What is life like at the top of the Championship pressure cooker? Newcastle’s Karl Darlow lifts the lid on the how the Magpies deal with the strain

Newcastle United keeper Karl Darlow.

Newcastle United keeper Karl Darlow.

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Karl Darlow believes Newcastle United’s players thrive under the pressure of the Championship title race, writes Liam Kennedy.

Many a team may have wilted over the weekend as the Magpies were yet again knocked off the top of the pile by Chris Hughton’s Brighton without kicking a ball.

We relish the pressure. It makes the lads raise their game that little bit.

But Darlow says United are made of tougher stuff than that.

In fact the 26-year-old, who was outstanding in Monday night’s 2-0 win over Aston Villa, which took Newcastle back to the second tier summit, thinks the neck and neck scrap for the trophy brings out the best in the players.

On dealing with the pressure, Darlow said: “It does make the lads raise their game that little bit and it’s nice to have that pressure on us, I think.

“We’ve done well throughout the season and we need to finish it off and make sure this is an excellent season for the club so we can get back to where we should be.

“We relish the pressure. We know they’re all tough games in this league and we pack St James’s Park out every game so we owe the supporters performances. I think so far this season we’ve given back what we can.

“I think we’re on a good run at the minute and every time we lose top spot we want to win it back, so to do that on TV, it was an excellent performance, I think, and a very solid one.”

It has been an almost flawless campaign by Rafa Benitez’s men so far, as they’ve taken to second tier football like a duck to water, and despite a mid-season dip have looked head and shoulders above anyone at this level.

If there was to be a flaw in the Magpies’ campaign it would probably be their home record.

Darlow thinks the packed houses at St James’ Park does bring a pressure of its own, but he admits he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“There’s a little bit of added pressure,” he said.

“We know this ground is more daunting for away teams so as long as we can use that to our advantage and the fans are on our side, which they have been all season – they’ve been excellent – we’ll just carry on as we have been and hopefully keep grinding out victories.”

Overall this campaign has been a breakthrough one for Darlow at United.

A stand-in last season in the Premier League and then second choice at the start of the season, Darlow has taken his first-team chances with both hands.

And since the Autumn Darlow has established himself as United’s No 1, with some stand out performances, including against Steve Bruce’s Villans on Monday.

But it hasn’t all been a bed of roses for the goalie. His mistake at Carrow Road last week was one of the low points of his Newcastle career to date.

He was happy to bounce back from that in style, though.

“It was nice to help the team,” he said.

“I was massively disappointed after Norwich but it’s the life of a goalkeeper. If you look anywhere around the world, every single goalkeeper has made a howler at some point. But I made a good save on Monday and hopefully that will keep me ticking over for the rest of the season.

“It’s not nice because you think about it all the way through. Mentally you have to deal with it. It’s what you’re paid big money to do at the end of the day, especially away from home with the crowd getting on me. It was one of them that I really had to concentrate and make sure I was solid for the rest of the game, which I think I did.

“I was thankful I got through that one and we move on from it.”

As well as individuals showing character against Villa the team had to do so collectively also, in what was a bruising affair at SJP.

“We know they’re down the bottom and they’re going to be scrappy for their lives at the minute so we’re never going to take this one easy and we knew they had some very good players individually,” said Darlow reflecting on Monday’s three points.

“Looking at their squad you’d say they’re a very good team who should be higher than they are.

“We’re happy with that victory and it’s a good win.”