The Football League Paper - - CHRIS DUNLAVY -

HAV­ING spent so much of the sea­son soar­ing serenely at the sum­mit of the Cham­pi­onship, no­body at New­cas­tle will be pan­ick­ing yet.

Nev­er­the­less, last week­end’s de­feat to Black­burn – their sev­enth of the cam­paign – is a sta­tis­ti­cal alarm bell.

Of the last ten sides to win au­to­matic pro­mo­tion to the Premier League, only one – Brian McDer­mott’s Read­ing in 2011-12 – had lost more matches at this stage.

Bear in mind, too, that the Roy­als re­quired a run of 16 wins from 19 games to seal the deal.

New­cas­tle do boast the class to em­u­late Read­ing’s run, es­pe­cially when Jonjo Shelvey re­turns from sus­pen­sion. And with a win­dow to strengthen and funds on tap, it re­mains dif­fi­cult to see two teams pow­er­ful enough to stop them.

The ti­tle, how­ever, is no fore­gone con­clu­sion. Lead­ers Brighton have won ten points from los­ing po­si­tions this sea­son, yet the Mags have come from be­hind just once – in that crazy 4-3 vic­tory over Nor­wich in Septem­ber.

Where the Seag­ulls have re­silience – that abil­ity to slog out points and grind down stub­born op­po­nents – the Toon are like a play­ground bully, wilt­ing when the lit­tle kid fights back.

Too many play­ers – Ay­oze Perez, Mo Di­ame – van­ish when the game be­comes dif­fi­cult. Oth­ers, like Jack Col­back, have proved they aren’t good enough for the top flight.

Of course, New­cas­tle will still mete out a few hid­ings. They’ll still go up. But un­less they toughen up and learn to win ugly, they won’t even win the ti­tle, let alone thrive with the big boys next year.

MISSED: Jonjo Shelvey

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