Rafael Benitez’s Newcastle United previously looked certain for an automatic Championship promotion back to the Premier League for next season.
The Toon had opened up a healthy lead at the summit of the second-tier table, and had the kind of form and momentum that would seemingly propel them back up the English divisions. In recent weeks, however, their once promising gap at the top of the standings has evaporated and the Magpies are now being heavily tracked by their relentless rivals in a dramatic promotion battle.
The Northeast club recently suffered a damaging weekend domestically, while close challengers enjoyed plenty of success to keep close tabs on the Championship’s leading charge.
Despite a minor blip, Benitez’s men are still seen as the odds-on 1/2 favourites with bet365 to prevail outright in the football betting, ahead of Brighton and Hove Albion and Huddersfield Town.
Newcastle entered the current campaign as overwhelming front runners to make an instant return to the top flight, but they now face a tough task against strong promotion rivals. A recent humbling at the hands of in-form Londoners Fulham gave the Magpies a huge setback in their quest for an automatic promotion spot. That 3-1 defeat to the Cottagers was made all the more hurtful as Huddersfield continued their revival with a win over Brentford and Brighton emphatically dispatched Derby County.
Tyneside support still believing
Newcastle fans are still believing, though, with 50,000 fans having packed into St James’ Park to witness that sickening loss to Fulham on home soil. Even after the third goal was fired in to confirm the result on Tyneside, the rapturous crowd remained at the ground to rally their side and continue supporting what could still prove to be a Championship winning squad.
Benitez will need to get his side back to winning ways as quickly as possible, though, with a testing season run-in on the horizon for the Magpies.
Across April and the final domestic league fixture in May, Newcastle hold plenty of challenging outings as they chase an automatic jump back to the country’s top-flight division. In April, the Magpies will take on all of Wigan Athletic, Burton Albion, Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds United, Ipswich Town, Preston North End and Cardiff City.
Slip-ups could prove costly
With so many of those aforementioned sides chasing promotion or the play-offs themselves, Newcastle will have plenty of strenuous match-ups ahead.
Meanwhile, the final day of the season will see them welcome mid-table Barnsley to St James’ Park, when Benitez will hope to have already wrapped up an immediate bounce back to the Premier League.
That being said, Toon will get a huge boost from the fact they will feature at home for five of their final eight Championship games this season. Having been roared on by great support on home territory all season so far, that is sure to be a benefit for the Tyneside outfit as they track down a return to the big time.
With such talent bursting out of their current set-up, it’s hard to imagine the Toon failing to acquire the necessary points needed to gain promotion this term. But any slight slip-ups at all in their Championship mission could see close rivals such as Huddersfield, Brighton or Leeds pounce for an automatic position at the death.