BLUES embark on a critical phase of their season tonight, with Chris Hughton welcoming the pressure.
Blues are at home to Ipswich Town (7.45pm) in the first of their two games in hand over their promotion rivals. The other outstanding match is little less than a month away (against Portsmouth at St Andrew’s) so the next few weeks, and into a demanding February, represents a potentially defining spell.
“If you took the season in blocks of months, the next month is always the most important one,” said Hughton.
“If we have a strong month results-wise it puts us in a great position, if we don’t then we’ve got the next month to make up for that.
"There is always that possibility to finish strong in this division. We have seen teams before who have picked up a series of results, notably Blackpool and Burnley, in the past.
“But, of course, if you are in a good position with still a fair amount of time to go then it’s about sustaining and maintaining that position.
“I wouldn’t say there’s any more pressure than usual on us.
“There is still so much football to play when you think we are only halfway through a season. It seems more, but we’re only halfway through.”
Blues have 23 matches to go and tonight’s game was not targeted as such as the archetypal must-win by Hughton.
“A win would be nice, of course, but I don’t think you can ever say you target certain games like that,’’ he added.
“There are so many games to play you could lose the game and then win the next away game and perhaps points-wise it generally tallies up.
“But having said all that, it’s a home game and one of our catch-up games and we’ve been good at home.
“We’ve got to make sure we apply enough pressure on Ipswich to put us in with a great chance of winning.”
Victory would take Blues to ninth in the table, just two points from the play-off zone.
Hughton says a top-six finish – a revised, ‘reasonable’ requirement of the board after the turmoil since Premier League relegation and Alex McLeish’s subsequent walk-out – remains the goal.
“Realistically, the play-offs is something within our grasp if we get points from our two games in lieu, which are both at home,” said Hughton.