Rafa Benitez’s strong response to claims Newcastle and Brighton will walk away with the Championship

Newcastle United's Mohamed Diame scores the winner
Newcastle United's Mohamed Diame scores the winner

Rafa Benitez is adamant that the Championship has NOT become a two-horse race.

Newcastle United claimed the Christmas No 1 spot with a win over Burton Albion.

The club lead second-placed Brighton and Hove Albion by a point after Saturday’s 2-1 victory.

Third-placed Reading are nine points adrift of Benitez’s side, who take on Sheffield Wednesday next at St James’s Park on Boxing Day.

Burton manager Nigel Clough said Newcastle and Brighton were the league’s “two outstanding teams” after the game at the Pirelli Stadium, where Dwight Gayle and Mohamed Diame were on target.

But Benitez said: “I understand what he (Clough) says, but I don’t agree totally with him.

“I don’t agree totally, because I don’t think there are only two outstanding teams. Also there are Leeds and Derby, who are good teams. Reading are doing really well. Huddersfield Town are doing really well.

“So when you talk about six points difference, or nine points difference, it’s not massive.

“As I have said so many times before, we have seven games in April. So you have to be sure that you keep being consistent because the other teams are still winning and it’s still a long race until the end of the season.”

Asled if it was becoming a two-horse race, Benitez added: “No. Not for me.

“I would like to be there at the top all of the time, but I’m sure it will be difficult because still the other teams are strong, and still they are winning.”

Newcastle’s 49-point haul is comparable to the points totals from the club’s last two seasons in English football’s second tier.

Asked about the club’s points total after 22 games, Benitez said: “I was not expecting anything.

“I was just convinced at the beginning of the season that we have a good team and we need to keep working and adjusting things.

“When we were winning lots of games in a row, still I was saying ‘we can improve’.

“And still the same. Still we can improve and have more adjustments which can allow us to perform even a little bit better in these games.”