More frustration as Albion’s lack of a killer touch cost them another win

It was another frustrating draw at the AMEX on Saturday for Albion, after what was a brilliant and entertaining performance with Lamptey and Trossard really impressing down the flank. But it was through the middle where Albion’s problems persisted.

Sometimes you have days like that where those chances just don’t go for you, unfortunately for Brighton it’s happened all too often over the past few Premier League seasons.

At the other end of the scale there is Jurgen Locadia. I don’t like to call players out too often, but what an awful performance. Possibly the worst I’ve seen from a senior, permanent Albion first team player.

In 22 minutes, he managed 5 touches, 1 pathetic shot, lost possession twice and was generally a waste of space… Can we finally give up on him now?

Before anyone tries to come to the defence of Jurgen Locadia, a reminder that the club reportedly paid PSV a transfer fee of £15m & subsequently have paid him a reported £45k a week salary for nearly 4 years.

The problem is Albion arguably don’t have the options to finally give up on him. Locadia’s appearance was just another sign of Albion problems up top. And that letting both Tau and Zeqiri go in the summer was a little reckless without a suitable replacement ready.

It may have also been a subtle message from Graham Potter to Paul Barber and Tony Bloom to try to convince them to get that striker deal done in January. But that would be a little cynical in my opinion.

There is also the fact that Evan Ferguson’s absence from the U23’s on Friday suggest he was seemingly in contention for a place in the first squad too and also a sign of the degree to which Aaron Connolly has fallen out of favour.

When you combine all that with Welbeck’s injury and Maupay’s sudden, repeated loss of form, it’s a crushing combination of factors in an area that was already an issue. And so it’s unsurprising that Albion have struggled for goals and wins of late.

Jokes about Xg underperformance and barn doors have become all too common place at Albion over Graham Potter’s tenure. Add to that the club’s seeming continued lack of hurry in their search of a striker who could solve this problem, along with the somewhat overly lenient refereeing on display at times on Saturday and you have a reasonable guess as why some Albion fans felt the need to boo at the final whistle, despite the obvious reasons not to.

Of course, when you look at the broader picture the boos at the final whistle were pretty embarrassing.

Given we ended the day 8th in the Premier League (5 places above the clubs best ever topflight finish), the club seem to have been proven right in thinking they could afford to be patient in getting the right striker in rather than just any available striker with topflight potential. We certainly can’t afford another flop like Locadia, as the drop in performance upon his introduction against Leeds proved.

As I said over the summer, we should trust the club with its transfer business, and I think that has broadly proven to be the case so far this season.

As I discussed over the summer, I suspect the theory behind Albion’s patience in their striker hunt is that scoring more goals from midfield could be the short-term solution to the sides goalscoring issue.

In particular, the recent signings of Moder and Mwepu are for me a clear sign of that, and the selection of Moder over Lallana against Leeds is a sign that the Pole is seen as one of the potential short-term goalscoring solutions.

But if Saturday is anything to go by that isn’t the case. During the 82 minutes he spent on the pitch against Leeds, Moder attempted 5 shots, none of which were on target. Taking his total in the league this season to 12 shots, 1 on target and 0 goals. Early days though.

Shane Duffy’s absence from 2 of the last 5 league games hasn’t helped either in my opinion. He has proven himself to be back to his best and is one of the team’s biggest threats in the box. Only Maupay and Trossard have a higher shots per game average (Duffy – 1.5), a fairly damning stat for many others in and of itself. Add to that his average of a goal every four shots, very good for a defender.

So, Albion’s search for a solution to their goalscoring issue continues. But whilst Maupay will get the brunt of the criticism after another goalless draw (criticism he somewhat deserves), it’s worth remembering that this is a problem throughout the squad, not just with one position or player.

When the love is gone

I’m sure many football fans who follow the game in Britain will share in my despair at some of the characteristics of the modern game. Since the Premier League necessarily pulled it out of the doldrums and into the 21st century, it has continued to grow, but now to a point that it has grown so far, it can’t even see its own feet.

Ultimately that growth has taken much of the joy out of the game. Most prominently demonstrated by an abundance of football YouTubers getting angry about the most trivial of things. This isn’t what football was meant to be about, is it?

To me and many others football is a fun hobby and national pastime, so it makes me sad that for so many it’s become an opportunity to simply get angry and vent frustration.

Probably the best example of the soulless nature of modern football is the latest incarnation of Manchester City, assembled by an oil state, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), for the purpose of Sportwashing. A club that made their now annual visit to the AMEX recently running out 4-1 winners.

But rather than being awestruck by their superiority, I was left feeling numb. A team that is potentially the most talented ever assembled to compete in English domestic competitions, but one that given the circumstances that talent was amalgamated, it’s hard to find any joy in.

The way football is going all the joy that we love will soon be dead and all that will be left is angry people settling grudges about whose club is bigger and whose club is ‘tinpot’, whilst sovereign wealth funds pump billions into a small group of “super-clubs”, who continually compete for all the major honours. 

The recent takeover at Newcastle by the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund PIF is for many, including myself, an aberration. But it is just another step along the current path of modern British football. But a step that has seemingly woken up many to the fact that its endless search for growth and success has gone too far.

Newcastle’s recent trip to our rivals Crystal Palace saw Palace supporters unveil a striking banner in protest at the PIF’s involvement in the Premier League. A protest that received claims of racism that were disregarded by the Metropolitan Police. Similar criticisms of Man City’s owners have received similar claims of racism too, claims raised to mask the genuine and important message the protests are making.

The human rights abuses in question are vast. According to Amnesty international, the human rights watch group, both Saudi Arabia and UAE have terrible human rights record. Both have a record over the repression of the rights to freedom of expression, both countries retain the death penalty, which includes the threat of the death penalty because of “same-sex sexual activity”. Whilst several detainees remain in prison past the completion of their sentences without legal justification or because of grossly unfair trials.

To their credit, Palace’s supporters have carried out this type of protest several times before, but as has been pointed out, they are themselves among several British clubs with some level of Saudi investment. And after all, the Premier League continues to make millions selling TV rights to these parts of the world and doing business (directly or indirectly) with regimes that commit human rights abuses and are in direct contradiction to the campaigns from the Premier League and its member clubs for greater diversity and the removal of discrimination.

The reality is that hypocrisy is rife in football and most clubs have little moral high ground left to stand upon. Some have suggested that Brighton fans should borrow the banner that was displayed by Palace fans for the trip of Newcastle to the AMEX this weekend. It would certainly look good being unfurled at the same time as the adverts for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix that were going around the LED advertising board surrounding the AMEX pitch at recent matches. An event Amnesty international has accused of being a prominent example of sportswashing.

It’s worth caveating here that I have been informed that this advertisement is not a direct club partner, but a sponsorship independent of the club with a third party who are responsible for the LED advertising board for part of the time on match days.

Nonetheless, indirectly or not they are using club property to advertise the event, so we can’t wash our hands of responsibility completely, it reflects on us all, literally in the case of the supporters in the stands on matchdays.

This is an issue throughout football. It wasn’t long ago that Albion changed their sponsor from national paint brand Sandtex to local restaurant Donatello, in part because of the formers links to Focus DIY, a company owned by the infamous former Albion Chairman Bill Archer. And the club was far more desperate for money then than it is now. A statement of principal far removed from most of modern football.

Whilst I appreciate the club must broaden and increase its commercial revenue streams to compete in the topflight, I believe this urge to compete should not come before our moral compass and social conscience. Something the club takes great pride in through its community programs, but one that could be badly damaged by such associations.

Some will say, to be able to become wealthy enough to own a Premier League football club in modern football, you need to be a billionaire and there are little to no billionaires without questionable morality in their past. But there is are questionable elements of a persons past and then there is enacting human rights abuses on a population of over 30 million people.

In my view, change must be driven by a want from all sides. When talking about his role in the Ireland peace process, Tony Blair spoke about the importance of change being a trade between all parties rather than it just being the easier option for one or both parties to embrace. It’s easy to forget just how difficult a peace deal in Ireland between Unionists and Republicans was seen to achieve back in the 1990’s.

Does the Saudi Arabian state have the same inclination for change? Well signs and statements being made by the regime suggest the answer to that is yes, most notably “Saudi Vision 2030” spelling out how they plan to reinforce economic and investment activities, increasing non-oil international trade, and promoting a softer and more secular image of the country. 

In a recent interview with CMEC (the Conservative Middle East Council) Dr Hoda Al-Helassie, a member of the Kingdom’s advisory Shura Council, spoke positively about reforms and progress, telling sceptics to come to Saudi Arabia and take a look for themselves.

But the plan has been criticised for lacking a vision on the improvements of human right. Abdullah Alaoudh, one the initiators, described it as “the chapter that we think has been missing in the Saudi Vision 2030.”

The organisation the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace stated in a detailed review of Saudi reforms. “While the changes are potentially far-reaching, their ultimate direction is uncertain. Most are individually minor (and few are wholly unprecedented), and they remain quite reversible.” Whilst Amnesty international told The G20 to not “buy the spin” and called it “shameless hypocrisy”.

Some in this discussion over the PIF’s takeover at Newcastle have pointed to the hypocrisy of numerous PIF investments in the UK and other western industries. But rather than this being a sign that we don’t care, these are part of a wider strategy of influence by involvement from the West.

There are many areas of grey here. But few are saying don’t do business with Saudi Arabia at all. Investment to influence modernisations and change is part of the strategy from the west to eradicate human rights abuses in various parts of the world and encourage change. But this should be considered separate from investment in sport from sovereign wealth funds, which are initiated to garner public favour for the country’s regime. The two things are very different.

That isn’t to say all trade and investments with Saudi Arabia are of equal value, some are equally if not more morally questionable and detrimental than the Saudi Arabian investment in Newcastle United. Such as the involvement of the West with various parts of the world in the arms trade deals, which are equally being questioned by human rights groups. But those are for a separate discussion to that about the future of modern football.

Some will say the investment from PIF shines a light on these issues. This ignores the fact that this spotlight can bring significantly more positive than negative media coverage and that the aim is to achieve a net reputational benefit, not to erase bad publicity altogether.

Which takes us back to the nub of the reason why people care so much of sportswashing of this type. It’s about sovereign wealth funds like PIF and the Abu Dhabi United Group attempting to use sporting success to mask the human rights abuses in their country. 

When a western company with PIF investment is successful, the PIF don’t get praise across the world. But if and when Newcastle are successful under their ownership, they will get praise from football fans throughout the world, overshadowing their awful deeds at home.

Some fans of clubs with owners who have been criticised have called out fellow supporters criticism as driven by jealousy. A view that is at best incredibly cynical and in my view appears to take an attitude that a football clubs’ success is deserving of praising owners and should be prioritised ahead of millions of people’s suffering. 

This kind of attitude is why protests are important. Sportswashing that is happening at Man City and Newcastle diverts attention from their owners’ human rights abuses. And when thinking of the owners, rather than thinking of the human suffering that they are responsible for, many instead think of sporting success. 

There are a depressing number of regimes committing human rights abuses throughout the world, which deserve more media coverage. But few use Premier League football in an attempt of Sportswashing like is happening at Newcastle or Man City. That’s why this is being spoken about so much in the English media.

Protests from the public, as shown by the recent European Super League protests, can be hugely influential. And can force government and/or industry to enforce or simply threaten sanctions, which leads to positive change. Change that football so fiercely needs.

I’ve spent most of the past 18 months working from home and getting out for walks at lunchtime, when I can around my work schedule. One of my regular lunchtime walks takes me past a school playground, where noticeably about 90% of the kids there are usually competing in one big game of football.

This is standard practice in playgrounds across the country and the world. Many of our first memories of football will be playing the game rather than watching it. For me this is why football truly is the people’s game, we are all a small part of it.

As Newcastle fans have rightly pointed out, the Premier League sold its moral standing a long time ago. And as the Newcastle fans have demonstrated, most football supporters don’t care about the morals of their owners as long as they bring success to the team. So, some will complain, most will ignore it and we will all have to live with the consequences. Because many have forgotten what football is truly about, the sport and the taking part, not the winning.

The future of football hinges on how we as a supporter base choose to react to the ongoing bastardisation of our national game. We have all been to blame for that, greedily encouraging excesses in search of success. But if football wants to rediscover its soul, something must change and us supporters are the ones who need to make it happen.

I still love football and so do so many others, as demonstrated by all those kids playing the game in playgrounds across the world. But just because that’s the case now doesn’t mean it will always be so. The bastardisation of our great game is in my view approaching breaking point. We need to act soon before the love is gone.

When Brighton were Skint

Like many residents of Sussex who grew up in the 90s, I wasn’t particularly enamoured with Albion at first. The club were in the doldrums throughout that decade and so a generation of Sussex based football supporters were lost, at least initially. Particularly for the likes of myself that didn’t have a parent interested in football who would drag them along and force an interest.

However, unlike many of my classmates I did eventually turn to my local club when they moved back to Brighton after a two-year period in exile, to play at the Withdean Stadium in Brighton in 1999. A place that became the club’s home for over a decade.

As such, the first Brighton shirt I owned was the classic home shirt from the 1999-2000 season, the club’s first at the Withdean stadium. Probably most prominently known for the shirt sponsor, Skint records. A Brighton based record label, most notably the home of Fatboy Slim, aka Norman Cook, Brighton resident and Albion fan.

Unlike many of the club’s previously low-profile sponsorship deals, this one caught the eye of the national press as well as local media. In contrast, Albion’s previous deals were a sign of where the club was, at that point in its history.

Local restaurant and long-term club supporter Donatello had stepped in for the previous 1998/99 season when another sponsorship deal had collapsed. It was so last minute that the shirts had to be collected from the supplier on the Thursday before their first outing of the season at the weekend, and so recently printed was the sponsors logo that the boardroom was turned into a makeshift airing cupboard that evening. Desperate times call for desperate measures and these really were desperate times at the club.

Brighton began the 1990s managed by Barry Lloyd, who was initially brought in by his predecessor Alan Mullery, to manage the reserves and youth team. His task was tough, remaining competitive in the Second Division amongst the increased cutting of costs and multiple player sales.

By this point the financial problems were now dominating affairs and the club’s performances on the pitch continued to diminish. So drastic was the cost cutting that around that time The Argus had featured a front-page story stating all the club’s first team professionals were for sale.

Despite the club’s financial limitations, Lloyd began building an exciting, attacking side, focused on a passing style. Selling players like Terry Connor and Dean Saunders for a profit and replacing them with cheaper options likes of Garry Nelson, Mike Small, Clive Walker and John Byrne who formed a relatively successful team, for a short period at least.

Initially this approach was successful and saw Albion get to the Division Two playoff final in 1991, going within just one game of a return to the topflight, but a 3-0 defeat in the final to Notts County was followed by an acute drop down the division.

The reality was Barry Lloyd’s impressive work in the transfer market had just delayed the inevitable fall from grace that would later occur at the Albion after years of financial mismanagement and mounting debts.

Many know the story of the 1996/97 season, but the club had been close to the wall well before the club lost its ground in 1997. In fact, a winding up order received in November 1992 for unpaid HMRC debts was a very close call. After four adjournments, the club was given until 21st April 1993 to find the money to pay the debt and only managed it in the end at the eleventh hour when Barry Lloyd’s wheeling and dealing saw goalkeeper Mark Beeney sold to Leeds United for £350,000, which raised the necessary cash. So close, some fans who attended the game at home to Blackpool the Saturday before Beeney’s sale had feared that it might be one of the club’s last.

With the financial chaos leaving the club desperate and vulnerable, next came the beginning of the infamous Bill Archer regime at the club. Archer was initially brought to the club as a director with the club in the midst of its fight with financial difficulties in 1990. As the club explained at the time, he was brought in for his commercial experience after being credited with Liverpool’s famous Crown Paints shirt sponsorship deal. So, it should come as no surprise that one of the club’s main sponsors during the Archer’s regime was Sandtex, a paint brand which is part of the Crown Paints family and a company which had close relations to his retail chain Focus DIY.

So later on in 1993, after another winding up order from HMRC, came a restructuring of the club’s shareholdings and board of directors. Bill Archer became chairman of the club by securing a 56% stake in a joint bid with Greg Stanley (his fellow owner of Focus DIY) who bought the remaining 44% and took up the post of club president, in a deal publicised as helping to save the club’s finances with some new investment.

In reality rather than a new dawn, this was the beginning of a further downward spiral for the club and a moment of pure opportunism from the DIY tycoons. With the pair invested nothing more in the club as equity than the nominal £100 to purchase the share capital and instead loaned the club hundreds of thousands at high levels of interest in the form of bank loans secured against the club’s only valuable asset, the Goldstone Ground. Rather than safeguarding the club’s financial future, they simply delayed the problem from being dealt with by significantly increasing the club’s debt.

So came the war years at the club, and by the end of the 1996/97 season the club only just staved off the threat of relegation to the non-league on the last day of the season, yet another close shave for the club that decade.

Thankfully prior to the end of this season, after Archer and Stanley had overseen the worsening of the financial mess at the club, they were eventually forced out. But only after prolonged protests from supporters and an endless number of mediation talks with a consortium looking to buy the club and secure its long-term future, headed by Dick Knight, a lifelong Albion fan and former Marketing executive.

The draw away to Hereford had seen the club survive relegation to the non-league by staying above the relegation zone, but there were further threats to it Football League status to come.

The club subsequently faced a vote of expulsion from its fellow Football League clubs for bringing the League into disrepute. But it again survived, by a margin of 47 to 17. Part of this was on the proviso that the club paid the Football League a £500k bond, with repayment conditional upon the club moving back to a permanent home in Brighton within three years. A condition Chairman Dick Knight stated in his autobiography “Mad Man”, that would have bankrupted the club had it not met it.

All the trouble that had come alongside the (not so) civil war between those running the club and those supporting it had dragged the club’s reputation through the gutter. So much so it had to put up a fight just to convince the local council to give it permission to play at Withdean stadium in Brighton, a fight that extended the club’s stay at Gillingham for two full, financially crippling, seasons.

A big part of the turnaround required at the club involved increasing the club’s commercial revenue. When he took over Dick said he was “astonished to discover the club had virtually no revenue from merchandising or commercial activities at all.” A fact particularly true as a result of losing the Goldstone Ground and having to play home games at Gillingham. So, giving the club some form of presence in Brighton during that period in exile was crucial.

They did this by opening a shop in central Brighton on Queens Road in the autumn of 1997, along with a notable kit marketing campaign released later that year to gain more awareness of the new club shop featuring celebrities Louise Redknapp, Jordan and Lenny Henry.

Dick’s attention grabbing, light-hearted and if at times crass marketing was a key part of gaining that public favour. From the Bring Home the Albion campaign (which primarily needed to convince local Withdean residents the club’s fans weren’t a bunch of hooligans about to spoil their local area), the Falmer for All campaign (which included all sorts of attention grabbing schemes including a giant Valentine’s Day card that was sent to then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott), and even the club’s marketing of its commercial output, Dick’s advertising career continued well after he left the advertising industry.

At the top of the list has to be the Skint shirt sponsorship deal that lasted most of the club’s time at the Withdean stadium. The irony of a football team that was bold enough to be proud to be Skint won a fair few of the club’s critics around. “It’s delicious,” Dick Knight said upon the announcement of the sponsorship. “A club that has gone to the very brink of oblivion will have the cheek, confidence and wit to stride out next season with Skint on its shirt. The deal is typical of the new spirit at the Albion, and we see this as a great way to build an idiosyncratic, unconventional image.”

Along with a change in club crest a couple of season prior, the first Skint shirt was a symbol of the change in fortunes at the club at that time that came with the change in ownership. It became particularly associated with the success of a young Bobby Zamora, the talisman of the double winning title team that would see the club go back to the second tier in just its fourth season back in Brighton.

That’s not to say the difficult times were over, they had just begun a new chapter. A point demonstrated by something Norman Cook said to the Guardian in 2003 “I’ve also put some of my own money into the club. The chairman Dick Knight took me out to lunch, and I asked him whether Bobby Zamora was going to be sold. He looked at me and said: ‘Well if someone puts a lot of money into the club then we can afford to keep him.’ I said that sounds like blackmail and he replied: ‘Call it what you like dear boy but that’s how it is’.”

It’s a story that exemplifies the club’s Skint era. A club that didn’t have much and was often swimming against the tide. But continued to progress, in no small part down to the creativity, determination and ingenuity of Dick Knight.

Albion continue to prove their doubters wrong.

Marc Cucurella’s recent impressive performances aside, Albion’s summer incoming players have had limited impact so far this season. Meaning the team’s success has mainly been built on improvements in performance within the existing squad.

As Graham Potter said at the beginning of the season, on having more limited options in defence after the sale of Ben White: “we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We find solutions and be creative if you need to be.”

And many of the solutions that Albion have found during Graham Potter’s tenure are ones that I doubt many Albion fans saw coming.

Go back to last season and Albion’s issue between the sticks caused by the drop in form of Matt Ryan was solved by the unexpected introduction of development team promotee and recent Rochdale loanee Robert Sanchez. A player who went on to impress so much in his maiden topflight season, that he earned a place in Spain’s European Championship squad.

Going into this season, Albion still had a number of issues to resolve at both ends of the pitch. Issues that materialised in dropping 25 points from winning position in the Premier League last season. They led in a total of 19 games and won just 9 of those, less than half. The worst record in the league that season.

This season, Albion have so far dropped zero points from winning positions, maintaining a 100%-win rate from the 4 games in which they’ve taken the lead. It’s early, but there is a clear trend here.

But what has made the difference? One of the factors is most certainly the return of Shane Duffy, whose presence really has added that extra element of resilience, after a consistent spell of solid displays since his return from a loan spell at Celtic, one that I’m sure everyone is keen to forget.

Against Palace last time out he continued his good form and recorded 5 clearances, 3 interceptions, 2 tackles, won 3 out of 3 ground duels and won 3 out of 4 Aerial duels. Showing once again that he is a player who has mastered the art of defending.

It’s not just about defending leads though but extending them too: Duffy is a threat in both boxes. With him in the side Albion have so far scored at a rate of 1.33 pg, higher than in any of their other Premier league seasons.

Yes, the fixtures have been kind so far, but you have to take those chances, something Albion weren’t doing previously. Last season they won just 9 games all season, only 4 of which came against teams in the bottom half.

A big part of the reason for that, as Graham Potter has spoken a lot about, was key moments going against the team. There are few players I’d rather have on our side in those key moments than Shane Duffy and I’m not surprised to see that the teams luck has turned with him in the side.

Glenn Murray spoke about Duffy on BBC Sussex’s program ‘Albion Unlimited’ prior to the Palace game saying: “I think Shane will openly admit that he didn’t realise what he had when he was at Brighton, and he maybe took it for granted. And now we can really see him really knuckling down and proving to us all how good of a player he is, and how much he does actually love the club and how much he wants to be here.”

This isn’t to say Shane is the sole reason Albion find themselves 6th in the Premier League table. As Richard Newman spoke about in his recent piece for Eurosport, this success has been building for a while, with Graham Potter’s appointment the latest step on that progression. Saying “Potter immediately implemented his own identity – based on tactical fluidity, intensity and fast build-up. Over the past two years, he has patiently assembled the squad that he wants – only Lewis Dunk, Shane Duffy and Solly March remain from the side promoted from the Championship in 2017.” Albion were playing well last season and have been largely a progressive, good team to watch since Potter’s appointment back in 2019.

Another huge improvement on last season has been Neal Maupay’s goalscoring rate, who’s contributed 4 goals/50% of Albion’s goals so far this season. Maupay’s finishing has been criticised by all and sundry, but he showed brilliant finishing ability to lob the Palace goalkeeper Guaita so calmly with one touch in the last minute of injury time to equalise against Albion’s biggest rivals. Even as a big supporter of Maupay, it’s hard to imagine him doing that last season where he struggled for long periods in front of goal.

For those who haven’t seen it I’d implore you to go watch Neal Maupay’s post-match interview on Sky Sports from Monday night. It was open and honest, with him rightly grinning from ear to ear like a Cheshire Cat throughout.

I did note that when he was asked about the club trying to sign a striker, he was clearly a little uncomfortable, but his inner self-confidence and belief shone through in his answer. Maupay has had his difficult periods and his critics, including some prominent pundits who’ve continually questioned his finishing ability. But, to achieve this turnaround whilst under that kind of criticism and pressure makes his performances of late even more admirable.

The stats really do demonstrate that he’s having a great season so far too:

In the 495 minutes he’s played this season, he’s had:

• 24 touches in opposition box,

• 11 total shots,

• 5 shots on target,

• Scored 4 goals.

That compares to 2,768 minutes in 2019/20,

• 177 touches in opposition box

• 96 total shots,

• 38 shots on target,

• Scored 10 goals

And compares to a total of 2,517 minutes in 2020/21,

• 190 touches in opposition box

• 71 total shots,

• 26 shots on target

• Scored 8 goals

What links Duffy and Maupay in particular is that the prevailing opinion of them was that they weren’t up to the standard required for Albion to rise up the table, which they’ve resoundingly countered so far this season.

As the example of Sanchez’s usurping of Maty Ryan shows, Potter doesn’t show loyalty to the existing group of players for loyalties sake, but that it’s more a case of Graham Potter working with what he has to find the best working solutions.

As I discussed last season when talking about the likes of Dan Burn and Adam Webster, this is a team built with a group of players who have all had their own failures, who have all been written off by supporters and pundits alike, but persisted and ultimately proven to be vital parts of this Albion team.

This is what Graham Potter’s Albion is all about, working with what they have and salvaging what they can, something that has been demonstrated in their performances this season.

This was shown notably at Selhurst Park on Monday night, where injuries severely hampered Albion. The absences of Bissouma and Webster were a huge loss. To then lose a further two players mid-game limited options further in terms of substitutions to salvage the game from a losing position, but they persisted right up to the very last minute of the game to earn a point.

The bedrock of Albion’s continued success under Potter is all about maximising the potential of what the club has and building on the strengths that are already in place. If we go back to that euphoric 3-0 win over Watford in his first game in charge in 2019, Graham Potter talked then about the foundations in place that have enabled his success.

In his interview on BBCs Match of the Day with presenter Gary Lineker, instead of talking up his own achievements he instead spoke about how he inherited a team where “a fantastic foundation had been laid, a lot of good work [had gone before]”. And then admitted despite the good result that “we haven’t found the answers today but it’s a nice start for us.”

In very much the same way this good start to his third Premier League season in charge falls under the same category. This success is very much built on the foundations laid throughout the club’s recent history. With a manager in charge who is unafraid to look for creative and unexpected solutions to build on those foundations, Albion remain in safe hands.

Deadline Day Recap: How badly do Albion need a striker?

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.

Three wins out of three, but how good are this Brighton team?

The past two weeks have seen a near perfect start to the season for Brighton. Two wins out of two in the league, through to the 3rd round of the league cup and they go into Saturday’s home match against Everton with the opportunity to go top of the league with a win if other results go their way.

It’s the sort of start to the season that has all but stopped the panic from supporters for the club to sign a new striker… well almost.

But these are very early days and we do have to acknowledge that it was only Burnley, Watford, and Cardiff that Albion have racked up these wins against. A bit of a reality check could go a long way right now.

Yes, as has rightly been pointed out after the win over Watford, these are games that Albion weren’t winning last season. However, beating the teams below you doesn’t indicate progress in terms of league status, despite it still being a sign of improved consistency from Graham Potter’s side.

In contrast, Brighton secured survival last season by picking up wins and points in games many didn’t expect, such as at home to Man City and away to Liverpool. Repeating such successes this season will be tough, so improving results against the teams below them such as the in last two matches will help to safeguard against regression rather than securing progression.

Ultimately the aim of this season, as it has been in the four previous, is to survive relegation, whilst showing further signs of progress. To be able to achieve the club’s long-term goal of an established top half place, far more time and progression is required. This may be the stated aim of some Albion players this season, but that is very different to it being a realistic expectation.

If we look at the team’s Albion would be competing with to achieve that, including Saturday’s opponents Everton, the lack of room for Albion to progress into quickly becomes apparent.

Most pundits seem to think the top 4 this season writes itself (Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man United, not necessarily in that order), with the FA Cup and Community Shield holders Leicester City the only rare exception to some predictions.

In addition to that group of clubs, Arsenal and Spurs – the other two members of the “big 6”, who whilst having had their recent struggles, will know anything less than a top 6 finish would represent an underachievement.

Then there’s Saturday’s opponents Everton, who since the investment of Farhad Moshiri have gone from a team whose glory days appeared to be in the past, to one now reverting to a club aiming to break into the top 6. But whilst the managerial tenures of Marco Silva and Carlo Ancelotti promised much, the club hasn’t finished inside the top 6 since 2014 under Roberto Martinez.

Then there’s the likes of big spending Aston Villa and last season’s big overachievers West Ham, who both have stated ambitions to break into the top 6. For Albion the reality is finishing ahead of any of these sides in the table this season would represent an overachievement. Unfortunately as Albion continue to progress, so do the teams above them.

It seems a matter of time before this weekend’s opponents Everton get it right. According to Spotrac their wage bill stands a just over £81m a year, the 7th highest in the division, only a few million pounds short of Spurs and over £30m ahead of the 8th highest Leicester City.

It also reportedly stands at more than double that of Brighton’s wage bill, reportedly the 15th highest in the division, sandwiched in-between Watford and Southampton.

Wage bills aren’t everything, but they do have a huge say in a team’s performances on the pitch and as such the expectations we should place upon them.

The book “Soccernomics” by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski talks about the degree to which football clubs can improve their competitiveness by spending more money on player wages. It included a study that covered the period 1998 to 2007, which showed spending on wages explains about 89% of performance (Kuper & Szymanski, 2010), whilst a study for the period 2003 to 2012, the explanatory power was about 91% for the clubs in the two top divisions in England.

This isn’t just one study either, several other researchers also document that wage expenditures can explain from 77% to 90% of the variations in the performance of clubs in domestic league competitions (Forrest & Simmons, 2002; Gammelsæter & Ohr, 2002; Sperling, Nordskilde, & Bergander, 2010).

It’s not all bad news, Albion have in successive recent seasons continued to over-perform its financial status. Firstly, by getting into the topflight and then by staying there ahead of some more established clubs.

In part this has been achieved by attempting to out-think its opponents. Tony Bloom realised a long time ago that if the club were to achieve topflight status, let alone sustain it, he would have to find margins and gains on their opponents by being smarter rather than simply through financial stealth.

As Sam Cunningham described in an interview with Bloom for the Daily Mail in 2017, “Bloom talks — and thinks — in edges and gains, in fortune and favour. He pauses before answering questions, always calculating.” And this is how Albion build their squad and make every decision – carefully considering how they can gain an edge on their opponents.

A growing theme of Albion under Graham Potter is the success stories of so many players who’ve previously been written off. Be it Solly March, who signed a long-term contract extension this week, man of the moment Shane Duffy, the often written-off Neal Maupay, the regularly disregarded Dan Burn, or the perennially underrated Pascal Gross. I could go on, but you get the point.

Neal Maupay in particular is a player whom opinions of have flip-flopped more than most. Have a game where he doesn’t score and misses a big chance and he’s not good enough, but then score two games in a row and he’s Albion most important player and his potential injury is a crisis. Following the prevailing thought of football supporters and pundits can be exhausting. It’s a good thing Graham Potter and the senior leadership team at the club are above such things.

Where some like the Guardian have called Maupay a “flop” (the Guardian named him as one of the five flops of the 2020/21 season despite being Albion’s top scorer for the second season running), Albion see potential. Two goals in his first two games doesn’t make a successful season, but it’s a great start. His story of patient progress that has seen him break hit the 20 goal landmark in the Premier League, is a great example of how Albion are trying to build on their previous successes and progress to one day be able to compete toe to toe with the likes of Everton and Leicester throughout a season.

Neil Maupay has gone through tough periods in an Albion shirt, but the continued trust placed in him, and others alike, is a testament to their position as important members of this squad of players.

This isn’t just about Maupay, this is an entire group of players who’ve had question marks over them at one point or another. A couple of weeks ago most Albion fans had given up on Shane Duffy, but all of a sudden he’s now a hero again.

This time last year Pascal Gross could barely get into the team, whilst the same could be said of Yves Bissouma’s after a tricky first season with the club just two years ago. But both are now widely admired and have been instrumental to Albion’s continued success and progression on the pitch.

The reality of this progress however is that it will continue to be steady, the risk of relegation remains very real and the forecast for Albion’s season is that there will be a fair few downs to go with the ups of the last few weeks. But through it all the club will remain consistent in its approach, which has served it well so far.

We are very quick to categorise players or teams as either very good or very bad. The reality, as ever, is always somewhere in the middle. Albion’s good start does not make them shoe-ins for European qualification, nor would going top on Saturday. And even if this season saw a significant overachievement it wouldn’t suddenly make them an established top half side, as both Burnley’s and Wolves’s recent brief flirtation with European competition show.

But with the steady hand of Tony Bloom on the steering wheel, the steady progress of this team looks likely to continue.

As Graham Potter said after the victory at home to Man City towards the end of last season: “I’ve never really lost that support from Tony, to be honest. No matter what is said on the outside, no matter what people write or talk about on different things, I’ve never paid attention to it.”

But all that being said, how good actually is this Brighton team?

The reality is probably about as good as it’s wage bill suggests, somewhere floating above the relegation zone in the bottom half, but, with the leadership at the club as it is, the likelihood of continuing to outperform that status (within a reasonable margin) is good this season.

However, the degree to which the club does that may be less than some fans are hoping for. A European challenge is unlikely, but finishing a few places higher than last season’s 16th place and matching its best ever finish of 13th would be a fantastic achievement, especially if the team added to last seasons disappointing goals scored tally.

As the financial might of Saturday’s opponents shows, anything above this looks increasingly difficult and will likely rely on the clubs previously mentioned underperforming, combined with Albion consistently over-performing, which over the course of an entire season is incredibly difficult to see happening.

Was Gross at Left Back really such a crazy idea?

We are 45 mins into the new Premier League season and Graham Potter has already started receiving criticism for his team selections, so far so normal. However, after some changes at half time, a remarkable second half turnaround followed and many have subsequently claimed this as a Graham Potter tactical masterclass by the end of the 90 minutes.… really? I’m not so sure.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to criticise Graham Potter’s team selection after a victory, but neither am I going to suggest he’s some kind of tactical genius after a comeback from near comprehensive defeat in the first half. The reality, as ever, is somewhere in the middle.

It’s going to be a long season; 45 minutes shouldn’t be enough for us to class him totally right or totally wrong. This is all part of a bigger picture in terms of the process of management that is required at our club in order to succeed at the highest level.

I’ve seen a fair few people suggest Graham Potter was mad for playing a few players in less familiar positions on Saturday… because he has never done that successfully before?

Playing Pascal Gross at Left Back in the first half caused the largest consternation and proved to be a short-lived experiment. But was it really such an awful or unexpected selection?

Yes, it was unsuccessful, but we should also consider why he played Gross there before we all lose our minds after just over 1% of the season has passed.

Setting up against Burnley’s front 2 with a back 4 makes sense tactically and is something Potter has often done to match teams who play a 442, rather than use his favoured 352. Partly I assume, because of the well-known advantages down the flanks that a 442 has over it.

So, then you are looking for someone to play at Left Back, and we know we are short in that position, especially with Burn out injured and with Albion’s transfer target Cucurella not having been secured, in part due to his participation at the Olympics with the Spanish national football team. And I wouldn’t be surprised is the unexpected absence of Joel Veltman changed the plan too, a player who has filled in at Left Back and Left Wing Back in the past.

Then you’re left with the fringe and development players (those who haven’t already been sent out on loan that is). None of whom I would think would ideally want their debut to be away to Burnley on the first day of the season. Probably the most prominent of these options is Michal Karbownik, young, inexperienced, and yet to make a Premier League appearance. I can understand Potter’s hesitation in using him, but his inclusion on the bench suggests Potter wanted him available as a backup just in case.

So, then you’re looking at other options, those to be played out of position. And you’re looking at players with a degree of positional intelligence and versatility. For this you need look no further than Pascal Gross.

A huge part of Potter’s coaching since he arrived at the club has been the requirement asked of his squad for adaptability. In particular the likes of Pascal Gross and Steven Alzate, who have both been asked to play in a number of less familiar positions during that time, just as they were on Saturday.

Last season Gross played in most areas of the pitch, including at one point playing a run of games at Right Wing Back, so you can understand why Potter would turn to him as an auxiliary option in this area of the pitch.

Ultimately, Potter took a few risks in his team selection, sometimes they pay off, sometimes they don’t. But it’s taking those kinds of risks and being slightly unconventional that makes him the coach that he is.

For example, playing Solly March at Left Wing Back or Dan Burn at Left Back were similar risks in that area of the pitch which paid off. And helped both players go from fringe players who were being spoken of having possible exits, to crucial members of Albion’s squad over the past two seasons. Unlikely turnarounds seem to be the mark of the Potter era in change of the first team.

I suspect this higher level of tolerance to taking risks and trust in his players are also part of the reason why the club appointed him. The club has long realised it isn’t likely to succeed by fortitude alone and needs to out-think other clubs in various ways, not just on the pitch each Saturday afternoon.

This goes back to examples like the investment in the academy and the recruitment team back in the Championship days. This isn’t all about Graham Potter after all, it’s about the club as a whole, and the culture it is trying (and successful achieving) to implement across the entire club.

This culture goes right to the top, with Tony Bloom’s wealth originating from the gambling industry. As Sam Cunningham described in an interview with Bloom for the Daily Mail, “Bloom talks — and thinks — in edges and gains, in fortune and favour. He pauses before answering questions, always calculating.”

Tony Bloom is a discreet person, but is widely considered to be a risk-taker by nature, but a calculated risk-taker. By all accounts this appears to have been where Bloom and Potter’s predecessor Chris Hughton didn’t quite see eye to eye, particularly in terms of recruitment. Bloom knows what he wants and is willing to change if he’s sure it’s necessary.

No matter what I say, I’m sure us football supporters will continue to critique Graham Potter’s team selections, like some kind of annoying backseat driver. Particularly every time something goes wrong. And that’s ok to a degree, no one is exempt from criticism and all supporters, particularly those who’ve invested years of their time and money into following the club, deserve their opinion to be listened to.

But we also need to consider the wider context of the decisions that are being made and the thought-process behind them before we throw criticism towards senior management at the club, especially the highly scrutinised Graham Potter.

Some have likened Graham Potter’s team selections to a Roulette Wheel, but in line with the culture set down by owner Tony Bloom it is less Graham Potter’s Tactics Roulette and more Graham Potter’s Tactics Poker. This is not a random spin of the wheel, but a calculated gamble based on the limited number of cards he has in his hand. And just as in a poker game it isn’t all about one hand, in a football season is not all about one game. Sometimes you have to accept a beating for the better of your chances in the longer-term.

Risk taking of the type which saw Pascal Gross start at Left back on Saturday are part of the modern culture that the club continues to practice and will likely continue despite both the extreme disapproval of many supporters when experiments like this go wrong or the extreme praise when they work.

Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t. But as they say, don’t trust anyone who hasn’t failed.

Brighton Premier League Season preview – do Albion already have the solutions to their goalscoring issue?

Albion approach a ground-breaking fifth consecutive topflight season amongst an air of frustration. Expectations are arguably higher than ever, but the lack of a new striker being signed has caused some concern, whilst a 2-0 defeat to Getafe in the now traditional final friendly of pre-season at home piling on further concern.

Concerns can quickly lead to complaints and pressure being heaped on the club and the manager. But I suspect how quickly that pressure begins to mount if the season starts slowly will depend on what business the club does between now and the end of the transfer window.

If the squad stays as it is, I doubt Graham Potter will be under pressure from the board to achieve much more than a similar performance and league position to its previous two seasons, but if the club gets a few more big signings in, particularly that highly coveted striker, then expectations will markedly rise.

But that is something which could be a double-edged sword. Realistically even if Albion do sign their reported number one target in Darwin Nunez, he’s unlikely to have much impact in their first half of the season given that he is currently out injured and when back will require some initial adaptation time. More likely is that this Albion team are where they were last season.

There has been some talk, including from Albion players, of aiming for a top half finish, but to me this feels like classic over-optimistic pre-season talk.

Anyone who has read the magazine “When Saturday Comes” will be familiar with its pre-season preview supplement with sections written by a fan of each Premier and Football League club. And will also be aware that rarely to supporters predict the type of 15th – 17th placed finish for their club that Albion have achieved in each of their past four Premier League seasons.

So, Albion currently we enter this fifth consecutive Premier League Season with a sense of Deja Vu, as yet again it begins with high expectations mixed with a sense of panic over the club’s lack of a new striker so far in the summer transfer window.

I am sure the club realise the value to the squad of adding another striker could bring to it, particularly a proven goalscorer. But it’s not as simple as just going to the supermarket and buying whatever it needs, just as so many of the ventures into the market for a striker show down the years.

Add to that the fact that most teams are looking for the same thing and it makes for a small group of highly sought-after players pushing prices to an at times eye-watering level.

There are very few players outside the top six teams that score 15 or more goals in a league season, players like that are hard to find and often the players that do are the anomalies rather than the norm.

For example, Danny Ings, who’s recent £25m move to Villa raised some eyebrows, has actually only done it just once, with injuries and form halting further profligate seasons.

Meanwhile last season’s breakout star Patrick Bamford plays in a team at Leeds United that are an outlier in terms of their style of play, creating and missing lots of chances, whilst giving away plenty at the other end. Being able to afford to do so in part, because of manager Bielsa’s well-known high expectations over his team’s highly intense working rate.

Whilst the likes of Jamie Vardy, who has turned down at least one opportunity to move to a top six club, and Raul Jimenez, signed by Wolves for £34m in 2019 (a fee then beyond most teams outside the top six, let alone a newly promoted club), are outliers in terms the quality of strikers seen at lower ranked Premier League sides.

Moreover, the example of Christian Benteke at Palace shows that a high fee and wage package along with short term success, doesn’t always lead to long term profligacy in front of goal. After signing on an initial four-year deal and scoring 15 goals in this first season for a fee of £28m in 2016, he has since scored just 16 goals in 101 appearances over the subsequent four subsequent seasons.

Rather than it being the case that spending £30m-£40m on a striker is always the solution to a goalscoring issue, examples like Benteke show that lower ranked teams and player more often than not tend to struggle to score goals either way. And it can work against you in the long run, leaving a player draining wages and stunting potential for improvement.

The average goals scored in a season by a bottom half Premier League team that has survived relegation over the last four seasons totalled 44, only four more than Brighton’s total of 40 last season. Something which was more than compensated at the back with Albion conceding just 46 goals last season compared to the 59 goals conceded on average by bottom half Premier League teams that have survived relegation over the last four seasons.

Instead, Brighton’s issue over the last season or two was more about the key moments in games too often going against them, with the team’s lack of experience often counting against it. Whether that was dropping points through late goals conceded like at home to Man United, Palace or Leicester, or whether it was key missed chances like the two penalties missed against West Brom.

In fact, it’s when in front that Albion have proved their most wasteful at both ends of the pitch, with the 25 points it dropped from winning positions being the most in the Premier League last season.

Ill-discipline comes into this too. Since being promoted to the Premier League Albion have led the way in terms of two statistics, own goals, and red cards. Red cards in particular is a worrying issue, with 14 being racked up to date, three of which coming from the club captain and talisman Lewis Dunk. The latest coming away at Wolves toward the end of last season where Albion threw away a 1-0 lead, ultimately ending with a 2-1 defeat after Dunk was sent off with Albion in the lead. An example of where their ill-discipline has cost them a lead and three potentially crucial points.

This is of course to be overly harsh on Lewis Dunk, who for a long time has been the club’s most reliable and consistent performer. A player whom without Albion would not be in the topflight. But it shows that at times we can over emphasise one issue over others and forget that even our better player make big, costly mistakes.

Nonetheless, missing goalscoring chances is clearly a big part of that conundrum and whilst I don’t think we’ve ever fully solved the issue in that area, we are now in our fifth straight Premier League season. An achievement that slightly undermines the “we need a striker” cause as it also now enters its fifth summer.

Would a 10-15 goal a season striker improve the team? Probably. Do we “need” one? No.

Yes, all the stats show Brighton don’t take as many of their goalscoring chances as they should. But assuming that one player coming in solves that issue is simply naive. Top half teams have multiple regular goal-scorers. Whereas Albion only really have Maupay. That’s the bigger issue.

In his first season Maupay looked like a player who was rough around the edges, but hungry for more and bursting with potential. But in his second he more often looked like he had the world on his shoulders, and no wonder given the poor finishing of most of his teammates.

People focus on the team’s and more specifically Neal Maupay’s underperformance against the expected goals statistic (xG), but this only really tells you part of the goalscoring tale. For a player like Maupay to have a high xG even if he underperforms against it, he needs to have the intelligence and execution in terms of movement and positioning to be in the right positions at the right time to earn those chance. Something that xG doesn’t measure and us average supporters under-appreciate, because we are too busy watching the ball.

As the past examples above show, even if Albion had scored more goals, can you rely on this team to hold onto those all leads? Probably not. So £30m-£40m on what could be a nil-sum gain is a huge financial risk for the club to take on, especially after such an unexpectedly difficult period financially.

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 18 of the team’s goals (more than 1 in 5) over the past two 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.

Albion’s end of season win over Man City is the exception to this, but City were down to 10 men for most of a game which for them was meaningless, making it a difficult situation to draw definitive conclusions from.

The other four games that Albion played without Maupay last season (Fulham away, Spurs away, West Ham home and Arsenal away) saw the team struggle going forward. In all those 4 games the team created less shots (average across those 4 games was 7.5 shots pg) than the season average shots per game (12.8), scoring just twice (half their average goals per game rate).

So, a new striker is not without its trade-offs and its potential to unbalance a team that is making great strides forward in so many areas of the pitch. So, to sign a striker to replace Maupay or anyone else, it needs to be the right player not just any old striker.

As I said at the end of last season, if we look at two teams Albion have been competing with in previous seasons that managed to lift themselves up the division last season, Aston Villa and West Ham, neither had one player on 15 goals, let’s alone 20. Instead, they had multiple goalscorers on smaller tallies, for Albion its really only Maupay. Others need to step up to take the pressure and attention off his shoulders.

It maybe that Albion already have the answers to its goalscoring problems in its midfield. If Lallana can stay fit, he has the potential to add to his goal tally of one last season. Whilst the recently added Moder and Mwepu both look like having the potential of adding goals to Albion’s midfield where others have failed to do so.

Whilst admittedly in lower standard divisions, both Mwepu and Moder scored at a high rate for their old clubs, with Moder averaging 0.3 goals per 90 and Mwepu averaging 0.22 goals per 90 in their last seasons with their previous clubs. Managing even half that rate would put them ahead of pretty much all of Albion’s misfiring midfield.

To their credit, this team tends to control more games it plays in than it doesn’t. Whilst it could have achieved more over the past two seasons with a bit better execution and decision making in both boxes, the 14 draws achieved in both of Graham Potter’s two Premier League seasons in charge at Albion show that he has made this team harder to beat whilst playing far more on the front foot, a feat that shouldn’t be undervalued.

A big part of that is how he has evolved the defence. With the signings of Adam Webster and Joel Veltman two example of how that has been achieved, by providing Albion’s back line with more capability with the ball rather than being more comfortable without it as it was under Hughton’s reign.

Ben White’s sale to Arsenal is a loss but given the depth of Albion’s squad in that area they should be able to cope without a drop in performance levels, especially given the return of Shane Duffy adding competition for places.

It may be that Duffy still leaves before the end of the window, but following his challenging exploits at Celtic I wouldn’t be surprised if he was now more willing to settle for a role as back up rather than fly the nest in search of a regular first team place. As I said last January, despite having his critics he has plenty still to offer this Albion team. His experience and know-how could be just what Albion need to resolve some off the issues it has had in throwing away leads last season.

Going into the new season with what is currently largely the same squad and front line as last season, may underwhelm some who see greater potential in this team than has been achieved over the past four seasons. But as comparisons to the teams around them show, their struggles in front of goal are far from a novel issue nor an easy one to solve.

What Brighton do have is a team packed full of talent and potential, one that has a growing amount of experience and belief in itself at this level and a coach at its head that has the ability to get the best out of it. A mix that makes for one of the most exciting seasons in the club’s history.

Aaron Connolly – Patience is required ahead of a pivotal season

After announcing himself to Albion fans with some impressive performances for the Club’s development team and winning the 2019 Premier League 2 player of the season award (ahead of compatriots including England U21 striker Eddie Nketiah), Aaron Connolly scored twice on his first Premier League start for the club at home to Tottenham in October 2019, a game broadcast live on BT Sport.

Due to this success with the development team he had already built up a huge reputation amongst the Albion supporters even prior to his fairytale home debut. But his performances since then haven’t always kept up that upwards trajectory and his 3 goals in his subsequent 37 appearances in the Premier League is a return that is beginning to lead to questions being asked of the young striker.

The last season in particular was tough for Connolly. Missed chances led to so much online abuse that he temporarily removed his social media accounts. Whilst more recently, allegations about his personal life and criticisms about perceptions of an attitude problem will only have added pressure onto a young man who has already had huge expectations being placed on him from day one.

Whilst inconsistency and difficult periods are par of the course for young players, Connolly has admitted that he hasn’t been up to the standard required at times. Saying in an interview with Balls.ie earlier in the year that “I take responsibility for the fact that it hasn’t been good enough recently.”

In contrast to some of the recent press he’s received, this was a mature, reflective, and modest interview from Aaron Connolly, especially when you consider his age. Sometimes we forget how young he is, just 21.

Whilst there are a growing number of uncomplimentary and unfair comparisons or criticisms made of Aaron Connolly’s so far short Albion career, when compared to the other eight players who were nominated alongside him for the 2019 Premier League 2 player of the season he comes out well. In fact none of the other eight have made more appearances or scored more goals in the Premier League than Aaron Connolly.

Even the player who preceded him as the Premier League 2 player of the season in 2018, Reiss Nelson, has made only 22 Premier League appearances scoring just 1 goal, compared to Connolly’s 41 appearances and 5 goals to date.

In a recent article WeAreBrighton.com pointed to his former development squad teammate Viktor Gyokeres not getting similar opportunities to Connolly. And whilst it may look like Gyokeres didn’t get his chance, what we didn’t see were the months spent training with the first team under both Hughton and Potter, neither of whom entrusted him to make even a single Premier League appearance, not even as a late substitute.

Gyokeres isn’t the first talented young player with a good record for the development team not to make it with the first team and he won’t be the last. We need to get used to that as Albion’s academy continues to make strides forward and has more and more impact on the senior team.

Whilst Connolly has racked up an impressive number of first team appearances, Gyokeres was gaining his experience out on loan. Connolly is clearly highly rated by those at the club, they gave him the number 7 shirt last summer after all. And unlike Gyokeres, the club clearly believes that so far he’s been better off staying at Albion rather than going out on loan, even if it is as back up. Maybe his short spell on loan at Luton where he made just two substitute appearances and mostly spent his time recovering from an injury has something to do with that.

And you can understand why. At Albion he’s learning from senior professionals, current and former internationals and working under Graham Potter, who has a good record of working with and developing young players.

Circumstance has also led to his first team status. Whilst Ben White was sent out on loan in 2019 to Leeds to gain experience due to a surplus of centre backs, a lack of firepower up front combined with potential new additions not materialising have accelerated Connolly’s progress into the first team.

It’s also true that not all development team products will have such meteoric rises as the likes of Ben White or Robert Sanchez. Patience is a crucial cultural attribute in turning young talent into the finished article, Connolly deserves that at least.

Yes, as he admits himself that he deserves some criticism for missed goalscoring chances last season. But as his manager Graham Potter has said on numerous occasions when questioned about the teams goalscoring problems, it’s a collective issue not about individuals.

Moreover, the accusations about Connolly’s personal life or his attitude are commonplace tropes made against struggling players with high expectations placed upon them. It’s simply an easy stick to beat them with.

Some argue that all the criticism he’s received is a sign that Connolly hasn’t been looked after enough by the club, but if so that goes for the club’s supporters too.

Brighton fans dumping their frustration over the teams goalscoring woes on a 21-year-old back up striker, when he’s hardly on his own in that regard, is nothing more than convenient scapegoating and has at times seen revolting levels of abuse.

If I’m honest, in the past I’ve probably been guilty of sticking the boot in a bit too harshly to some of Albion’s bigger money signings like Locadia and Jahanbakhsh. As a football fan it’s the hope that drives you, but it’s also the hope which can also destroy you. So it can be hard to not get a little carried away and end up taking that out on certain individuals from whom your hope was derived. Nonetheless, particularly when it comes to young prospects like Connolly who are still finding their feet in the game, as supporters we need to try to be better and more rational in our criticism, particularly when it’s aimed at an individual.

In reality we only see a small amount of the work that goes in, really, we have very little insight on how hard or not Connolly works and whether he deserves the opportunities that he gets over other players. But I’m guessing given the competition for places and the high standard of coaching at the club, that he probably does.

In a recent interview Aaron Connolly’s former teammate Glenn Murray spoke about how he needed to get out and enjoy himself after a bad match in order to lift his mood. Something which Murray said led to some criticism over his own attitude, and this is a player who only recently retired from playing at the age of 37, hardly the sign of a bad attitude.

Many supporters are happy to criticise players if we don’t perceive them to be making enough effort or having the right attitude if things aren’t going well. But as Murray’s example shows this quickly changes if things go well.

The delayed Tokyo Olympics that are currently taking place are a great (if extreme) example of how athletes spend the majority of their time building up to an event and a very small amount of time actually carrying out the work which they are judged upon , something that is true of professional footballers too.

Footballers spend years working for their first professional contracts, most of whom don’t even make it. The few that do then spend far more days and hours on the training pitch preparing for matches, or resting and recuperating after matches than actually playing in them.

Then when involved in a match (which Connolly was sparingly last season) they will only have the ball in their possession for around 2-3 minutes and spend most of the rest of the time running between 10-15 kms trying to win it back or getting into good positions for a teammate to find them.

For Aaron Connolly, as a striker who mostly plays off of the last defender, he will likely have the ball less than average and he will mostly receive the ball in attacking positions under great pressure from the opposition defence, making every poor touch or moment of hesitation far more costly than for many of his teammates. For example, last season Connolly averaged just 12 touches of the ball per appearance or 23 touches per 90 minutes played, giving him little opportunity to make up for any mistakes.

These are the harsh truths of being a Premier League and International footballer, something many of us can only dream of achieving, especially by the age of 21. Aaron Connolly still has time on his side to win around the doubters, but another season of frustration and missed chances will make that task even harder.

As such, the best thing us Albion fans can do is to give him a break and be more patient with a footballer who whilst young, has already gained lots of topflight experience, international experience and who has the talent to be a brilliant player for Albion for many seasons to come.

Albion make reinforcements in attack

Last season’s progression from Albion’s women’s team was well timed ahead of a pivotal moment in the Women’s game in England, with the new WSL TV broadcast deal with Sky beginning later this year. However, with increased opportunity comes increased risk.

It will no doubt come with an increase in the level of competition in the WSL, something demonstrated particularly by the number of new signings made by Everton, including England international Toni Duggan and German international Leonie Maier.

Everton, who finished one place and five points above Albion last season, are setting the bar for them in terms of the standard required to make further progress up the WSL next season.

And Albion have responded with two big signings of their own. Most recently Rinsola Babajide on loan from Liverpool. Who despite her parent team Liverpool’s lack of success in recent seasons, has plenty of talent to offer the Seagulls attack, highlighted by her numerous England youth caps, including winning the bronze medal at the U20 2018 World Cup, along with a call up to the senior team last year.

Yes, it’s initially only a season long loan, but given her contract at Liverpool runs out next summer and that she handed in a transfer request at Liverpool in January, it’s hard to see her going back there, especially given their off-field troubles that saw them drop out of the WSL in 2020. So, this could well become permanent next summer, who knows.

This draws to a close a bit of a transfer saga for Rinsola and Liverpool, which appears to have led to some animosity towards her from Liverpool supporters.

After she signed a new contract with the club in the summer of 2020 following their relegation, she then received a senior England call up in September 2020, but some see her subsequent request for a transfer in January 2021 as a symptom of that call up leading her to push for a move and value personal success over her club.

But one person’s disloyalty is another’s ambition. And that Albion are managing to attract players like Rinsola, looking to make a step up to regain contention for international selection is a great sign of the club’s progress in the Women’s game.

Prior to that they had already announced the signing of Danielle Carter from Reading, another one-time England international and a big show of intent from Albion.

Carter is another player to have represented England at various youth levels and at senior level as recently as 2018. She has also won various major honours in her time with Arsenal, so adds important experience and know-how to Albion’s fairly young and inexperienced if talented squad.

But rather than joining Albion with her career on the wane at 28 Carter has her best years ahead of her. And whilst it’s been a while since she was last involved with England there’s still reasonable hope for her in that area too.

Given this and her experience, it’s no surprise she is the first Albion Women’s player to demand a transfer fee, a breakthrough moment in the team’s history and a show of intent from the club’s hierarchy.

Whilst many clubs of similar stature to Brighton have reluctantly invested as little as possible in their Women’s team, Albion have prioritised it and it’s really paying off in terms of the players it is attracting and the performances on the pitch.

These are indeed exciting times, a feeling echoed by manager Hope Powell’s saying upon signing Babajide this week:

“We achieved our highest WSL position and we’re in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, but we want to push on this season and get better. Any additions to our squad have got to add value to what we’ve got and in Danielle and Rinsola that is definitely the case.”

These signings are also a signal that Powell and the club recognise the need to address Albion main fallibility in recent times, quality in front of goal.

Whilst Albion’s brilliant run of wins towards the end of last season saw them finish in the top half of the WSL, this involved the team scoring with a great deal of efficiency in front of goal, a run that probably masks its ongoing issues in attack.

An issue highlighted by the run that preceded it in the first half of the season which was near the polar opposite in terms of its attack and left the club worrying about relegation at one point after a 3-0 defeat away to Bristol City. A run that shows this efficiency in front of goal can’t be relied upon being a consistent long-term attribute of the existing squad and that improvements in attack are needed for Albion to continue to compete at the higher end of the WSL.

The key for Albion this season is to control games better and improve the frequency and quality of their attacks. These two signings, both in adding talent in attack and experience on the pitch should help them do that.