez’s side remain most pundits’ tip for the second-tier title and while Hughton’s side have pieced together an impressive sequence that extends back to their last league loss on September 10, he agrees with those who believe the north-east club seem destined for an instant return to the Premier League.

“I can understand it and I would probably say the same thing about Newcastle,” the former Magpies boss said.

“It’s because of the squad they’ve got, I’ve not seen a squad as strong as what they’ve got. I’m reasonably sure if we or anybody can stay close to them, they will put themselves in a very good position.”

Hughton strengthened in the summer with the acquisitions of striker Murray, midfielder Oliver Norwood and defender Duffy, who Blackburn sold for £4.2million after a disastrous personal start to the season which had his then boss Owen Coyle fearing his head had been turned.

On his return to east Lancashire, Duffy was able to turn his head again, this time towards goal to give Brighton a first-half advantage they never surrendered.

“For some reason these things seem to happen,” Hughton said of his goal.

“He’s been very good for us, Shane, from the day that he came and he’s certainly added very much to what we already have.”

Brighton were riding high in the division this time last year having not lost until December 19 but four defeats in five proved costly when Burnley and Middlesbrough remained strong down the stretch.

Hughton, a veteran of this division, is wise enough to know similar spells may arrive during this campaign but is hopeful his current group is stronger for the experience.

“There’s a bit more know-how in the squad now and at this moment we’ve been fortunate with injuries,” he added.

“At the moment we’ve got good competition and the bench we had is a very strong bench. We need to make the most of it because we know we’ll go through difficult times when we will pick up injuries.”

This was Blackburn’s first home loss since September and Coyle, whose team beat Newcastle last month to end their nine-game winning run, believes Brighton are capable of reaching the top flight.

“Along with Newcastle, they look favourites for promotion,” added Coyle.

“They have quality but we showed plenty of spirit and heart. The players gave everything they could.

“We know we score goals, but we are conceding far too many, and the second yellow for Greer was a turning point. This is a punch in the nose but we’ll dust ourselves down.”