Steve Bailey: Who will hold their nerve for the run-in?

Action from Albion's match with Newcastle on Tuesday. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)
Action from Albion's match with Newcastle on Tuesday. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)
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Don’t panic. As disappointing as Albion’s late defeat to Newcastle was, it won’t be the game that defines the season.

Ask anyone involved at the club and they’d have bitten your hand off to be in the position Albion are with 12 games to go and what is, on paper, a favourable run-in.

Albion are already on 71 points from 34 matches, so are on course for 90-plus points which should be more than enough to secure a top-two finish, although there’s no doubt more twists and turns to come.

Can Brighton bounce back quickly from Tuesday? How will Newcastle do with back-to-back games at Huddersfield and Reading? Can Huddersfield continue their outstanding run? Who will keep their bottle when the pressure really mounts?

As Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez said before and in the aftermath of Tuesday’s match, April is the key month of the season.

Albion play just one team currently in the top six in their run-in, when they travel to Elland Road to play Leeds later this month.

The only other teams they have to play in the top half are Derby County and Norwich City.

I know there’s the argument you don’t want to play teams fighting relegation but just look at Brighton’s record against the bottom eight sides this season, nine wins out of nine.

Albion still have to play seven teams in the bottom eight as well, beginning with a trip to seventh-from-bottom Nottingham Forest on Saturday and then away to rock bottom Rotherham – a potential banana skin – on Tuesday.

Win both of these upcoming matches and everything will be rosy for Seagulls fans again heading into the last ten games of the season.

Huddersfield, like Albion, have just one team in the top six left to play when they welcome Newcastle on Saturday.

They have five other sides in the top half – Norwich, Preston North End, Derby and Fulham, all back-to-back in April, along with Cardiff on the final day– to play.#

Newcastle have the toughest run-in of the top three. As well as Huddersfield, they also have to come up against Reading, Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds in the top six.

Add Fulham, Preston, Cardiff and Barnsley, all in the top half, to the mix and the Toon Army have the trickiest games to come. But with the quality in their squad, you’d still think they’ve got more than enough to cope and be celebrating an immediate return to the Premier League in May.

Now is the time for the Albion players to re-focus and re-group for the last quarter of the season. On another day, Newcastle’s fluke equaliser on Tuesday flies wide or over the bar, the Albion hang on to win and are now four points clear at the top.

The manner of the defeat will no doubt hurt the players but they have the resilience and team spirit to quickly bounce back – and they have to. Chris Hughton will be reminding the players what they have achieved so far this season and the big prize that is on offer at the end of the season if they can hold their nerve.

I’m still confident the Seagulls will be in the top two come the end of the season but can’t look past Newcastle for the title.

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