Here at Daily Cannon HQ we had to admit – we don’t know that much about Brighton.
So, what to do? Easy – reach out to Brighton fan and blogger, Mark Chalcraft, and get him to fill in the massive gaps in our knowledge.
He did far more than that.
Mark can be found on Twitter under the handle @2ndYellow. You probably already follow him. If you don’t, you should.
This is what he told us.
The Season So Far
It’s fair to say this season hasn’t gone as planned for Brighton.
Having reached the Championship playoffs last season, the departure of manager Oscar Garcia after the semi-final defeat to Derby was a blow and the announcement of Sami Hyypiä wasn’t met with universal acclaim from fans familiar with his work at Leverkusen.
Their fears were soon realised – after a couple of early wins away to Leeds and against Bolton at the Amex, there was a run of disappointing results – the 0-0 draw at home to no-hopers Blackpool was a particular lowlight – which saw confidence drop in line with league position.
By mid-December the situation was reaching critical with the Seagulls marooned in the bottom three and, following another turgid performance at home to Millwall, Sami fell on his sword the following week. A decent guy, certainly, but not the man for the job.
He was soon followed by director of football David Burke, whose poor transfer dealings in the last two years undoubtedly contributed to the problems, including a failure to replace key departures (Leo Ulloa in particular).
As always seems the case, the manager’s departure saw an almost immediate reaction. A stirring fightback to snatch a 2-2 draw on Boxing Day against Reading was followed by a good performance at Fulham to end a run of one win in 19 league games.
Since then, the only blip was last weekend’s 1-0 defeat against Brentford, with Lewis Dunk’s red card a contributing factor. Wednesday night’s 3-2 win over Ipswich Town was easily the best performance of the season, and the Seagulls prepare for Sunday with confidence growing quickly under Chris Hughton.
A month is a long time in football: having been four points from safety at Christmas, Albion are now out of the bottom three, six points ahead of Millwall and beginning to play to their potential.
- Youth – there are some good young players in the squad, with Lewis Dunk (23), Rohan Ince (22), Jake Forster-Caskey and Solly March (both 20) all regulars in the side. Big things are also predicted for 19 year old goalkeeper Christian Walton, who played well on his debut in the League Cup against Spurs, though he will almost certainly be on the bench on Sunday
- Defence – although prone to the occasional clanger, Scottish international and club captain Gordon Greer is an experienced figure alongside Dunk. In goal, David Stockdale has improved after a slow start since arriving from Fulham in the summer. Right back Bruno has La Liga pedigree with Valencia
- Momentum – while there’s no doubt the squad is in need of strengthening, the feeling is that recent results under Hughton are a better indication of the ability in the team than a league position of 19th
- Youth – as pleasing as it is to see young players given a chance, a lack of experience has also cost Brighton at times this season, with goals conceded at bad times and a lack of conviction up front
- Left back – Joe Bennett, on loan from Aston Villa, is a full back in the modern mode, offering a threat going forward but sometimes vulnerable defensively. Chris Hughton will need to find a way to provide him with support, especially if Alexis Sanchez starts, but options are limited
- Attack – scoring goals has been a struggle all season, which is perhaps understandable after the loss of Ulloa and Will Buckley at the end of the last transfer window and injuries to March and Kazenga Lua Lua. That Lewis Dunk is top scorer says it all
Shape and style
In the six games under caretaker Nathan Jones and then Hughton there has been an important change to the shape of the team. Rohan Ince and Danny Holla have started the last five games together at the base of midfield, and their growing partnership provides more presence in front of the defence. Previously, more diminutive midfielders were preferred and meant the team was a bit lightweight with some square pegs in round holes.
A controlled passing game is well established at Brighton, having been introduced by Gus Poyet, and Chris Hughton has gone on record as saying his team will continue this but may perhaps be a little less expansive.
The early signs under the new manager bode well from an attacking sense – Chris O’Grady, who scored 15 goals in a relegated Barnsley side in 2013/14, was on loan at Sheffield United earlier this season but has returned to good effect, offering an outlet around which playmakers such as João Texeira can come into the game.
Dunk’s height means he is a real threat from set pieces and, if he shakes off a calf injury, Greg Halford’s long throws could be used to good effect.
Possible starting XI
Dunk will return from suspension to replace Aaron Hughes, but Wednesday’s performance makes it hard to see any other changes to the starting lineup. This would mean another start for full back Inigo Calderon on the right of midfield, but Hughton could just as easily opt for Solly March to cut inside and support the lone striker.
Recent arrival Leon Best misses out having played for Derby in the 3rd round while the imminent signing of Israeli international midfielder Beram Kayal from Celtic won’t be completed in time for him to feature either.
Stockdale; Bruno, Greer (c), Dunk, Bennett; Ince, Holla; Baldock, Texeira, Calderon; O’Grady
Crofts, Stephens, Lua Lua (out); Halford, Mackail-Smith (doubtful)
One to watch
Arsenal.com thinks it’s João Texeira, but most Albion fans would disagree despite his brace on Wednesday night. Emerging from the wasteland that is Chelsea’s academy, Rohan Ince broke into Brighton’s first team early last season under Oscar Garcia and put in some impressive performances, but was mystifyingly under-used by Sami Hyypiä.
However, he has started the last five games and offers a strong presence in midfield along with ability on the ball. Will burst forward from time to time, and contributes a decent number of goals including from set pieces. Scorer of Brighton’s goal of the season so far in a League Cup tie at Swindon –
Rohan Ince is a second cousin of Tom Ince and a nephew of former Seagulls (and some rabble called ‘Palace’, but we don’t talk about them) defender Eric Young.
2014/15 top scorer: Dunk (6)
2014/15 average attendance: 25,321
American Express Community Stadium, Falmer
Sussex by the Sea
FA Cup best performance
Runners-up, 1982/3; took Manchester United to a replayed final (remember those?)
FA Cup last season
5th round; nearly beat Hull at the AMEX but conceded a late equaliser and lost the replay 2-1
Don’t forget, make sure to follow @2ndYellow.