Report in The Northern Echo Dot.
RAFA BENITEZ has fired the first salvo in the psychological war with Chris Hughton after warning his Brighton side is there to be shot at.
The Newcastle manager cranked-up the mind games with his opposite number after the Magpies surrendered Championship pole position to the in-form Seagulls.
Hughton, who guided the Geordies to the title when they last won promotion from the second tier in 2010, enjoys a two-point advantage over his old club at the halfway stage of the season. While hoping their stay off the summit isn't prolonged, Benitez has turned the spotlight on their upwardly mobile rivals, claiming they now have deal with the added obstacle of teams raising their game against the new top dogs.
Second-place Newcastle could return to the head of affairs with victory at home to Nottingham Forest tonight (FRI) should the South Coast side slip up at the Amex Stadium against Cardiff City.
Benitez expects Neil Warnock's strugglers to go the extra mile in a bid to topple the leaders, who are unbeaten in 17 league games since a 2-0 home defeat to Brentford in September. He said: "We've been in the same situation as Brighton are now when every game is like a cup final for the other team.
"You'd see a team play against someone else, and when they faced us it was like they were a different side because they're playing the top of the table. Teams run that extra mile against you because of that and I think Brighton will find that situation now. Maybe there will be more pressure on them - let's see how teams approach it."
Good luck with that one Rafa!
Cool Chris did take us to the top of the table for a long period last season with a weaker squad than now.
Poor Rafa! - Winning this league by anything less than 10 points might be seen as failure - that's pressure.
However - playing mind games with Hughton could blow your mind Rafa!