BRIGHTON boss Chris Hughton insists Leeds United could still challenge his men for an automatic promotion spot, with the Seagulls boss predicting more “twists and turns” in the final nine games.
Second-placed Brighton sit 11 points clear of fourth-placed Leeds and even six points clear of third-placed Huddersfield Town who have a game in hand.
The Seagulls – who are only behind Championship leaders Newcastle United on goal difference – are consequently as short as 1-9 to finish in the top two.
But Hughton admits he is aware not just of the threat of third-placed Huddersfield but of a potentially dangerous pack lurking behind, including “good-on-the-eye” Leeds.
United and Brighton will now face off at Elland Road tomorrow evening for a potentially key game in the race to finish in the top two.
“We are up against a very good side who have had a very good season,” said Hughton.
“They have a way of playing which is very good on the eye and they have some very good individuals.
“Elland Road is always a difficult place to go. They create an unbelievable atmosphere there and that is something we will have to cope with. We have been better on the road this season than we were last season and we will need to be.
“We are aware of all the teams around us. Huddersfield are a good side and have been a good side all season. They deserve to be where they are.
“But we are very conscious there is a group of teams below us who are very good sides and are capable of winning a lot of games. As opposed to one team, we are wary of a lot of teams who could challenge. There are still games to play and there are still, I’m quite sure, going to be twists and turns.”
Hughton looks sure to be a leading contender to be named the Championship’s manager of the year but the 58-year-old could face stiff competition from Monk.
After being appointed to a club that finished 13th last season, Monk’s Leeds were fifth-from-bottom after three games but now sit three places off top spot.
“Garry has done a good job,” said Hughton. “I don’t know if I’m surprised by the speed at which he has done it. For somebody who is not an older manager, he is a very experienced manager.
“He did a very good job at Swansea with the way they played. I knew they were bringing in somebody who had great quality. I think they have recruited well and he is certainly getting the best out of the team. In particular he introduced some very good young players. He has a really good mix.
“I expected him to do well there perhaps because of the timing of his arrival.
“He has done a really good job, not only with the results but also the way they are playing. Leeds have always been regarded as one of the teams who, if they were back in the Premier League, would get big crowds. They get big crowds anyway for our level. They have a massive fanbase and can get the type of crowds the Premier League needs. They have a team capable of really competing and trying to get there.”
As ever, United’s charge will again be led by top scorer Chris Wood and the 25-year-old is a forward that Hughton is particularly familiar with having managed Birmingham City where the New Zealand international spent half a season on loan at St Andrews in 2011-12.
“I had Chris on loan for half a season at Birmingham and he scored ten goals,” said Hughton, whose own top scorer, Glenn Murray, is four behind Wood in the Championship top scorers charts.
Wood leads the way on 22 goals, one ahead of Newcastle United’s Dwight Gayle with 21.
Murray and Bristol City’s Tammy Abraham have 18 goals apiece.
Hughton added: “He (Chris) is a big lad but what he has really improved on since then is his mobility.
“He was always a very good striker of the ball, a powerful striker of the ball.
“Glenn is a very good all-round player who can score different types of goals.
“Not too many from outside the box, although I know he did against Villa.
“He also has a very good work ethic.
“They are two very good No.9s and two No.9s I think most teams in the Championship would like to have.”