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Brighton and Hove Albion

Analysing the Championship automatic promotion race – who will come out on top?



As another Championship season draws to a close there are likely to be few late-season dramas.

With three games remaining the relegation battle is all but over. The gap between the play-off places and 7th stands at a modest, but unlikely-to-be-overhauled, six points. The only great uncertainty remaining lies in the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League; made all the more enticing by a potential share in a £5.1 billion television deal.

Three teams harbour hopes of safe passage to the English top flight, and one will be able to be promoted in the same manner as Bournemouth last time out. Two will have the privilege of going up automatically, while one will be consigned to the lottery of the play-offs.


Champ table


Boro are in the favourable position of having their fate in their own hands.

They sit top of the tree and, after drawing with Burnley in mid-week, have one of their promotion rivals to play.

If they come through this game unscathed it is difficult to conceive of them playing in the 2nd tier for an 8th consecutive season, especially given their three other opponents have nothing to play for and are unlikely to provide stern opposition.

Bolton are down already, while Ipswich and Birmingham have too much ground to make up in order to reach play-offs.

Boro F

It has been an unusual season for Boro’. Despite their remarkable defensive record (27 goals conceded), rumours of in-fighting between manager and squad threatened to derail their promotion bid. However, five consecutive victories have contributed to the club’s resurgence with Ben Gibson and Gaston Ramirez starring at opposite ends of the field.

Despite setting the pace at this late stage and a wealth of attacking options (Jordan Rhodes, David Nugent, Albert Adomah, Stewart Downing, et al), only Cristian Stuani has hit double figures. Make no mistake about it, Middlesborough are built on defensive solidity. Jose Mourinho’s former assistant and ex-Real Madrid centre-back, Aitor Karanka, has forged a side in his own image; tough, resolute and disciplined.

Spurred on by the disappointment of Wembley heartache last season, Middlesbrough have the most favourable run in. It’s their title to lose. It’s never quite that simple though, is it?


The importance of Burnley’s home draw against Middlesbrough carried obvious significance, but an upcoming trip to their Lancashire rivals this weekend promises to be a stern examination of their promotion credentials.

Preston fans would love nothing more than to bring an end to the Championship’s longest unbeaten run, stretching back to Boxing Day.

Burnley F

Burnley’s run of form since the turn of the year has been exceptional. Sean Dyche’s squad largely resembles the side that gained promotion two seasons ago while the notable additions of Joey Barton and Andre Gray have added steel and firepower to the Championship’s top scorers. The Sam Vokes-Andre Gray partnership has yielded 35 goals as Burnley lurk menacingly behind Boro, with favourable fixtures against Q.P.R and Charlton in the final two weeks of the season.

Like Boro’, Burnley were promotion favourites from the outset and possess recent experience of a successful campaign. Having conceded only 33 goals all season, the club’s solid defensive foundations are supplemented by willing midfield runners in Scott Arfield and George Boyd and the most lethal forward pairing in the division.

A combination of experience and good form has seen Burnley remain in the top 6 since September and Claret fans will hope this blend will see them competing with the elite once again come August.


Brighton have the benefit of facing an already relegated Charlton, before welcome a play-Off bound Derby side in the penultimate week of the season.

However, the final week of the season is likely to be most decisive, with the Seagulls travelling to Boro on the final day of the campaign.

Chris Hughton’s side are shouldering the least expectation of the three promotion chasers after escaping relegation to League One at the end of last season.

Brighton F

This season has seen a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for Brighton. They sat one place above the drop when Hughton arrived 16 months ago, yet began this season with a 21-match unbeaten streak, remaining so well into December.

Akin to Boro’, Brighton have only one player to have reached double figures this season. Tomer Hemed’s return of 13 may seem paltry for a side with promotion pretensions but Chris Hughton has experience at this level, leading Newcastle to 102 points and an un-fancied Birmingham City into the play-offs two years later.

Dale Stephens, Beram Kayal and Lewis Dunk are excellent players while the January addition of Anthony Knockaert has added an extra dimension to the Seagulls attack.

Brighton are dangerous customers, having been in the top four all season they’ll be desperate to avoid the lottery of the play-offs after two failed campaigns in 12/13 and 13/14.

Brighton fans will be confident of overhauling the gap between themselves and their promotion rivals. An away trip to Teeside on May 7th… Don’t you just love it when the fixtures generator throws up a final-day gem?

Featured image: All rights reserved by dan.westwell

Brighton and Hove Albion

Rodrigo reported as Brighton target, but he is surely too expensive?

The Valencia striker is reportedly wanted by a trio of Premier League clubs.



Photo: Getty Images

Brighton, along with Tottenham Hotspur and Everton have been linked with a move for Valencia forward Rodrigo this summer.

Calciomercato claims that all three clubs are interested in signing the Spanish international come the summer. The report discloses his massive €120 million (£105.4 million) release clause, but that offers in the region of €40 million (£35 million) are expected.

Which is surely when the links to Brighton have to stop.

Rodrigo, who had a spell at Bolton Wanderers as a young player on loan from Benfica, would be a tremendous signing for Brighton.

(Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

The 22-year-old has scored 16 goals in 35 games for Los Che this season. Such form could see him earn a place in Spain’s squad for this summer’s World Cup in Russia.

Brighton, however, simply cannot afford such a massive sum of money on one player, especially considering the club recently broke their record to sign Dutch striker Jurgen Locadia.

According to the Guardian, that fee was around £14 million. Paying more than double that on Rodrigo is simply inconceivable.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

It would immediately undermine the money they spent on Locadia, who arrived from PSV Eindhoven and leave very little in the kitty to improve other areas of the team this summer.

Rodrigo would undoubtedly be a dream signing for Brighton. The Seagulls look increasingly safe in the Premier League and bringing in a top name this summer would be a popular move among fans at the Amex Arena.

But simply put, £35 million is just not a figure Brighton can or should pay for just one player. Instead, such money should be spread out throughout the team evenly. Distributing the funds in this way will allow Brighton to fully strengthen their side and maintain the balance that has taken them to a brilliant first Premier League campaign.

There might come a day when Brighton can afford to splurge £35 million on just one player. That day, however, will not be in 2018.

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Brighton and Hove Albion

Is Brighton’s Christian Walton a future England star?

The 22-year-old stopper has been in fine form at Wigan Athletic.



Wigan Athletic’s FA Cup run has come to an end. The Latics lost 2-0 against Southampton at the DW Stadium, despite being the better team in the first-half. However, Southampton came alive in the second period and goals from Pierre Hojbjerg and Cedric Soares settled the tie.

It could have been more, were it not for a brilliant penalty save from Wigan goalkeeper Christian Walton. He dived to his left and got a strong palm to a driven effort from 12 yards by Manolo Gabbiadini. Unbelievably, Walton managed to get enough on the ball to turn it around the post and keep Wigan in the tie.

It was a brilliant save in what was another excellent performance from the young stopper. So do Brighton and Hove Albion have a future star on their hands?

Walton is on loan at Wigan from Brighton until the end of the season. It is the fifth loan spell of Walton’s career after similar spells at Bury, Plymouth Argyle, Luton Town and Southend United.

The 22-year-old’s brilliant performance v Southampton was no anomaly. He was in fine form in Wigan’s recent famous win against Manchester City.

Brighton clearly know they have a top talent on their hands, yet Chris Hughton has not yet pulled the trigger on the player.

In the summer, when Brighton lost number one David Stockdale to Birmingham City, Hughton signed two new keepers. Australian international Mat Ryan arrived from Valencia whilst Tim Krul was a free transfer from Newcastle United.

(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

But Brighton did secure Walton to a new deal, keeping him at the Amex Arena until 2021. With Krul’s deal ending at the end of the season, perhaps Walton will be in line to be the Seagulls second-choice keeper from next season.

England currently have something of a concern regarding the goalkeeper position but the future is bright. Sam Johnstone, Freddie Woodman and Angus Gunn look like top talents and Walton must be included in the same company.

Not only an excellent shot-stopper, but Walton is confident coming off his line and good with the ball at his feet.

The competition is certainly fierce, with the likes of Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford and Nick Pope also potential future England goalkeepers.

But Walton might just be in with a shout of such accolades in the future as well if he can find his way at Brighton.

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Brighton and Hove Albion

Manager of the Month: Can Chris Hughton now play out a dream season with Brighton?

The Brighton boss was recently crowned February Manager of the Month.

Jake Jackman



Chris Hughton
Photo: Getty Images

Chris Hughton has not received a huge amount of exposure for the job that he is doing with Brighton, but back-to-back Premier League wins have seen the Seagulls rise to 10th position in the table and he has subsequently been rewarded with the February Manager of the Month award.

As a newly-promoted team, they will have targeted survival. Although it remains tight at the bottom, it would take a considerable drop-off for the South Coast team to suffer relegation, especially following an unbeaten run throughout the last month.

But Hughton won’t be getting too far ahead of himself. After all, his team squandered a seven-point lead with three games to go in the Championship last season.

That said, he has done a tremendous job at the Amex Stadium and gone a long way to proving those that doubted him wrong. Hughton is seen as one of the nicest men in football and a safe pair of hands, but he hasn’t always convinced as a Premier League manager.

His first spell in charge of a top-flight club was at Newcastle United. Hughton led them back to the Premier League at the first attempt and the team were in 11th position when he was dismissed. It was considered harsh at the time and even Magpies owner Mike Ashley has admitted since that it was a mistake in an interview with Sky Sports:

“I thought I was very unfair to Chris Hughton, who got us promoted, I don’t think I gave him enough time.”

Hughton was well liked by both the players and supporters at Newcastle. He pulled the club together after the disaster of relegation and managed to win the Championship with ease. Considering it was his first job in management, he was thrown straight into a difficult job and coped well with it. The sacking has unfairly put a black mark on his record and he has been trying to erase it ever since.

The next Premier League he was given was at Norwich City and he fared okay with the Canaries. During his first season, he led them to 11th position. Considering their relative stature in the game, that is a great achievement. However, the style of play was bland and supporters were quick to turn on him in the following season.

The club sacked him with five matches to go in the 2013/14 campaign with the club lying five points above the relegation zone. It was a strange decision, especially as Neil Adams was chosen to take over with no experience of top-flight management. Norwich were relegated that season. They may have faced the same fate had they kept faith in Hughton, but they would have had a better chance of survival.

How he has enhanced his reputation at Brighton

Despite doing a decent job with Norwich before dismissal, Hughton had to drop a division to take his next job and it was with Brighton and Hove Albion. The Seagulls were in 21st position at the time after the poor tenure of Sami Hyypia, but the potential was obvious.

The facilities were great and the new stadium was built with Premier League football as the target. The club had challenged at the top for a number of years previous and had become regulars in the play-offs, but they couldn’t get over the line.

Hughton had won promotion with Newcastle and came close with Birmingham. It was a perfect match as he needed to repair his reputation out of the spotlight. It wasn’t instant success as he fought relegation for the rest of the season and stayed up by only six points. However, he did enough to win favour with the board and he hasn’t looked back since.

During his second season, the club challenged for promotion and missed out only on goal difference by two goals. It was heartbreak on the final day as they needed a win against rivals Middlesbrough, but came up short. They couldn’t get themselves back up for the play-offs and were knocked out by Sheffield Wednesday.

It seemed like both Hughton and Brighton had missed their opportunity of promotion, but they regrouped and earned it the following season in convincing fashion. They may have collapsed late to lose out on the title, but they had won promotion by April and it was never really in doubt.

That was an excellent achievement, but there remained doubts about Hughton’s ability to establish Brighton in the Premier League.

The summer saw him make shrewd additions with Pascal Gross, Mathew Ryan, Davy Propper, Ezequiel Schelotto and Jose Izquierdo coming in to strengthen the first-team. It took some of them time to settle, but they are all now starters. As a newly-promoted club, it is important to add quality to the squad if you are to survive.

Despite being a newly-promoted club, Brighton haven’t really been in much danger of relegation this season. They haven’t been in the relegation zone since the second week of the season. The bottom-half of the table has been tight, but the Seagulls have always had a buffer to the relegation zone. They have taken points from 18 of their 19 matches and their recent match display against Arsenal was the highlight of their season to date.

In the first-half, they attacked with vigour and caused Arsenal a lot of problems. They went 2-0 up and could have scored more on another day.

Although the Gunners got a goal back, the result never looked in serious danger and the home side managed the game well. It was a performance fitting of a Premier League team and the aim now will be to establish themselves at this level over the course of several years.

It is a challenge that Hughton will be relishing. In a period of few British coaches at the highest level, the Brighton manager is proving that he is one of the best and he could start to be linked with bigger jobs if he continues to impress.

The Seagulls remain in the FA Cup and have reached the quarter-final stage for the first time since 1986. Hughton is establishing himself as one of the best managers in the club’s history and although they face a difficult match against Manchester United to reach Wembley, they have the ability to get to the next round.

There is a long way to go in this season, but Brighton could feasibly finish in the top half of the Premier League and win the FA Cup. That would be a season beyond the wildest dreams of many supporters. It remains a long shot, but to be in with a chance is a great achievement by Hughton.

If his side can finish the season strongly, he has to be in contention to win Manager of the Year award.

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