Brighton and Hove Albion have exceeded expectations this season and are heading into the run-in as one of the contenders for automatic promotion. They are competing with Burnley, Middlesbrough and Hull City, but Brighton have no pressure on them unlike the aforementioned teams, which can only be a positive.
After starting the season with a 21 match unbeaten run, the side dropped out of the top two and lost pace on the leading pack. However, they have re-emerged as a genuine contender for the top two positions over the last few weeks, and were unlucky not to beat leaders Burnley at the weekend.
This is the club’s fifth season in the Championship and they have finished in the top six on two occasions. They have probably overachieved over their spell in the second tier, but after a relegation fight last season, many thought that Brighton had missed their chance to gain promotion. There were fears that Brighton would be languishing in the bottom five or six again this season. However, some clever business in the transfer window and a first full season for proven Championship manager Chris Hughton has seen the club improve massively.
Hughton has won the division with Newcastle United before, while he also did a good job with Birmingham City a few years ago, and took the Blues to the play-offs. He is used to challenging in the top half of the division and that has been a positive for the Seagulls this season. Brighton have become hard to beat under Hughton, as was reflected by their incredible unbeaten start to the season. Although too many draws mean that they aren’t in the top two at the moment, they have laid a solid foundation, which have allowed the club to be constants in the play-off positions since the opening weekend of the season. Alongside QPR, the club have the most draws in the division with 15, but they have made significant moves to improve that in recent weeks.
The arrival of Anthony Knockaert was a great piece of business as he has added dynamism to the attacking line up. The Frenchman is technically very good, having the ability to beat players with skill, while his final ball is amongst the best in the division. He was something of a coup for the club, as he has proven himself in the division before with Leicester City, and when he was with the Foxes, he was considered ahead of Riyad Mahrez in the pecking order. This proves how talented the winger is and at the age of 24, he could still develop further, which should excite Brighton fans.
Hughton has opted to blend youth with experience with the likes of Bobby Zamora, Steve Sidwell and Liam Rosenior providing Premier League experience. The manager likes to play with two forwards in 4-4-2 formation. This is very rigid and requires players to carry out a precise role, but it is simple and has given the side success. Hughton has always liked to play with old-fashioned target men, with Shola Ameobi and Andy Carroll being his strike-force when he led Newcastle back to the top flight at the first attempt. He has continued this on the South Coast with Bobby Zamora and Tomer Hemed being his preferred strike-force. This has prevented James Wilson from gaining the first team football that he expected at the club, making just nine starts since joining the club on loan.
This has been an excellent season for the Seagulls, regardless of how it ends. The squad still has noticeable weaknesses that would need to be addressed if they are to get promoted to the Premier League. Meanwhile Hughton has twice failed in the Premier League with Newcastle and Norwich City, and may struggle again if he beats the odds and leads Brighton to the top flight. There is some genuine talent in this Brighton squad, but the most impressive thing has been their ability to play as a unit. In years gone by, we have seen the likes of Reading and Burnley come up with a strong unit, but lacking the quality in the side and they were both relegated. This would be a worry for Brighton if they were to come up and fail to bring in the required players.
Their run-in looks good, as they have a number of winnable home matches against the likes of QPR and Fulham. Automatic promotion still looks like it might be just beyond them as the other three teams in contention have stronger squads. However, Brighton have been the hardest side to beat this season alongside Burnley and they will be in the race until the very end. If they do miss out and make the play offs, they will be a tough proposition for any side.
Are Brighton destined for a play-off finish, or can they still achieve the Premier League dream through automatic promotion? How much of a success would the south coast reaching the top flight be? Let us know your opinion in the comments section below.
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