The race to the Premier League is entering its final stages. With 13 games left to play, there are two standout candidates to claim the Championship crown and cash in the prize to pit themselves against the finest players the country has to offer, and they are set to lock horns on the south coast on Tuesday. Rafa Benitez leads his Newcastle side to the Amex, where they will be met by Chris Hughton's unwavering Brighton and Hove Albion side, looking to recover their status as Championship league leaders.
Albion currently hold a one-point lead over Newcastle, having sent Jaap Stam's promotion-hopefuls Reading home to Berkshire with their tails between their legs on Saturday and a 3-0 defeat. The Magpies, however, dropped points at home to Bristol City. While the 2-2 draw was a frustrating one for Newcastle, they are in full knowledge that their form away from St James' Park is the strongest in the division.
From their 16 fixtures on the road, they have claimed 11 victories and two draws, conceding defeat just three times - Fulham on the opening day of the season, to Nottingham Forest while down to nine men, and a freak result away at struggling Blackburn Rovers. All three losses have been by a single-goal margin, while they have scored 27 goals away from home so far this campaign and will be confident in piercing what was the strongest defence in the top four divisions of English football up until a month ago. Albion have kept 17 clean sheets this season, more than any other club in the Championship.
Brighton have lost just nine games in their last 80 league outings and unsurprisingly hold the strongest home form in the second-tier. Albion have lost just once from 17 outings at the Amex this season, a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Brentford in September, registering 13 wins and three draws. Hughton's men have struck 36 goals in that time, conceding just nine. For comparison, Leeds are ranked second with 12 conceded at home, with Newcastle conceding 17.
It's no exaggeration, then, to label Tuesday's clash as the most important of the season so far for both clubs.
The two clubs stand apart from the chasing pack in almost every aspect - more wins, fewer losses, fewer conceded and both have outgunned almost every other club in the division - though there is a stark contrast in how they have both achieved their position at the top.
Albion are fueled by their failed Premier League bid last season, missing out on a top-two spot on goal difference, and in Chris Hughton have a leader who knows how to guide a team to the top having done it with Newcastle in the 2009-10 campaign. Strengthened by the likes of Glenn Murray, Shane Duffy and Oliver Norwood in the summer, Hughton has applied the slow and steady approach, losing just four games from their 33 outings.
Newcastle, though, following their drop from the Premier League last term, restructured in the close season and almost £50 million was spent on a first-team squad capable of competing for an immediate return to the top-flight with a former Champions League-winning manager at the helm in place to lead the charge. Newcastle's summer net spend is rarely considered by those criticising the club's off-field issues, though, with big-money moves for Moussa Sissoko to Tottenham, Georginio Wijnaldum to Liverpool, and Andros Townsend to Crystal Palace paving the way for the likes of Matt Richie and Dwight Gayle to arrive.
The former Crystal Palace striker has been the main source of goals this season with 20 in the league, while no other player in the Newcastle squad has registered double figures - Matt Richie next in line with eight - but will miss the trip to Sussex on Tuesday. Brighton, however, have four players who've reached 10 - Murray (16), Anthony Knockaert (11), Sam Baldock (10) and Tomer Hemed (10), with 14 of Murray's 16 coming at the Amex.
Not only does Tuesday's meeting present an opportunity for one of the club's to steal a march on the other, following a long-standing battle this season, it also allows them to further themselves from Huddersfield in third place. David Wagner's side are the form side in the Championship and are gunning for an unlikely top-two finish, though are currently five points behind Newcastle.
The stage is set.
Brighton's club motto - Stand or Fall - features prominently over the Amex's North Stand and goes some way to describing the importance of the fixture, and ultimately the final push for a spot in the Premier League. Rafa Benitez's Newcastle will be confident in blowing a hole in Albion's promotion hopes and remain favourites to be champions come May, however.