London (AFP) – Brighton manager Chris Hughton tried to calm talk of promotion to the Premier League after his high-flying Seagulls returned to the top of the second-tier Championship with a 3-0 win at home to Reading on Saturday.
The south coast club made the most of Newcastle dropping points in a 2-2 draw with Bristol City to fly above the Magpies thanks to goals from Sam Baldock, Jamie Murphy and Anthony Knockaert.
Only the top two clubs at the end of the season are guaranteed the lucrative prize of a Premier League spot and Brighton are now six points clear of third-placed Huddersfield.
“After having, by our standards, a difficult period it’s nice to have two clean sheets in our last two games,” said Hughton.
“But there are so many good teams in this division. Huddersfield have gone on a run, Leeds have done well and Sheffield Wednesday are in there.”
Brighton face Newcastle, Hughton’s former club, on Tuesday and the manager added: “Newcastle are a very good side and were many people’s favourites to win the league. We will have another full house.”
Meanwhile Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez was frustrated by his side’s failure to beat Bristol City.
It might have been worse for Newcastle, who were indebted to Ciaran Clark’s header eight minutes from time after goals from Aaron Wilbraham and David Cotterill saw City go 2-0 up before an own-goal from Korey Smith at Newcastle’s St James’ Park ground gave the hosts a lifeline.
“For me it is two points lost,” said Benitez. “We didn’t start well, we made mistakes and gave them hope they could get a result, but the reaction in the second half was very good.”
Huddersfield were held to a 1-1 draw by Yorkshire rivals Barnsley, while another White Rose derby saw Leeds edge past Sheffield Wednesday 1-0.
Chris Wood scored the only goal of the game while Leeds goalkeeper Rob Green saved a Jordan Rhodes penalty.
Victory strengthened Leeds’s bid for a play-off place and manager Garry Monk said: “I thought we handled the pressure really well today and I’m very pleased with the players.”
Another Yorkshire club, Rotherham, remained adrift at the foot of the table after a 4-2 defeat by Brentford.
Aston Villa finally won a game in 2017, with captain James Chester scoring the only goal in a 1-0 victory at home to Midlands rivals Derby County.
Villa finished the match down to 10 men after Leandro Bacuna was sent off as he appeared to make contact with a linesman as he disputed the official’s decision.
“The linesman got the decision horribly wrong as it was a throw-in for us. It was a huge frustration but he (Bacuna) overstepped the mark and he knows that,” said Villa manager Steve Bruce.
“It was kind of a chest bump and it was disappointing as he had given a brilliant performance.
“But with Leo it is all about himself. He always tests the manager as he makes a habit of being late, but against Derby he reminded what a good player he is.”