Based on what I’ve read on social media in recent days, some Brighton fans appear to have a great deal of animosity towards the club’s summer transfer business. So much so it has at times been akin to a bitterly scorned partner feeling like they got the worst end of a divorce settlement. If you aren’t aware this is mostly drawn from a frustration over the club’s failure to sign a new first team striker to give a boost to its goalscoring woes.
We were all pushed to the point of frustration at times last season as Albion missed chance after chance and let a number of potential victories slip away. But for some that frustration has turned to desperation. I’ve even seen some pleading for the club to sign the likes of free agent Daniel Sturridge, a player whose historic struggles with injuries are worse than even Danny Welbeck and who hasn’t played professionally since February 2020, when his contract at Turkish side Trabzonspor was terminated after he was banned for four months for breaching the FA’s betting rules.
That said I do understand the vast majority of people who are concerned about not adding additional quality to the attack. I’m not a huge fan of the way xG is often used to definitively analyse a team’s performance, but when you are consistently underperforming a statistic as much as Brighton did last season it clearly shows there is something not going right.
The absence of the arrival of a striker is not without effort. Many well sourced journalists have been reporting Albion’s attempts to sign a number of targets like Nico Gonzalez or Darwin Nunez, but unfortunately the deal couldn’t be done. If the right player was not available within the club’s budget, then so be it. Especially given its well documented financial difficulties in recent times combined with the absurd state of the transfer market at this moment, especially for Premier League clubs.
Ultimately, the club has to be run sustainably; we can’t keep expecting Uncle Tony to pay off the overdraft every year.
That said, despite criticism over the club loaning out younger talents and reducing the team’s numbers in attack, I don’t think that’s something we should be as concerned about. The reality is Albion tend to play with just one central striker and have three senior specialist options for that one position, which is more than for most other single positions in their system.
And if Graham Potter wants to play two up top then the likes of Gross, Trossard, MacAllister, Richards and Lallana have all played in varying forms of second striker roles. We may have less options in terms of the pure number of players, but are in a far better position in terms of versatility. Something that in my eyes more than compensates and better suits Graham Potter’s style of coaching.
Of course, his main striker will continue to be Neal Maupay. A player not in everyone’s list of favourite Albion players of all-time, but he’s started the season well and if he can improve on last season and hit double figures again that will go a long way towards helping the club achieve its goals.
For me, a key part of bringing in a new striker is can you also fit Maupay into the team. If not, you’re not only losing 20 of the team’s goals (more than 1 in 5) over the past two-and-a-bit seasons, but also a player who is key to the teams build up play. Put simply, when he is missing Albion struggle to create chances. So, you need a certain type of player that can play alongside him.
Maupay has come in for a lot of flak. As a part of their 2020/21 end of season reviews the Guardian were quite typical in the national press’ distain towards Albion’s top scorer. Going in hard on Neal Maupay by naming him as one of the “Flops of the season”.
Yes, he’s missed big chances and should probably have scored more goals in his time with the club, but if he was the perfect striker he wouldn’t be at Brighton.
It is also worth noting that he’s scored 24% (20) of Albion’s goals since joining the club, whilst taking around 20% of their shots. Maupay isn’t blameless, but Albion’s problems in front of goal don’t lie entirely with him. Others also need to step up to take the weight of expectation off of the Frenchman’s shoulders.
His fellow striker partner for some of last season Danny Welbeck showed a similar level of threat in and around the box at times, but injuries have held him back from getting a sustained run in the team. Something that forced him to miss the start of this season. However, he showed toward the back end of last season that if he remains fit, he is a top striker and a good back up option to Maupay should the Frenchman be unavailable or in need of a rest.
Then there’s youngster Aaron Connolly, who looks to be currently sitting third in the pecking order. I’ve written recently about how this season is a crucial one for his prospects with the club and it’s a shame Maupay had an injury scare the other week that led to Connolly being rested for the League Cup tie and so limited his game time so far this season to just that 45 minutes in the second half against Watford.
This showed in his performance against Portugal for Ireland the other night. It was a lively performance, where he again showed he’s a huge threat if given space to run in behind. And one where with better finishing he could have put Ireland out of sight, a feeling us Brighton fans know all about.
But as opposed to the scorn often thrown his way on social media, I have sympathy for Connolly and feel that with a bit of sustained game time under his belt he would have taken at least one of those chances. So, it’s odd that given the club’s tendency to send its young players out on loan, that Connolly hasn’t had another loan opportunity since he returned from that short and largely unsuccessful, injury-hit spell at Luton.
Some will question why we are even sending players like Andi Zequiri or deadline day signing Abdallah Sima out on loan at all rather than keeping them as a further back up options. But take Zeqiri as an example. He’s been at Albion for the best part of a year and has barely played.
I understand the will for the security that increased squad depth brings, but as the example of Connolly shows, what value to these players is there staying at the club and not playing when they can go out and play regular football at a very high level? Something that is vital at this stage in their careers.
The only big disappointment of all the outs for me was Percy Tau leaving, a player I thought could give us a different option in attack this season following his bedding-in period in the first half of 2021. But I can only assume given the pressure and expectations on him from his many followers from his home country of South Africa, that he felt he could no longer wait to earn the regular football that Graham Potter couldn’t assure him of.
With these options in mind and only one place to fight for, I do find all this panic a bit silly. If it gets desperate there’s always the option of playing the likes of Leandro Trossard through the middle too, something he’s done before. Or if Potter prefers, he could give one of the development team squad a run out.
This includes Evan Ferguson who made his Albion debut the other week in the League Cup against Cardiff. He may be just 16 years old but has scored 3 goals in 3 appearances in Premier League 2 this season and is probably being considered as an option of last resort.
Evan Ferguson is one to watch having signed from League of Ireland side Bohemians in January. It would be ahead of schedule if he was used, but he’s caught the eye with both the U18s & the U23s and was described by his old boss at Bohemians as “one of the country’s brightest prospects.”
Despite being so young and featuring for only part of last season, FB Ref ranked Evan Ferguson in the top 200 players to feature in last season’s Premier League 2 and is inside this season’s top 100 for the first few of rounds of fixtures this season.
Fans of Irish football will have been following Evan for a little while. He became the youngest player in Bohemian’s first team history, debuting at just 14-year-old vs Derry City in September 2019 having made a substitute appearance in a friendly vs Chelsea earlier that year.
Evan has already represented Ireland at u17 level, was this week selected for the Ireland U21s and will no doubt hope to copy fellow Albion development team graduates Jayson Molumby & Aaron Connolly in representing the senior national team, which could be sooner rather than later if he continues on this rapid rise
One of the common themes among many of the players already discussed and that is being forgotten in all the Deadline Day lack of a striker panic, is that Albion’s transfer policy of buying young & investing in the academy builds in year-on-year improvement amongst the existing squad and the potential for replacements from the academy.
So, do Albion need a striker? I think I’ve demonstrated that there is a reasonable level of cover for what in reality is just one position in the starting eleven.
Yes, its arguably the most important one and there is a good argument to say that added quality would be beneficial. Unfortunately, despite efforts to add this quality, the deal seemingly couldn’t be done within the club’s budget, and we have to accept that unlike sides like Aston Villa or Everton, Albion are working under very different financial restraints.
The striker is the most expensive position in football, and for good reason as Graham Potter says himself, scoring goals is the hardest thing to achieve in football. But the club have taken a different approach to some in this area, buying a crop of young talented strikers and hoping they can improve into the players that the team requires in order to take it to the next level.
For that patience will be required and accepting that the frustrations in front of goal from last season may reoccur, if hopefully less frequently. But this is a team that is nonetheless in a good place to improve on last season’s performance and goals scored tally. For me, the biggest factor that may hold them back is our lack of belief in them. So as Micky Adams used to say, Keep The Faith.