MIKE Williamson believes the fixture list has been kind to Newcastle United by serving up a game they can not take lightly after their heroics against Barnsley.
A 6-1 home win and favourable results elsewhere put the Magpies eight points clear at the top of the Championship with a game in hand on second- placed Nottingham Forest. It was enough for some to crown them as champions-in-waiting, but centre-back Williamson (left) thinks the prospect of a Tees-Tyne derby in Middlesbrough should guarantee no loss of focus.
"It’s always nice to enjoy days like Saturday but our next game’s Middlesbrough away and that’s the one we don’t want to lose," was the 26-year- old’s reaction to the Barnsley win.
"It’s going to be one of the toughest tests of the season so the boys are just focusing on that one."
United’s players must realise promotion is theirs to lose – they are a further point ahead of West Bromwich Albion in third – but, like manager Chris Hughton, they are anxious not to give any impression of complacency.
"When we’re actually mathematically promoted we can talk about it but at the minute the job’s not done and we know
how easy it is to get sucked back in (to the chasing pack)," he added.
"It’s about not getting complacent and taking nothing for granted."
A trip to the Riverside might not be the derby for Newcastle supporters, but with Sunderland in the division above, it is the nearest they will get this season.
Having started the season as credible title contenders under Gareth Southgate, Boro are showing signs of coming to terms with his replacement Gordon Strachan’s style of play – particularly at home, where they are unbeaten in the league in 2010.
Williamson, who has quickly formed an impressive central defensive partnership with Fabricio Coloccini, is excited about sampling his first Tees-Tyne derby.
"I’m looking forward to it," he commented.
"First and foremost it’s another game to try and get three points on the board but it’s always nice to play in the fiery ones when the battles are tough and it’s going to be a hard challenge. I’m looking forward to that."
To have come into such a happy environment after four months at crisis-hit Portsmouth – where the bottom-of-the-Premier League outfit refused even to play him because of the additional costs it would incur – has been a huge relief for Williamson.
"It was difficult," he commented of his Fratton Park experience.
"It’s been one of those careers, it’s been a bit of a roller-coaster. You’ve got to ride not too high when it’s going well and not too low when it’s going badly.
"But it’s going really well at the moment and I’m really enjoying myself. Before I’d even come here I could see the team they’d got and the position they were in, the defensive record, the scoring record, things like that.
"With the guys on the bench there’s quality throughout the whole squad. That hopefully can see us through. As soon as you came here you could tell it was a close-knit squad. You could see from the boys in training.
"It’s always easier when you’re winning and top of the league, but it’s obvious to see from the outside that it’s a great, great set of lads.
"On the pitch, on the bench, in the stands, it’s a really good place to be."
The only dampener on Williamson’s Saturday was the goal sloppily gifted to Daniel Bogdanovic with seven minutes remaining.
"We’re still disappointed with the one goal we conceded," he admitted. "As defenders, clean sheets are a great thing. That’s what we were talking about, that’s what we wanted. It didn’t cost us anything so it’s not too bad, but it’s slightly disappointing."