Let’s face it… the timings haven’t exactly favoured us going into this one. With the help of a wealthy chairman, Brighton have had a swanky new stadium built, they’ve become one of the best-supported clubs in the Championship, they’re now thriving in the top half of the Championship with a 100% start to 2013, having been promoted just 18 months ago. On the other hand, we’re languishing miserably near the bottom of the Championship table, with no money, without a win in 5, injury-stricken and the general future of our club painfully uncertain. Having said that, I do foresee a close game on Saturday. The one benefit of supporting an annoyingly inconsistent team is that when you’re on a minor winless streak, you can at least hope that the next win is around the corner, somewhere.
A look at the squad
If we’re going to sell Butland, I’d like to see us sell him immediately so that if any of that cash goes into the transfer kitty, rather than Carson’s pocket, we can give the squad some fresh faces. I’m not entirely sure what to read into Butland being left out of the squad against Leeds. He did play against Huddersfield on Saturday, so presumably his relationship with Clark is stable, yet I can’t help but feel that if he wasn’t linked with a move he would’ve at least been on the bench, on the count of being a more established keeper than Townsend. I would probably expect him to play against Brighton, but if this does turn out to be his last game for the club, I’m sure most of you would join me in wishing him well for the future- he does make a few mistakes, but I believe he’s got the potential to become an established Premiership goalkeeper in the long-term.
As always, I’d prefer to see Pablo play centre-back for a few games to see if it changes anything for us defensively. It’d be my judgement that Caldwell needs a rest, but Clark seems to want to stick with him. In fairness, his performances have picked up of late and maybe us playing with a settled back four will work eventually, but we’ve got to start keeping the clean sheets. I like the look of Caddis and Robinson as the fullbacks, because Caddis provides some tenacious overlapping runs going forward, and Robinson adds experience to the team.
Due to his lingering injury problems, Blues have decided not to extend the contract of Papa Bouba Diop which is probably wise- at this moment we can’t afford to be paying a player to not play. However, that does give us limited options in terms of defensive minded midfielders, because Spector has picked up another injury and Mullins is only just recovering from one, but Reilly should be fit. I’d go with Morrison in the centre alongside Gomis, more out of force than choice. When playing the 4-2-3-1 formation it’s normally important that you’ve got two holding midfielders, which neither Gomis nor Morrison really are, but then who else is there to play?
With Morrison now having to drop deeper from his usual advanced playmaker role, we’ve got little choice but to try and rush King and Lovenkrands back for experienced forward options. I reckon King could be the missing piece of the jigsaw from recent matches, because he can score goals and finish off chances – 12 goals from 22 games this season is impressive – but he can also hold the ball up well which will help in bringing the best out of Morrison, Redmond, Hall and Burke. If he can be deemed suitably fit, I’d be inclined to stick Lovenkrands on the left and Hall on the right, with perhaps Redmond in the hole behind King. I’d have Burke with Zigic on the bench as impact substitutes.
We’re very thin on the ground in terms of options at the moment, particularly in midfield and at full-back. Our injury crisis seems to be getting worse by the day, so whatever team sheet Clark will select, there can’t be too many arguments.
A bit about Brighton
You could be forgiven for not knowing too much about todays’opponents, because prior to the season before this, the last time we played Brighton in the league was in 1995. It was the penultimate home game of our promotion season, but goals from Jose Dominguez, Peter Shearer and Mark Ward couldn’t secure us a win in a 3-3 draw against the Seagulls. Remember that match? Nor me, I was 3. The most notable time in Brighton’s history was when they spent 3 years in the top flight in the early 80s. Having already been relegated that season, 1982-83 saw them reach the FA Cup final, which they lost to Manchester United in a replay. However, the first match will always be remembered for the phrase: “and Smith must score…” when striker Gordon Smith had a one-on-one chance to win the FA Cup for them, but tragically he missed and Brighton went into the second division, and a long-term decline, with little consolation. However, if Brighton haven’t had the most successful history, recent developments such as their new stadium and form in the Championship, suggest they’ve now got a rapidly growing one.
Brighton’s recent form
Brighton will be looking to continue their 100% start to 2013. They’ve won their last 3 matches in all competitions, which includes a 2-0 victory over Premier League opponents Newcastle in the FA Cup. They’ve also recently signed Spanish striker Leonardo Alloa in an attempt to boost their goal tally. Having looked him up on the internet, Alloa has scored 29 goals for Spanish 2nd division side Almeria last year. If Brighton win and results work in their favour this weekend, they could move into the play-off places. It’s probably worth also knowing, that Gus Poyet’s side have got the second best defensive record in the division, but the worst ‘goals for’ record in the top half.
Craig Mackail-Smith is Brighton’s top scorer with 11 league goals this season and is therefore, along with Alloa, their biggest goal threat. A hardworking and industrious centre forward, Mackail-Smith came up through the youth setup at St Albans City and was in fact released by the club in 2003. They may be rueing that decision now, because he went on to score 80 goals for Peterborough, before signing for Brighton and becoming a relative success at the AMEX stadium. I would say he’s their main man.
I think I’ll try a technique where I keep predicting Blues to keep a clean sheet until we actually get one! Eventually it’ll happen. We’ve now conceded in each of our last 14 games, which has got to end at some point so of course I’ll start off by going for a clean sheet. I really want to see Marlon King back to a decent level of fitness, because he’ll be crucial to our goalscoring plans. I’m going to let my heart rule my head a bit on this one and say 1-0 to the Blues, but I can see myself starting to check my phone more anxiously for the Peterborough and Barnsley results during the game.