Any football fan worth his or her salt will be able to regurgitate the phrase, “well the Championship, most competitive league isn’t it? Anything can happen.”
Whilst I believe this football cliché to be entirely true, you’d have been hard pushed to find a fan in Brighton (or Hove) to have predicted the Seagull’s fantastic start to the season.
The Seagulls sit at the top of the Championship table, with a four point cushion to recently relegated Hull City and Burnley in 2nd and 3rd respectively. Played thirteen, won eight and drawn five represents an efficient return for the Seagulls, and whilst they haven’t blown teams away (all of their victories have been via a one goal margin) the points tally speaks for itself; and one gets the feeling that this winning feeling might breed a confidence and swagger that will only improve the boys in blue and white.
As I alluded to above, Chris Hughton’s men have that all too rare knack of grinding out wins. Take their most recent victory – a seemingly routine 2-1 home win over Bristol City. The game was actually not as straightforward as one would expect, with the Robins taking an early lead, and Brighton requiring club legend Bobby Zamora to bail them out in the dying embers. However, this is still the formative part of the season, and crucially when not playing to their full potential Brighton are still picking up (often maximum) points. This makes them a tantalising prospect for the future as when the team settles the potential is massive.
This season’s quick start is in stark contrast to the form that the Albion faithful had to endure last season. Finishing in 20th position, only two places above the relegation zone the Seagulls were largely helped not only by Chris Hughton’s appointment in December, but also the fact that the three relegated teams (Millwall, Wigan and Blackpool) all notched remarkably low point tallies – 41, 39 and a meagre 26.
This dire season was partially due to the Seagulls lack of firepower up front. Central defender Lewis Dunk was the club’s top goal scorer with seven, five in the league. New £2 million signing Sam Baldock netted just four times in all competitions.
Fast forward the clock a just a few months and the outlook is very different. Hughton was clearly given a (relatively) blank cheque this summer and strengthened his squad with no less than 13 additions to the Seagulls, covering all areas of the pitch. Notably Israeli striker Tomer Hemed, signed for £1 million from Almeria, the shrewd free transfer acquisition of Liam Rosenior from Hull City, and the combined £5 million spent on Elvis Manu (Feyenoord), Jamie Murphy (Sheffield United) and Uwe Hunemeier from relegated Bundesliga side Paderborn. That is without even mentioning the return of club hero Bobby Zamora from QPR. Many of these players were courted by other sides, but chose Albion. We are not privy to conversations between club officials, players and agents, but it is obvious that something is drawing them all to West Sussex. With this ambitious transfer policy, the club’s board of directors are clearly looking for vast improvement on last season. Thus far it must be noted that Hughton is delivering – with new boy Hemed notching five already.
It is easy to forget that this is just the fifth season that Brighton have played at their impressive new(ish) Falmer Stadium (also known as the American Express Stadium), the same period of time they’ve spent in the Championship since promotion in 2011. With a 30,750 capacity and a stylish, unique design the Stadium is one of the best in the league, and would not be out of place in the Premier League. That is the ultimate aim for Brighton and Hove Albion, and with the move away from the quaint but dated Withdean Stadium, the foundations are in place for a push to the top flight of English football, for the first time since 1983.
Nothing is definite in football, let alone the Championship, but Brighton fans must feel this is the time to push on and reach the ‘Promised Land’, and in doing so boosting the South Coast’s representation in the top flight to three (providing Bournemouth evade the trap door). The start that the Seagulls have made, you’d be a fool to bet against it.
Featured Image – All Rights Reserved by Pete Gawlik Velo-Cargo
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