Frustration and promise, with Albion set to break multiple records

Last weekends draw with Leeds in many ways reflected the story of the season for Graham Potter’s Brighton side. An impressive performance, being much the better team for the majority and yet coming away with less than they deserve.

Yet another draw that could and probably should have been a win. The 15th draw of the season, equalling a club topflight record from 1979/80. Not the club topflight record we were hoping to get on Sunday.

However, there is plenty reason to celebrate. As well as extending the club’s good run over Leeds, that could be the point that secures a record high topflight league finish for the club. And whilst the early season talk of European qualification soon petered out, results elsewhere also mean a win on the final day against West Ham would be enough for a top half finish. Which given our good record against them, is very possible.

Either way, it is also a point that gives Albion a total of 48 points, which as well as being a Premier League record, means they now have achieved their highest ever points per game average in a topflight season. Less than the 52 gained in 1981/82, but that was in a 42 game season.

And Albion’s good end of season is more than just positive for the sake of a few records and statistics. It gives a more positive glow on the season than there was just a month and a half ago when the club drew at home with bottom placed Norwich after a run of six straight defeats.

The subsequent introduction of Moises Caicedo in particular has been revolutionary, with Graham Potter even admitting he made a mistake in not giving him a chance earlier. A player whose presence has greatly diminished the panic surrounding the seemingly inevitable departure of Yves Bissouma this season and the long term injury to Jakub Moder.

Meanwhile, Danny Welbeck’s supreme leading of the line flanked by the ever-improving Leandro Trossard and Alexis Mac Allister have all meant even the seemingly endless panic surrounding Albion’s lack of depth up front has somewhat diminished.

However, it does raise other question marks. Particularly about the future of two young players in those areas of the squad, Steven Alzate and Aaron Connolly.

Both were introduced into the first team by Graham Potter back in 2019 and had meteoric rises to prominence, but have both since struggled to maintain that upward momentum.

Steven Alzate was signed from League 2 Leyton Orient in 2017 and loaned to League 2 Swindon in 2018. But soon after his first team debut the following year was called up to the Columbian national team, then ranked 10th in the world and soon became crucial to both his club and national team.

But his 9 appearances (including just 5 starts) in the Premier League this season is his lowest since his promotion to the first team and he subsequently wasn’t even named of the subs bench for Columbia’s World Cup qualifiers in March.

His former development teammate Aaron Connolly’s impressive home league debut, which saw him score twice against a desperately poor Tottenham side, also saw Connolly called up by his national team, Ireland. But he has also struggled to make a consistent impact for both club and country since, on the pitch at least. And even a loan period at Championship side Middlesbrough, where he scored just twice in 21 appearances, has seemingly failed to relight his promising career.

The momentum behind Connolly that saw him become one of the hottest youth properties in the country after an impressive 2018/19 season with Albion’s development team which saw him beat Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah to the Premier League 2 Player of the season award, has truly been halted.

But where some fail, others may prosper, and there are many other members of Albion’s loan army who will return this summer with renewed vigour after impressive seasons.

Arguably most notably is defender Jan Paul Van Hecke, who was named Blackburn Rovers player of the season, and returns south with his fellow Blackburn loanee Reda Khedra who has also shown plenty of promise. Meanwhile eyes will also be on Karou Mitoma, Kacper Kozlowski and the recently added Dennis Undav, whose joint part in the recent success of Tony Bloom’s Belgian side project USG has seen them all earmarked as possible Albion stars of the future.

And that selection of players is merely the tip of the iceberg when it come to potential first team additions next season from

the clubs bulging roster of existing options. As Graham Potter has shown in the past with the likes of Robert Sanchez, he isn’t afraid to pluck a player from obscurity to fill a first team place. So I won’t even try to cover all the bases.

Just seven weeks ago, Albion’s long list of out of contract first team players, both this and next summer, being coupled with their poor run of form was giving us Albion fans mounting concerns for next season. But, oh how a few wins can change your perspective. As the club has settled nicely into the calm of mid table obscurity with games to spare, this space has allowed for the opportunities of the future to come to the fore, of which there are many.

This is in great contrast to the club’s previous record high topflight finish of 13th in 1981/82.

Then Albion manager Mike Bailey, who’d only taken over from Alan Mullery at the begging of the season, had set the team up playing an uninspiring defensive style of football that wasn’t to everyone’s taste, including chairman Mike Bamber. And whilst it at first produced results, with a landmark 1-0 win at Anfield leaving the team 8th in the league, a subsequent run of ten defeats in the last 14 games of the season meant the club finished in 13th. 

After the slump at the end of the season and along with the negativity surrounding Bailey’s defensive tactics, the club started the following season in unsettled fashion. This wasn’t helped when club captain Steve Foster handed in a transfer request, telling the press at the time: “It just seems like the chairman doesn’t want to move forward.”

It’s fair to say that Bamber had a lot on his plate, with the club financially unstable and reportedly losing £6,000 a week, he needed to get people coming back through the turnstiles to turn the financial tide in danger of crashing against the club.

These were dark days in English football’s popularity and reputation and attendances were falling. Albion’s were no different, at times were falling under 10,000. As far as Bamber was concerned: “I have been bitterly disappointed at the very poor sale of season tickets and wonder if the Sussex public really want First Division football,” he said in August of that season.

The following season the club was relegated and after mounting debt from the excesses of those glory years, the club went on a downward spiral to almost falling out the football league and out of existence just over a decade later.

Recent examples of the likes of Leeds, who finished an impressive 9th last season gaining plenty of by plaudits, show us not to be complacent about Albion’s recent success. But we can also be glad of the comparatively vastly greater structural and financial stability at the club than in their previous topflight jaunt.

The modern reality of the club is very different. Yes this season has seen it’s fair share of frustration. But amongst all that frustration last weekend was another example of the best thing about this season from a Brighton perspective, how much scope for improvement there is despite being on the verge of a club record league finish.

And even if things on the pitch do take a turn for the worse, with the backing of Tony Bloom the club is in safe hands to be able to withstand a setback and come back fighting, unlike in the aftermath of the clubs previous record breaking league finish.


Steve Claridge – A brief Albion hero at Upton Park and plenty more besides

When it comes to football league ex-professionals Steve Claridge may well be the most well-travelled. His was a playing career that spanned 34 years, saw him play over 1,000 matches and took him briefly to a number of the league’s member clubs including the Albion where he was part of a famous and unlikely victory.

By that point he was an old hand at the job and had accumulated much of the experience he later used to his advantage as a pundit on football league matters at the BBC for many years.

Given his start in life it’s possibly no surprise Claridge demonstrated a great worth ethic during his career. His life started unstably when was adopted at six weeks old and then was diagnosed as having a heart problem at 12, but made sure nothing held him back.

His heart was something that he struggled with as a child. He once said “If I did any exercise my heart used to go mad. After just five minutes it felt like I had done a five-mile run.” But he was eventually prescribed medication that enable him to manage the problem and slow his heart rate.

In 1988 at the age of 22 he had a brief spell with Crystal Palace when he was still a novice having spent the three years previous with non-league Weymouth. But with Palace on the verge of the First Division and some iconic years for the club he failed to make an appearance due to their wealth of striking talent including a certain Ian Wright. But years later took his chance to show them what they had missed, something he made a habit of throughout his career.

It was after a move to Fourth Division Aldershot where Claridge first caught the eye scoring 22 goals in 76 appearances and winning supporters’ player of the season in the 1988/89 season, before making a move to John Beck’s famously no nonsense Cambridge side.

Claridge was a unique breed throughout his career and the story of him running out of petrol on the M11, abandoning his car on the hard-shoulder and hitchhiking to the Abbey Stadium on his first day of training as well as another of him punching manager Beck in the face in an altercation between the pair are just a couple of example of this.

That is a Cambridge United team fondly remembered mostly for his fellow strikers Dion Dublin and John Taylor. And whilst Claridge is not necessarily held in the same regard as either from that time at the club, his energy and work rate meant he became a fondly remembered figure.

After ending his second spell at Cambridge in 1994 Claridge made a £350k move to Birmingham during Barry Fry’s ignominious period as manager of the club. But despite the club’s difficulties he top scored with 25 and won the club’s supporters player of the year award as they won the Second Division and the Football League Trophy.

As Claridge’s career was on the rise, Brighton were going in an opposite direction. As whilst Birmingham won that season’s Second Division Brighton finished a lowly 16th and would be relegated to the football league’s basement the following season.

But as Albion’s demise continued Claridge’s rise did so too and in early 1996 after losing favour with Barry Fry at Birmingham he made a £1.2m move to Martin O’Neill’s Premiership promotion chasers Leicester City. Whilst they had a wealth of attacking talent and despite making a largely unimpressive start to his time there including a debut in a 4-2 defeat to Ipswich where City were 3-0 down inside 12 minutes and he accidentally wore his shorts the wrong way around, he quickly had a crucial impact.

But it was a noticeably difficult start that had carried on from his old team Birmingham and lead to a 19-game goalless run. He and his new manager wanted to get to the bottom of what was wrong. “I explained what was happening to me and we decided I should go and see a specialist.”

Blood tests revealed that he was suffering from an under-active thyroid gland and which could have been a side-effect of the pills which Steve was using to regulate his heart. The doctors prescribed different drug for his heart, and his thyroid and as such Steve has said he’s now on three pills a day for the rest of my life. “Two for my thyroid and one for my ticker.”

That Leicester team had a reputation as an unruly bunch and just as at Cambridge, Claridge had a reputation as one of the key figures. Aside from his outspoken personality that helped him later forge a role as a successful pundit, Claridge also later admitted in his autobiography, “Tales from the Boot Camps”, that he had a 10-year gambling addiction, which had cost him £300,000.

Nonetheless once he got going at Leicester, he enjoyed probably the best spell in his career scoring some important goals including one in a 3-0 win against his old club Birmingham in the penultimate game of the season that helped secure Leicester a playoff place. A goal he celebrated by running in front of his old manager Barry Fry and one which was not welcomed by his old club’s supporters who waved pound notes in the air in disgust at Claridge’s move. And then he scored probably the most famous goal of his career, the extra time winner against another of his old teams Palace in the playoff final to earn the Foxes a place in the Premier League.

In the topflight Leicester and Claridge initially excelled finishing 9th in their first season and winning the League Cup, with Claridge leading the line top scoring with 15 goals including the winner in the replay of the League Cup final.

Unfortunately for Claridge his time at Leicester quickly took a turn for the worse and after failing to score the next season, he lost his place in the team and was soon loaned out to Portsmouth before being sold to Wolves.

But after five months at Wolves with Mark McGhee he was given little playing time and regularly criticised by fans so was sold to Portsmouth the following summer. There he spent three years and scored 34 goals including a hat-trick against his old club Wolves two years later, yet more revenge against an old club for Claridge. But his time with Portsmouth was ended after a short 25 game spell as player/manager, his first of a few experiences in such a role.

Claridge was then reunited with Mark McGhee at Millwall and was part of a team that got to the semi-finals of the Division one playoffs. But left the club at the end of the 2002/03 season to become player/manager of his old club Weymouth in the Conference South who he almost led to promotion but was sacked in his second season in charge after a poor start and a FA cup exit.

So after two short spells in management it was a surprise for some to see him rock up at Withdean stadium in 2004. Mark McGhee once again signed the veteran striker this time on a one-month deal, which would see him make 5 appearances for the Seagulls including a debut in a famous 1-0 away win at West Ham.

It was an unlikely victory by Albion, the ultimate smash and grab as they were dominated by their hosts or as scorer of the match winner Guy Butters put it: “the absolute Alamo”.

Manager McGhee praise Claridge saying “We kept the ball up front more which is important. Steve Claridge was key to that. He is one of the fittest players I’ve worked with and I have no doubt that after 18 months away from this level he would be able to perform.”

But that game was the high point of his spell with the club with his 3 other league appearances yielded three defeats and no goals for the Seagulls. Whilst the other saw a narrow one goal victory over Rotherham in the FA Cup. But despite the disappointing run, Claridge had impressed for the seagulls and looked like he could be the tonic to the club’s striker problem.

Non-league to the second tier is no regular move for a player, especially as a veteran, but Claridge’s is no regular career and this was no regular Brighton team either. They were out of their depth financially in the second tier, a period probably defined by a striker problem solved by reutilising defender and youth team product Adam Virgo as a striker, who top scored that season with 8 goals. It was a problem that dramatically arose after the form of Leon Knight, who had fired the seagulls to promotion the season before with 27 goals, severely tailed off scoring just 4 goals in 41 appearances that season.

Unfortunately despite this opportunity for the club to fill this gaping hole in its squad after he impressing in his short spell, finances were incredibly tight at the club with the stadiums planning permission battle taking hold of activities and it seems they couldn’t stretch as far as was required financially.

As such Claridge couldn’t agree a deal with the Albion and continued his nomadic career in the Football League by moving to Brentford. He later had spells with Wycombe, Millwall (again), Gillingham, Bradford, Walsall and then Bournemouth, where he played his landmark 1,000 career appearance.

Whilst later working as the BBC’s football league pundit for its TV highlights show he upset then Albion manager Gus Poyet by describing his teams football as “flicky, flicky” and that “as you go up leagues, there is no way that Brighton will be able to play that way against better players as better players are stronger”. Maybe not his finest punditry prediction, but we all get it wrong from time to time, even someone of Steve’s experience.

Steve Claridge may be a player who struggled to hold down a place at a club for a long period of time, had his own personal demons and also had conflicts with many managers. But at most club’s where he played at he left positive memories. Even at ones like Albion where his time was incredibly short, his part in that night at Upton Park is still fondly remembered.

Further patience is required for Potter as Albion continue flattering to deceive

Graham Potter’s Albion side have often been a contradiction since he took charge of his first competitive match as manager of the team back in August 2019. That 3-0 win over Watford turned out to be more a signpost of where Albion’s opponents were rather than themselves, as another season of relegation struggle followed. But then again, it’s not surprising considering the level of overhaul he was required to oversee in his first season at the club with relatively limited funds.

After Hughton’s sacking, Potter was tasked with creating a more entertaining team that also progressed up the table towards its long-term goal of an established top half place and away from that dreaded relegation zone, all whilst blooding youngsters and replacing the unwanted but previously important squad members.

Given the amount of change required, we all knew it wasn’t likely to be a bed of roses and patience would be required well into Potter’s second season and beyond. But in a year of such uncertainty and anxiety the patience required is understandably thin on the ground. So it should come as no surprise that it now appears whether he is still managing to do a satisfactory job depends on who you speak to.

Whichever side you fall on, I think it’s hard to not appreciate the progression made by the team during his tenure. He took over the most defensive team in the division and in the space of a year and a half has turned them into one praised for its attacking and entertaining style of play, a team that has dominated most games it’s played this season in terms of possession and chances created, whilst albeit also rightly criticised for its wastefulness in taking the opportunities it has created.

You will likely already know about Albion’s incredibly poor performance in comparison to its expected goals measurement (XG), which is the worst in the division this season. But there are many other statistics that demonstrate Albion’s attacking progression not demonstrated in the league table.

For instance (according to in Chris Hughton’s last season in charge Brighton had the lowest number of touches in the opposition penalty box of any Premier league team, but in the following season (Potter first in charge) they ranked 10th with a 32% increase. A trend continued into the 20/21 season with Albion now having had the 5th highest total touches in the opposition penalty box in the Premier League so far this season.

There are plenty of other examples too. Comparing the last Hughton season (18/19) to the first Potter season (19/20), season on season:

• shots were up 23%,

• shots on target up 38%,

• possession was up 23%,

• shot creating actions were up 20%,

I could go on. Ultimately, Brighton have attacked more frequently and more effectively.

An attractive style of play is one thing, ultimately it has to be backed up by results and the relative stagnation of Albion’s league position has frustrated many (17/18 – 15th, 18/19 – 17th, 19/20 – 15th, 20/21 – currently 17th). However as I’ve discussed in more depth previously, Albion are far from alone in what is a competitive field of clubs in the search for the top half of the topflight.

Many have focused on Albion’s recent poor home form having recorded just two home wins in all competitions in 2020 so far going into their final home game of the year against Arsenal on Tuesday night. A fair point, but you can’t focus solely on home form. Away from home it’s now 5 wins 4 draws and 3 defeats (to Spurs – 6th, Leicester – 2nd & Everton – 4th) in the 12 games since the restart, which would have been an unimaginably good record when Potter took over considering Albion achieved just 5 wins in all of Hughton’s 38 Premier League away games.

Nonetheless it is a poor run at home that’s been highlighted by the recent failure to beat struggling West Brom, Burnley and Sheffield United. However, the value of those results depends on your perspective.

Those draws along with the one away to Fulham do make Albion unbeaten against its fellow members of the league’s current bottom five. And whilst they did fail to win all four matches, that lack of a defeat combined with Albion’s away form continuing to improve could mean those results prove to be a beneficial rather than a damaging factor in Albion’s season.

Despite only winning two games so far this season (currently 9% down on its consistent 23% average win percentage across the last three seasons), it’s still fairly early days and Albion have shown through its increased attacking threat detailed above that they are able to give anyone a game. And given they are yet to be beaten this season by a team outside the current top 7 in the league, they can feel confident going into most fixtures.

However, that confidence continuing may well be dependent on Albion capitalising on opportunities to win games more often than they have so far this season, starting with their next three fixtures against West Ham, Arsenal & Wolves respectively. Fortunately all three opponents are ones they have a good record against, taking a accumulated total of 29 points from a possible 48 in the Premier League, whilst recording just 1 defeat in those 16 matches.

Considering their shortage of victories, Albion could certainly do with that run continuing this season. But in order to do so it needs to start turning draws and victories based on expected goals into actual wins and three points. But as the old football adage goes, you’d rather be creating chances and missing them than not creating chances at all. The signs are good, once again let’s give Graham Potter the patience to get it right.

In defence of our ignorance – a message from a football fan

This blog was written back in early 2020, following Albion’s 3-3 draw away to West Ham.

Football rarely offers its followers emotions of the middle ground. You are either a winner or a loser, even in the event of a draw there is often one team happier than the other. Take last Saturday’s trip to the Olympic Park where Brighton faced West Ham as an example. A game of such contrasting emotions, where at one point we all thought Graham Potter was an idiot for a seemingly absurd double substitution at 3-1 down. A substitution that in fact turned the game in Brighton’s favour to finish with a seemingly unlikely 3-3 draw. Euphoric joy for Albion supporters contrasting with the crushing disappointment for West Ham supporters.

One of those substitutes who to the surprise of many made all the difference was Ezequiel Schelotto, a player who since his arrival in 2017 has at times delighted, at times not, but mostly been incredibly unfortunate with injuries. But as Michael Cox described in his latest article for the athletic his introduction was a great exploitation of a West Ham’s weakness down their left hand side.

I can understand the surprise at Schelotto’s entrance, he was cast aside by Hughton after just one season and seemed on his way out of the club. And even after being given a reprieve by Potter has only been used sparingly this season. Now with another player who is primarily also a right back joining in January in the shape of Tariq Lamptey, it was easy to assume he had been pushed further down the pecking order and was never to be seen again. But life often has a habit of catching you out when you make lazy assumptions based on half the information, a habit us football fans are famous for.

After the game Schelotto tweeted a self-congratulating and confrontational jibe at his critics when he said: “They judge you before seeing you in action, it is called ignorance. They flatter you when you win, it’s called mediocrity. Less social networks and more support!!!!

It is a tweet which contained a certain level of hubris, of which you come to expect from a professional sportsman. Nonetheless it was a message that from looking at the replies from Brighton fans has gone down well with supporters a plenty.

He subsequently then had to defend himself against unfounded personal accusations from one Twitter user, giving an example of exactly why many professional footballers don’t put themselves out there on social media platforms. And showing why in most cases ignorance isn’t a virtue.

But, despite there always being the odd clown, in general I’m always inclined to side with the fans who are being criticised by people from within the game. People like the fan site We Are Brighton, who tweeted their shock and rage when Schelotto was brought on instead of top scorer Maupay. Or reporters like Ian Abrahams who tweeted his surprise at the same moment. Only for both to later be proven markedly incorrect.

And this is where my defence of the humble football fan comes in. Because part of the joy of being a fan is not being an expert, not seeing what’s coming and revelling in moments like this when your team unexpectedly comes back from 2-0 and 3-1 down to draw 3-3. Or even revelling in the gallows humour of being on the wrong side of such a turnaround.

Supporters like those who run the We Are Brighton fan-page are doing exactly what fans do, expressing the emotions of the moment and revelling in it. Whilst reporters like Ian Abrahams are our narrators who relay the story of the events and emotions of the day to those who are following it from elsewhere.

So to Schelotto and others who accuse supporters of ignorance I say this: Yes, football fans are often a largely ignorant, unduly judgemental and overly emotional bunch, but that is the very culture that our nations football grounds were built on. And what in part drives the hope that keeps us going back every week despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Football was initially brought to the attention of the masses in the UK as a game played and watched at the end of a hard working week. Something to take your mind off the hard and often brutal conditions of 19th century factories and workhouses. And whilst it has evolved into something very different in 21st century Britain, at its heart the football fan culture is still very much the same.

But unfortunately with social media saving and displaying users’ thoughts for all eternity, our ignorance is there for all to see, maybe this is why experts like Michael Cox have become as prominent as they have? To educate us to become a more informed crowd and save our blushes.

But then again, there are expert in hindsight, and then there are the true experts. Those like Graham Potter that see the opportunities and make the difference in the moment rather than after the event. And anyway, if you want an informed crowd go to Wimbledon Centre Court or Lords Cricket Ground. Football has never been the thinking man’s game, it’s brilliance is in its simplicity.

In this same week, Brighton announced their season ticket renewals process through a glossy leaflet and email that was sent to all current season ticket holders. And whilst it was great in its intention and production, I took exception to a part of it. Not because of its glossiness, but the spirit of the quotes used from Graham Potter and Tony Bloom. Quotes of “we need you every step of the way” and “your support will always be valued” respectively.

Whilst well intentioned, what this type of output from the club ignores is the fact that we don’t dedicate ourselves to the club because we are valued but because we value it. We value the community that our clubs are a part of, the history and heritage of our clubs, and everything good that they stand for.

Anyone who has read David Goldblatt’s book “The Ball is Round” that chronicles the history of football will truly understand the history behind our nations complex and confusing relationship with our national game. A relationship probably best summed up by a quote from the late Pope John Paul II: “Amongst all unimportant subjects, football is by far the most important.”.

I fully accept that in the cold light of day football fandom is in many ways absurd and illogical. But the wonderful escapism that can be achieved through it is why so many keep coming back. The genuine passion and emotion we feel for our teams and hatred we have for our rivals is real, if based on admittedly flimsy and flawed logic.

Within the microcosm that is the world of football I can’t think of anything worse than those within the game who try to suppress that culture or even worse monetise it. And let’s be honest Brighton are just as bad culprits of this as any other club is.

Along with the consistent rising cost of going to a match, the club have recently called for an improvement in the atmosphere at home games and fans are continually asked by management and players for their devoted support. Fine, you might think? But just as much as us football supporters are constantly reminded by our ignorance that we should leave the football management to the experts, those within the game should leave the football supporting to the experts too.

Are Brighton paying the price of too much long-term thinking?

This Saturday sees the first of two important matches in Brighton’s third Premier League season, as they travel to fellow strugglers West Ham this Saturday before hosting a rejuvenated but nonetheless relegation threatened Watford the next.

Brighton’s recent “crisis” is put into context when you consider the goings on at their next venue the London Stadium. Since moving from their previous long-term home Upton Park in 2017 with promises of Champions League football and exciting new signings, West Ham have instead experienced three seasons of struggle on the field and strife off it. It makes you glad that at very least we have an owner who cares about more than profit margins and a chief executive that we can trust.

Our following weekends opponents Watford were in all sorts of trouble earlier in the season, when it looked like the continuous upheaval in their playing and coaching staff was finally catching up with them. (Ironically after the first summer break when they stuck with their manager since 2013, two years prior to their promotion to the topflight). But the clubs third ‘permanent’ manager of the season Nigel Pearson has instead improved the club’s fortunes with 15 points in his first 8 games in charge. A total which equates to 2/3rds of the points the club have accumulated all season.

In contrast Brighton’s focus in recent years has been about stability and long-term planning, but the club has come under increasing criticism of late, primarily for its record in the transfer market. Whilst this type of criticism is part and parcel of a bad run of form, Brighton’s current predicament does raise important questions that need to be answered.

Primarily: Can the club be accused of looking too far into the long term and neglecting its focus from short term success?

The initial signs from this season were good. After dispensing with first team manager Chris Hughton for a younger, more exciting and attack-minded coach in Graham Potter, performances looked to be improving. And whilst results at first were somewhat hard to come by, three wins at home to Spurs, Everton and then Norwich won most sceptics over.

Along with that, a MoM performance in front of the Sky Sports cameras by U23 graduate Steven Alzate away at Newcastle, followed by a brace from fellow U23 graduate and last season’s Premier League 2 player of the season Aaron Connolly, added further evidence of Potter’s good work and appeared to justify the trust he has placed in the younger members of the squad to fill the gaps. 

And there is plenty of evidence of his good work, no more so than the team’s change in tactical style. A change in which Potter has innovated and evolved the team from a deep lying defensively-minded team to a more front-foot attack-minded side. 

But change has come with growing pains. Pains not eased by the at times poor execution of Potter’s management. Be that through constantly altering team selections, a growing tendency for panicked substitutions of varying success when his changes in personnel don’t work, or simply asking too much of certain players. All in all, Graham Potter’s relative inexperience in topflight management has been on show, just as much as his innovative and exciting tactical ideas.

Possibly the biggest anomaly so far is that despite how much tactical innovation and adaptability he’s shown, and despite how much ability he’s shown to develop players, this ability is seemingly not enough to get the best out of arguably the club’s two best players from the previous two Premier League seasons in both Glenn Murray and Shane Duffy.

Whilst Murray’s age can excuse Potter over some of the criticism of his absence from the top scorers list, this coupled with Connolly failing to add to his two goals against Tottenham in early October has meant much of Albion’s goal threat has been placed on the shoulders of the inexperienced if talented Neal Maupay, who has proved at times deadly but at times unreliable in front of goal.

After the club were arguably swept away in the early season optimism, Potter was given what was then an unexpected and what now looks like an unnecessary two-year extension to his already long-term four-year contract. On announcing the news the club said: “In the summer we unveiled a new long-term vision for us to become an established top-ten Premier League club, and we feel even more strongly that Graham as a bright, energetic and innovative head coach, is the right man to lead us there.” Comments that add further suspicion to the fact that the club’s long-term goals might be overshadowing its short-term objectives.

But it hasn’t just been the Brighton Board of directors who’ve been praising Potter’s work potentially too soon. Many jumped to praise him after the 3-0 win away to Watford on the opening day, a win that looks far less impressive in hindsight given how Watford’s season then played out. Others have added high praise following the wins over Everton, Spurs and Arsenal, wins that look more like anomalies than signs of improvement considering the more recent disappointing results and performances.

But Potter’s work and the club’s senior management have certainly still got plenty to be proud of. It pays to think about the long-term, but a key element to success is finding a balance between a focus on long-term goals with an equally important focus on short- and medium-term objectives.

Short-termism has become an unattractive characteristic amongst much of English football in the Premier League era, but long-termism can be just as dangerous. As Ken Favaro said in the Harvard Business Review “You cannot sacrifice the short-term for the long-term and expect to have a future any more than the other way around. In other words, long-termism is just as bad as short-termism.”

For Brighton, having the long-term goal of becoming a top-half topflight club certainly adds value to the club’s operations. But without achieving the short-term objective of another season of Premier League survival, that goal becomes much harder to achieve and moreover becomes an implausible prospect to have faith in.

Whether the club has and will continue to find that balance and avoid the harm to its long-term goals that would come with relegation to the Championship will become much clearer over the next two matches.

2018 – The year of the Murray

As we have had our lot of 2018, I thought it was about time we praised the man who for many, including myself, has been Brighton & Hove Albion’s man of the year, Glenn Murray.

For Glenn Murray 2018 is a year that started with two goals in two games, one each against two of his old clubs and ended up with him having scored 17 goals in all competitions, becoming Albion’s highest post-war goalscorer and disproving well and truly any doubt over his ability to score goals at the top level of English football.

The first goal he scored in 2018 was against Bournemouth in a 2-2 draw on New Year’s Day, finishing off a good move created by last season’s player of the season Pascal Gross. Then came a late winner against Palace, a game Murray started on the bench. It was a goal that caused confusion over whether VAR, which was being trialled in the match, had been used to clarify the legality of the goal, but replays showed it came off Murray’s knee and not his hand and the goal stood.

But whilst 2018 started with a flurry of goals, 2017 ended with what had been a mixed start to the Premier League campaign for Albion’s number 17. A flurry of four goal in three games at the end of October and the beginning of November aside, he’d struggled to continue his great goal scoring record from the Championship promotion campaign.

In fact, the 2017/18 season didn’t start well for Murray, with a preseason injury meaning Tomer Hemed instead started up front in the first few games of the season. Hemed’s good performances even earned himself a new contract and kept Murray out the side for a while, but that all changed when Hemed received a retrospective three game ban for a stamp on DeAndre Yedlin in the home 1-0 win against Newcastle at the end of September. A game in which Hemed scored the only goal and received the Sky Sports Man of the Match award. This meant that as the season entered October, with Hemed absent Murray would get his chance to shine.

But in the first game of Hemed’s suspension, Murray was on the bench with loanee Isaiah Brown starting up front. But with the team going 2-0 down, Murray and the 2016/17 Championship player of the season Anthony Knockaert came off the bench and barely moments after coming on the Frenchman’s cross found Murray who headed just over in what was the best chance Brighton had created that day. Murray then started in the 1-1 home draw with Everton, but it was the next game away to West Ham where he would score a brace in front of the Sky Sports camera’s and re-establish himself as the Albion’s first choice frontman.

So Murray went into 2018 as the Albion’s main man and after starting January with two goals against two of his former clubs, he was on the bench as the team played their fourth round FA Cup tie away to Middlesbrough. This is despite the shadow of an ongoing tax fraud investigation hovering over him, an investigation it had been widely reported that he and his wife were arrested in connection with just days before the match. But despite this he again came off the bench in the second consecutive cup game to score the winner, which put the Albion into the fifth round of the cup for only the ninth time in its history. He in fact responded to the off-field issues by scoring a further two goals in the next two games. One from the penalty spot in a 1-1 draw away to Southampton and one in a spectacular 3-1 home win over West Ham that also included one of the best Albion goals of the 2017/18 season from Jose Izquierdo.

I bring the tax investigation up not to revel in the supposed scandal as some media outlets did at the time of his arrest, but to contextualise Glenn Murray’s wonderful year. It reminds us that footballers, are individuals who have to deal with the stresses and strains that life brings just like anyone else. Glenn Murray isn’t just an Albion living-legend, he’s a father, a husband and someone who at the same time must deal with the complexities of life in a globally scrutinised, highly pressurised job. Putting what Murray has achieved on the pitch this year in this context makes it all the more impressive.

And yet what I’ve loved the most about watching Glenn over his second spell at the club, and over the last year in particular, is that he is playing with a smile on his face. A smile that suggests he’s loving playing for the club. Murray’s enjoyment of his recent years at the club is something that he’s spoken about being due to a greater perspective that comes with his age and experience.

In a recent interview with the Telegraph he stated just that. “You just never know. I am taking each game as it comes, enjoying it and taking that little bit of extra time to look around a full stadium, because I know it’s not going to last forever. But I will try and make it last as long as possible.”

But it wasn’t always this way. Murray said in the same interview that: “When I was young, I would dwell on games and beat myself up about a result,” he said “I would lock myself away in the house, almost punishing myself and those around me. My family, they did not see the best side of me. I went to see somebody who helped me, a sports psychologist, and he said I need to get out, that it is more important to get out of the house when you have lost, rather than when you have won. When you have won, you are content in whatever you do.

“He said to try to get out when I lose. To go to the cinema, go out for a meal. It has caused quite a few arguments in the past — people saying to me, ‘what are you doing out? What are you doing showing your face?’ — but that is what works for me. It might not work for everyone, but for me it does.”

Murray signed for Brighton the first time around in January 2008 at the age of 24. He impressed instantly, scoring nine in the second half of that season, including two on his home debut, in a 3-0 win against Crewe.

He then missed much of the 08/09 season with a hernia injury and when he did play often did so whilst clearly not being fully fit. Nonetheless he impressively still managed to score 12 goals in what was a struggling side.

The following 09/10 season he would play more regularly, but only better his goal total by two, often at this point gaining criticism about his work-rate and discipline. A subject spoken about by Dick Knight in his autobiography ‘MadMan’ where he stated that even then manager Dean Wilkins called out Glenn Murray for his work rate, but Dick defended the striker saying: “His style is languid and unhurried but certainly not lazy.”

The frustrations towards him mostly arose from the fact that he was clearly the most talented player in the team but often didn’t show it. Manager at the start of the season Russell Slade comments showed that he agreed with that line of thinking. At the beginning of the 2009/10 season he called Murray the “best striker outside the Championship”, but then in October Slade publicly criticised Murray for a sending off in a home defeat to Tranmere stating it cost the team the chance of a comeback. As such it was the case amongst some that Murray was getting a reputation as a bit of an unreliable enigma.

But Slade was sacked soon after because of an unsuccessful start to the season and Gus Poyet came in as his replacement. Gus transformed the club’s prospects and the team started to look like one worthy of the impending move to the new state-of-the-art stadium being built down the road at Falmer.

And the following season Glenn Murray and the Albion would both live up to their potential with Murray top scoring with 22 goals as the Albion won League One in its final season at the Withdean. Whilst there were still a few dissenting voices, as there always will be, Murray was now rightly regarded as Albion’s best striker and one of its best assets.

But unfortunately, Murray’s contract was up at the end of that season and with a step up required after promotion to the Championship was achieved, manager Gus Poyet appeared to earmark the signing of the energetic, if as it turned out comparatively goal-shy Craig Mackail-Smith at the expense of Murray. Gus Poyet said of Murray that the club “couldn’t pay him within our budget” and that the club couldn’t afford both players, but given the fact he left to join our arch rivals and lead them to great success at our expense, it’s fair to say that at least in hindsight, the club should have found a way to balance the books so to pay Murray what he was rightly worth.

When Brighton signed Mackail-Smith, Poyet spoke of his “unbelievable” work-rate and that, “he will always give you something. Even on a bad day, he doesn’t stop running. Now we are going to be a more competitive team.” It seems that it may have been in part at least, the perceptions of Murray’s so called ‘laziness’ that led to his move away.

Crystal Palace did just that, and a few months later he would score twice as they became the first opposition team to win a league game at the AMEX. He scored 47 goals whilst at Palace in four years, which is all the more impressive considering he missed much of the 2014/15 season through a knee injury sustained in the first leg of the playoff semi-final win by Palace over the Albion. Palace won and would go on to win promotion to the Premier League.

At full time in the second leg of the semi-final Murray celebrated with his team, the Albion’s arch rivals, on the pitch at the AMEX in front of the away end. Just three years later he would re-sign for the Albion and it wasn’t long before all was forgotten and hero status was resumed. Murray was a goalscorer, and when the goals started flowing even the most dissenting of voices came around. After opening his account with two goals in a 3-0 home win over Forest in front of the Sky Sports cameras it felt to many, including myself, that he’d never left. That season he went on to score 23 goals as the Albion secured promotion to the Premier League.

The intervening years after that play off semi-final and his return to the Albion were initially spent at Palace with mixed success under a variety of managers. This was followed by a short loan spell at Reading where he scored eight goals, including two goals at the AMEX against Brighton on Boxing Day in a 2-2 draw. Which was then followed by a year at Bournemouth where his game-time was limited and as a result he scored just four goals, albeit one of those being a memorable winner at Stamford Bridge for the Cherries over Chelsea.

But his return to Brighton showed he hadn’t lost any of his wit and skill, nor as the Albion fans knew to their cost, his eye for goal. And as 2018 rolled on, somewhat inevitably so did the Murray goals.

Next up came another brace, including a goal from the penalty spot in a 4-1 win over Swansea. And in the following game Murray scored the crucial second in a memorable 2-1 win over Arsenal. Murray’s goal that day was yet another example of his growing relationship with Pascal Gross, with the German’s cross hanging in the air invitingly for Murray to head home in between two accommodating Arsenal defenders. These two wins lifted Brighton up to tenth in the league table and seven points clear of the relegation zone, safety was now looking likely.

Murray’s role leading the line was a big part of this. Not just scoring key goals but his ability as a target man to hold the ball up and link up with Pascal Gross, continuously producing results. Even though his only other goal to come in the remainder of the season was a consolation goal away to Palace, in a 3-2 defeat, he played a key role in the run-in as the Albion reached the coveted 40-point mark and comfortably secured another season of Premier League football.

Murray was asked during last season by the BBC what was the reason for his success and he answered simply, Pascal Gross. Last season’s Albion player of the season was high up in the charts for assists and goals, ahead of some perceived bigger names within the division, and his relationship with Murray was a big part of that. In fact, Murray and Gross between them contributed 19 of the 33 league goals Brighton scored last season. Demonstrating the importance of their combined impact.

For instance, the Albion’s lack of success from set-pieces last season demonstrates this best. Scoring a total of 5 goals from this method, which was the lowest in the Premier league last season. This is despite Pascal Gross creating more chances from set-pieces in the Premier League last season than any other player (36).

As the Albion prepared for their second season in the Premier League there were signings and optimism aplenty. But Murray still started the season as the main man up top. And after a bad day at the office all round in a 2-0 defeat away to Watford on the opening day, Man Utd came to town and the Albion caused a shock by beating them 3-2.

The Albion got off the mark that day with a sublime chip from Murray. This is a goal that has to go down as one of his best for the Albion, whilst it was from close range, the skill and technique to flick the ball up and chip the ball over United ‘keeper De Gea was a sight to behold.

Next up at the AMEX were newly promoted Fulham and it was another game where Murray was the star of the show scoring twice, his second a late equaliser, again from the penalty spot and in doing so earned the Albion a late comeback draw from 2-0 down. This was a game where Murray’s partner in goals Pascal Gross came off injured with the team 1-0 down and after a period out through injury, he has since struggled to recapture his previous season’s good form. But nonetheless Murray has kept on scoring goals regardless as the new signings that were made in the summer gave the Albion an attacking threat from other areas.

Next up was Southampton away on a Monday night game in front of the Sky Sports cameras. And Murray scored a late penalty to make it 2-2 in the second consecutive game. A penalty that demonstrated Murray’s calm confidence in front of goal, even in the most high-pressure of situations.

There were then two 1-0 home victories courtesy of Glenn Murray’s 99th and 100th goals for the club, with a hard fought 1-0 victory away to struggling Newcastle sandwiched in-between. A game where Murray was carried off with a worrying looking head injury, but one which he quickly recovered from to play the following week and net that record-breaking milestone goal.

The goals against West Ham and Wolves were classic Murray goals. The type of goals that had cemented Glenn’s place as only the second ever player to score one-hundred goals for Brighton. He also became the highest post-war goalscorer, taking over from Kit Napier on 99 goals.

He spoke in Nick Szczepanik book ‘Brighton Up’ about how he would often find space in the box by standing still, whilst others moved around him, and these goals were no different. For example, for his century goal against Wolves, as the ball fell to Bruno on the right side of the box, the Wolves defence shifted in his direction. In the same motion Murray stayed almost stationary but alert to find himself in acres of space at the far post to score his century goal, when the ball went slightly fortuitously in his direction. As Bruno later admitted his ‘pass’ to Murray was intended to be a shot on goal.

This style of Murray’s goals is where the comparison to the man Gus Poyet replaced him with Craig Mackail-Smith is telling. Whilst other strikers like Mackail-Smith energetically run around somewhat thoughtlessly. Murray is more deliberate in his movement and his running and whilst a layperson-fan like myself can’t always see it, Glenn Murray is usually one step ahead of most defenders, even at the top level.

His next goal against Leicester showed that level of alertness and wit in the box perfectly. As Murray nipped in at the near post to get Albion’s goal in a 1-1 draw.

Then came that win against Palace, which started with Murray scoring a 24th minute penalty and ended for him shortly after due to a shoulder injury in the build up to the corner that led to the second goal.

It is well known that after Glenn Murray left The Albion to join Palace in 2011, he remained living in Brighton. Not surprising considering it’s the city where he met his wife and the city where they started a family together. The city appears to work for him, and he appears to work well for the city’s football team too, continuing to break records and increase in size his already secured legend status at the club.

2018 was a year where he made the whole country sit up and take notice of a 35-year old player previously written off as only Championship-standard. So much so that Glenn is now a periodic voice on BBC Radio 5 Live’s football coverage, he was an answer to a question on the BBC’s Question of Sport recently and even popped up on Michael Macintyre’s Christmas Day special.

It’s odd to say due to his relative veteran status within football, that it’s been something of a breakthrough year for Glenn, but us Albion fans know it’s more a fact of him finally being appreciated for the player he is. I’m sure that at the age of 35, many will continue to write off Glenn Murray, just like others have done before, but his continued success highlights that he shows little signs of deterioration.

18/19 season review – halfway

If the first ten games gave us optimism for the season ahead, then the next nine have consolidated all those good feelings. In an article about mid-table teams in the Premier League Adam Hurray aka @FootballCliches on twitter described Brighton as “the team that people will most likely forget if you challenge them to name all 20 Premier League teams in under a minute.” Some will take this as an insult but not me personally. It’s a long way from that terribly forgettable 1-0 home defeat to Millwall just over four years ago that all-but signalled the end of Sami Hyypia’s reign as Albion manager and ultimately, the beginning of the success that Chris Hughton has gone onto lead us to. So yes, I will take competent forget-ableness over incompetent forget-ableness every day.

Matchdays 11-13 – Frustration and refereeing controversy

Talking of forgettable, let’s overlook Everton away. A bad day at the office, in which we were outclassed by a better resources team. There’s no shame in that.

Not that this stopped one fan phoning in BBC Radio 5 Live’s phone-in “606” and calling for Hughton to be sacked. A call described by host and one time Albion loanee Robbie Savage as “One of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard in my life”. You know you’ve got it wrong when Robbie Savage is taking the common sense high-ground. Thankfully the vocal minority that phone into programmes like 606 are not speaking for the majority of sensible football fans who appreciate Chris Hughton as one of the best managers currently working in the English game.

Whilst from an Albion perspective it was a demoralising defeat, it was one that we could have anticipated. However, the game was notable for at least two positive things:

First, it saw another set-piece goal from the Albion, something we lacked last season, scoring only five all season. But something that is becoming increasingly part of our attacking armoury, scoring eight already in only half the amount of games.

Second, it saw a debut from the bench for a certain Florin Andone, someone who we will come to later.

But first, next up was a Saturday lunchtime kick-off at Cardiff. And if we were honest, it was a game we expected the team to win, but it was not to be.

The team made a good start, with Lewis Dunk getting his second goal in two games, another one of those goals from a set piece and another assist from Solly March. But quickly the Albion’s fortunes began to turn as soon after Callum Paterson equalised for Cardiff. Then the Albion’s Dale Stephens saw red for what was at best an overzealous challenge. And one at which I, unlike many other Albion fans, won’t argue against.

With nearly an hour left what then followed was an extended period of Cardiff pressure, one which the ten-men Brighton team fought hard against, but it was a fight that was ultimately to no avail as a late winner from Sol Bamba meant Cardiff took all three points. Upon review Sol Bamba appeared to be offside in the build up to the goal. But in the melee that was the Brighton penalty area that preceded the goal it’s no wonder the officials weren’t sure. So near but yet so VAR…

After a couple of frustrating results we hoped for a Hughton-side-like instant positive reaction against Leicester at home. And with Albion taking the lead via yet another goal from Glenn Murray, it appeared we had just that. A goal that added to the Albion’s ever-growing set-piece goal tally. And when Leicester and England’s rising star James Maddison saw red for a silly second yellow card for diving, things seemed to be evening up for the Albion very quickly. But the Albion couldn’t capitalise on their numeric advantage, and this wastefulness would prove costly. As after Beram Kayal sloppily gave away a penalty, Jamie Vardy equalised for Leicester.

It was an afternoon of frustration for the Albion. Frustration in a lack of attacking intent, frustration in a lack of quality in possession, and frustration in sloppy, panicked decision making. The amount of long distant pot-shots and wild hit-and-hope(less) crosses made it hard to watch. It was a performance described, as level-headedly as ever by manager Chris Hughton, as “below the standard required”.

Many Albion fans were less level-headed and a small amount of boos could be heard at the end of the game. Whilst the Argus’s Andy Naylor continued his never-tiring battle on twitter with those who deem Hughton too ‘negative’ tactically, and who he deems the “moaning minority”. Some other were coming around to the idea of our previously disgraced Albion fan on 606, but that perspective would soon flip on its head.

Matchdays 14-15 – Andone stars as we win away and beat the scum!

The frustration that was brewing meant that the trip to Huddersfield had more riding on it than our league position relative to our hosts along with our solid start to the season granted. Which was unfortunate given our recent bad record away to the Terriers. And as many feared the Albion got off to a bad start. But oddly it was a spectacularly miscued overhead kick from Albion captain Bruno, one which he unintentionally kicked the ball into the Brighton defensive six-yard box, that set up a goal for Mathias Jorgensen to give the hosts a 1-0 lead. Bruno’s second unintentional assist of the season after his miss-hit shot set up Murray’s century goal.

Panic could have ensued, but that’s not the Hughton way, and after a slightly shaky first twenty minutes the Albion started to get back into the game. Then when a Huddersfield red card gave the Albion the initiative, soon after they equalised, just before halftime. Bruno made amends with an intentional and impressively acrobatic piece of ball control that led to an Albion corner. From the corner Solly March found Shane Duffy who equalised before halftime, another set piece goal and another Match assist.

After half time the Albion continued to step up the intensity in search of a winner, one that would this time against ten men prove fruitful. As Solly March continued to prove his doubters wrong by finding Andone with a great cross, where the Romanian nipped in ahead of the Huddersfield defence to put the ball home and give Albion only their fourth away win since promotion.

Up next was the derby game against Palace, which after all the nonsense of last season’s game at the AMEX had once again been scheduled on a Tuesday night, great. Nonetheless, with the gap between the sides at only six points the teams had to put all the sideshow of the rivalry out of their mind and get the three points.

And it was the Albion who struck first, with Murray emphatically scoring a penalty against his old side after Izquierdo went down in the area. A soft penalty but we will take it.

Next chaos ensued, after Murray was brought down in the box by James Tomkins. The ref ignored calls for another penalty and pointed for a corner. A melee ensued, one which saw Shane Duffy headbutt Palace’s Patrick Van Aanholt in front of the referee, I’m sure he had it coming, however, the referee had no choice but to send off Duffy leaving the Albion handicapped for the rest of the match.

But fear not, things were only getting started for the Albion. Pascal Gross was quickly sacrificed for Leon Balogun to partner Lewis Dunk in the back four, but before he resumed defensive duties he quickly doubled the Albion’s arrears. Balogun sending the ball home with a spectacular half volley after being unmarked in the box. An extra man and they still left the big centre back unmarked!

So, with a two goal lead the Albion attempted to hold onto what they had and defend for their lives. But rather than memorable defensive heroics, the game will forever be synonymous with a piece of individual brilliance from Florin Andone that followed.

As Brighton sat deep defending their lead, they had only one player in a remotely advanced position, Florin Andone. As the ball was pumped long and diagonally by Bernardo, remarkably Andone got to this speculative pass near the East stand touchline about ten yards into the Palace half, meaning he had a lot of ground to cover. But cover it he did, slaloming his way around the Palace defence as he did so and then finishing well to make it 3-0.

As the game went on Palace continued to probe without much penetration of the Albion defence. In a resultant moment of frustration, Palace talisman Wilfried Zaha attempted a tackle on hero of the day Florin Andone, which he seriously mistimed. Andone was fortunate to walk away unharmed and Zaha was fortunate to walk away with only a yellow card. Saving Palace further frustration and embarrassment on a bad night at the office.

And whilst Palace got a goal back via the penalty spot to make it 3-1 nothing would take the shine off this win for the Albion. What a victory, what a night. And it was a special night for Albion not just given the circumstances of the victory, but also the novelty that a win over Palace has been in recent years. In fact, this was only the second home league victory by the Albion over Palace since Boxing Day 1988. It’s the kind of win many fans would give a lot away for, and for the Albion it was a victory that preceded the worst run of consecutive defeats to date this season.

Matchdays 16-19 – A winless run – with promise

It was a winless run that started on a miserable wet and grey day in Burnley, one that at least went without last season’s deplorable behaviour from some of the home support.

The goal that ultimately cost the Albion the game was largely as a result of poor defending. As a cross from the right came into the Brighton box, it was headed to the far side of the box and headed back into the six-yard box melee by a Burnley shirt only to be headed clear by Lewis Dunk. But unfortunately, the ball fell kindly for James Tarkowski on the edge of the box to drill it home, scoring a goal that would ultimately give the home side a narrow 1-0 win. It was the type of 1-0 win that they prided themselves on last season, but the type of win that has been harder to come by this season.

If we are honest, it was a poor piece of defending from the Albion, two fairly measly clearances, which coupled with Ryan’s failure to get anywhere near a cross he came for, left Tarkowski with a simple finish. But Ryan’s error was a type of error we’ve not seen much from the Australian number one, which considering his relative lack of height is a testament to him, the management of Chris Hughton and coaching of the head goalkeeping coach Ben Roberts.

Nonetheless this was an error of judgement, but one of a type he’s been encourages to avoid. Maty Ryan spoke to the Independent last season of how before he signed for the Albion he was a much more proactive goalkeeper, with the coaches at Brighton now encouraging him to be less proactive and in situations like this stay on his line and leave the initial defensive duties to the defence, primarily due to the heading prowess of Dunk and Duffy coupled with the incredibly deep defensive line that the Albion often deploy, leaving him little option other than staying on his line.

So, maybe partly due to a concern over the missing Shane Duffy, Ryan uncharacteristically (or characteristically for him two years ago, old habits die hard) came for a cross that he didn’t win leaving a virtually open goal for Tarkowski to shoot into. And no wonder Ryan was nervous, Shane Duffy has been brilliant for the Albion since promotion and as such was justifiably given a contract extension recently. In fact, he is widely being regarded as Albion’s best player so far this season, and primarily is someone who knows how to defend a cross into the box.

As the game went on the Albion threw on Murray and Locadia to go with two up top and try to get an equaliser. And they would combine for the Albion’s best chance of the game. As Murray peeled off wide, something he has grown accustom to doing much less of as a sole striker, he found himself in a position to cross a ball into the box from a deep position. Cross he did, and what a cross it was, landing in a perfect position for Locadia to run onto and head home to equalise, except he headed it over. Cue bedwetting of the highest order, including some Albion fans calling for Locadia’s head, which is frankly ludicrous, more on this later.

But first, up next at the AMEX was Chelsea, and fresh from their victory over champions Man City it was an imposing prospect. In fact, for sixty minutes they showed exactly why that was. They controlled possession with such ease, toying with Brighton and creating enough chances to win a handful of games.

Eden Hazard in particular was brilliant. I’ve already said last season that he was the best opposition player I’d seen at the AMEX. After this day it was clear to me that he’s the best player entirely.

The first goal was of his making. After Chelsea somewhat casually sprayed the ball around the Albion defence, it came to Hazard. Out of nothing he took virtually the whole Albion defence out of the game with only a few touches, then with one more he found Pedro at the far post in space who prodded the ball home and give them the lead.

They then extended the lead as the Albion’s continued the evidence of some growing indiscipline when Balogun gave the ball away, leaving Hazard free to stride forward and pass the ball past a helpless Ryan in goal.

At half time I texted my wife, a Chelsea fan, joking that it would be nice if they could even up the teams by letting Hazard switch and Chelsea almost justified the lack of confidence that I had shown in my team as they almost scored again when Azpilicueta’s low teasing cross fell to Pedro, but his overhead kick went well over.

Then Alonso received the ball on the edge of the box but despite his well-hit shot across the face of goal beating Ryan in goal, it hit the post. It was as if the sound of the smack of the ball against the woodwork woke up the atmosphere in the stadium from its slumber and livened the home team into life.

The Albion had just brought on Florin Andone for the unusually ineffectual Glenn Murray. It was this change that would instigate the livening up of the team’s attacking play and it would quickly produce the intended impact. Propper played a cross-field pass to Gross, Albion’s player of last season then crossed to the on-rushing Bernardo who’s nodded the ball down to Solly March at the far post who tapped it home. A nice move that kept the Albion in the game, somehow.

It wasn’t just Andone who made an impact from the bench, the ever-improving Yves Bissouma came on and his pace and power from midfield put Chelsea under more pressure. Particularly when a cross-field diagonal pass looked to put Solly March through on goal, but he was brought down by Alonso who appeared to be the last man. But Alonso received only a yellow card and ultimately Chelsea held on to take all three points in a manner that was far closer than their dominance for an hour deserved.

It was Bernardo who was the Albion player who took the most plaudits as man of the match. He’d had a great match at left back and was beginning to show his worth after a tough start to the season, particularly on the opening day when his debut against Watford left some already calling him a flop. But like a few other new signings he is beginning to prove the doubters wrong.

The fact Bernardo has replaced Bong, a man who was a mainstay in the team last season, demonstrates his impressive impact on the team. I see the reason being that Bernardo is a much more proactive attack-minded full-back, and it’s no coincidence his move into the starting eleven has coincided with better performances away from home and in general more attacking football from the side.

His more proactive nature is shown via a range of stats, having totalled 5 more interceptions (18 to Bong’s 13), totalled 17 more tackles (28 to Bong’s 11) and totalled almost double the headed clearances (15 to Bong’s 8). All this in 9 appearances to Bong’s 13. It’s no doubt that Bernardo would suit the more offensive-minded and high pressing Brighton team that Hughton has started to encourage, materialising for at least periods in games if not yet for a full ninety minutes.

Game 18 was a trip to Bournemouth and a rare start for both Andone and Locadia, with Murray dropping to the bench. And unlike many other away performances since promotion, this led to the Albion matching if not bettering the home sides attacking intensity, at least for the first 45 minutes. But in their way stood an inspired goalkeeper in Asmir Begovic. First saving from the previously mentioned Locadia low down to his left and then from a Dunk header, again low down to his left.

But at the other end the home side were also creating chances and a man who is proving to be one of the best Premier League signing of the last summer, David Brooks (signed for £10m from Sheffield United) was providing the biggest threat. And it was him who opened the scoring with a wonderful shot into Ryan’s bottom left-hand corner.

But despite the Albion’s attempts to equalise, no goal was forthcoming. And after Lewis Dunk received a red card for a second yellow card it was all but over. The first card Dunk received was for a foul on the prior mentioned David Brooks, one that many believed had gone to Bissouma. So when he got his second yellow and subsequent red for a cynical trip of Callum Wilson from behind, many thought it was only his first card, but off he went and with it went any hope the Albion had of taking a point from the match.

Bournemouth sealed the points when David Brooks made a run to the near post and looped a header back over his head and over Ryan into the goal. A wonderful goal that capped a wonderful performance from the Welshman who is no doubt already worth significantly more than the £10m Bournemouth paid for him over the summer.

So, after three straight defeats it was Arsenal at home that would take us to the halfway point. And it was the visitors who started the brighter, with Aubameyang’s chipped shot forcing Ryan into an early save. And it was Aubameyang who would break the deadlock barely a few minutes later, when after Balogun kept the ball in play only to give the ball straight back to Lacazette who after interchanging with Ozil, worked his way around a static Albion defence to find Aubameyang in space who passed the ball into the top corner to give the visitors the lead.

It was Aubameyang who then forced Ryan into another great save, this time down to his left with the game still 1-0. Further evidence that Ryan is a player the Albion will greatly miss when the Australian goalkeeper now goes to represent his country at the Asia cup in UAE.

Those saves would prove vital as the Albion not long after equalised through the seemingly ever-criticised Jurgen Locadia’s first goal of the season. It was somewhat fortunate circumstances that led to it, but he deserved a bit of luck after some of the less fortunate moments he’s had this season. Davy Propper’s hopeful long diagonal pass forward from level with the Albion penalty area looked meant for Gross but was unintentionally headed into Locadia’s path by Arsenal’s Stephan Lichtsteiner. Locadia then simply had to round the keeper and pass it into the empty net to put the scores level, which he did.

Locadia deserved his goal, he was fantastic in the left-wing role and with better finishing could have given the Albion all three points in the second half. Locadia didn’t deserve the vitriolic abuse he received after his miss at Burnley and he doesn’t deserve to be held up as an Albion great quite yet either. But this was a stepping stone towards him fulfilling his potential.

When we signed Jurgen Locadia we knew he wasn’t the finished article, we knew he was a raw talent coming from a league that is below the standard of the English Premier League. For every Van Persie or Van Nistelrooy that has been a success in the Premier League after signing from Holland, there is a counter example of a Jozy Altidore or an Alfonso Alves who were not a success.

Whilst it’s a lot of money for Brighton to spend, £14m doesn’t buy you a proven goalscorer at this level. It buys you a Jurgen Locadia, a player who’s shown promise, shown he’s competent, shown he’s got a lot of ability, but also shown he’s not perfect, at least not yet. So, if he has a bad game and misses a big chance against Everton or West Ham, I won’t be getting carried away, he needs time in the team to settle and show what he can do.

In fact, it wasn’t Locadia this time being maligned for missing a good chance to score, it was Solly March or Davy Propper, or both, depending on who you spoke to after the game. As the Albion pushed forward and created chances both could have scored, but neither did. I’m happy to state that I’m not concerned with this, both players have potential to be a more significant goalscorer for the team than at current, and if they’re getting in the positions to score that’s the hard part. If they keep doing that then taking those chances will naturally come next.

A halfway point summing up

The draw with Arsenal leaves the Albion with 22 points at the halfway mark of 19 games, ahead of schedule in our search for another year of Premier league status. And 8 points from the last nine games is a reasonable return given the amount of tough away games and games against top six teams that were included in that run, along with the self-induced handicap that the three red cards we received created.

One real positive so far this season is the increased impact of Hughton’s substitutions and varied team selection. The continued impact of new signings like Andone, Bernardo and Bissouma along with regulars like Murray, March and Duffy show the evidence of the increased squad depth.

Hughton still doesn’t make change for changes sake though. And as such the consistency of approach and defensive organisation remains a true strength of the team. Burnley’s Sean Dyche has spoken before about how it’s often braver to stick with what you’ve got and easier to panic and twist when it comes to substitutions and in-game tactical decisions. Hughton shows trust in his players, hence why many have and are continuing to fulfil their potential in this team under his tutelage.

Take Anthony Knockaert as an example, someone who was almost ever-present last season and has looked reinvigorated when he has played recently but is still struggling to get a game, such is the increased competition for places.

But with the added versatility has come some frustrating moments as the team experiences some growing pains. No more so than the frustration and indiscipline that lead to the three Albion red cards. A trend that needs to end.

In my ten games in summing up, I said I thought the fact that Brighton had the second most shots conceded, and the least shots taken would reverse to the average of our league position once the season went on. Well, it hasn’t yet. We currently have the second least total of shots taken and the second highest conceded, with only Burnley totalling lower and higher totals in both areas respectively. Even more anomalous is that the Albion post fewer shots per game at home than anyone in the division despite totalling the joint 9th highest points total accumulated at home.

Whilst stats don’t necessarily tell you everything, for me this one does illustrate two things. Firstly, the Albion’s well-known reliance on their defensive solidity. And secondly, the reliance on Glenn Murray’s reliability in front of goal. In fact, in Murray’s case his conversation rate of shots taken is about as good as it gets for a high scoring forward in a top-flight European football, sitting currently at 36.4%.

The next run of matches starts with a tough visit of Everton who gave us a footballing lesson recently, followed with an away trip to West Ham who are a better team now than the one we beat 3-0 at the London Stadium last season. Which is before another trip to Bournemouth this time in the FA Cup, followed by the visit of leaders Liverpool and a trip to a revitalised Man United. So, it could be a while until we see the next Albion win. But as the recent run shows, the team is capable of giving anyone a game and if we keep beating the teams below us that gap between us and those bottom three places should remain in place.

The Albion sit 13th, a position if which we remain in come May will match the club’s highest ever league finish from the 1981/82 season. In the following season the manager Mike Bailey was sacked after growing pressure on his safety-first approach contributed to the team’s worsening performances. Despite the change of manager, the team were ultimately relegated at the end of the following season in the summer of 1983, albeit being relegated along with the memories of competing in that season’s FA cup final, one which was ultimately lost to United in the replay. Maybe we should take some lessons from history before we moan about Hughton’s ‘negative’ tactics.

When the team was in the fourth tier nearly twenty years ago, then Brighton chairman Dick Knight borrowed a phrase from an album title of DJ and Albion investor/fan Fatboy Slim aka Norman Cook to describe the club’s status, “Halfway between the gutters and the stars”. Today we are one of those stars, albeit one that some could forget about amongst the brighter Middle Eastern or Russian oil illuminated stars.

As we approach 2019, we do so with promise, hope and anticipation of another 19 games to come. Ones which if the last 19 games were anything to go by, should give us a lot of excitement to look forward to. Up the Albion, Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

18/19 season review – Ten games in

Ten games is traditionally the point in the season that the league table starts to take shape and become a meaningful barometer of a team’s performance. As such it feels like a good time to reflect on what’s happened so far this season. Brighton sit 11th in the table with fourteen points from those ten games, a points return and league position that is probably better than most predicted, so let’s take a look at how we got there and what it shows us.

Matchdays 1-3 – The bad, the good and the ugly

We started the season with a wave of optimism. Partly because of the number of new signings made over the summer, including record signing and last season’s Eredivisie top scorer Alireza Jahanbakhsh. But partly because of the way safety was secured last season, earning four points in our final two home games against top four sides Spurs and Man Utd, including that unforgettable 1-0 victory over United.

So as we approached the first game of the season away to Watford there was plenty predicting an Albion victory. But instead what occurred was a 2-0 defeat, the Albion’s eighth 2-0 defeat on the road since promotion the year before and the fourteenth time the Albion had lost conceding more than once in the process, all that in only twenty-four Premier League games.

So, as the team lined up at Vicarage Road it wasn’t long before that optimism faded. Bruno was substituted early through injury and replaced by Bong, with new signing Bernardo moving to right back. Subsequently Bernardo had a tough day up against the former Juventus player Roberto Pereyra, who scored both goals that day and whose second was scored after Bernardo was found hopelessly out of position allowing Pereyra to double the Albion’s arrears. Bernardo’s poor performance and Bruno’s injury opened the door for another new signing Martín Montoya to cement a place in the team in the coming weeks at right-back.

I mentioned in one of my pre-season blogs that I thought Bernardo was being lined up as Bruno’s long term replacement. However, given the subsequent signature of Montoya and the subsequent events on the pitch, it appears Bernardo is seen as more of a left-back by Chris Hughton. So, given Hughton’s loyalty to Bong, a players who’s featured in every game this season, it’s likely Bernardo will have to patiently wait his turn to make amends for his poor showing against Watford.

The team didn’t make it a meaningful contest against Watford and despite promising substitute appearances from new signings Yves Bissouma and Alireza Jahanbakhsh, the Albion took few other positives from a terrible display, with Albion manager Chris Hughton describing his side as “off the pace”.

Thankfully this low level of performance didn’t continue. In fact, if this was the bad, the first three games were a case of the bad, the good, and then the ugly.

So, next up was the good and another victory over Man Utd, although it wasn’t all good for the Albion that day. After captain for the day Lewis Dunk came off injured early in the first half, he was replaced by the new signing and Nigerian international Leon Balogun. However, unlike Bernardo, Balogun was instantly up to the pace and the standard of the Premier League and played well alongside Duffy.

With Balogun a more than capable deputy, the Albion were able to press United with gusto, putting them under plenty of pressure. And it wasn’t long before this pressure told and the Albion got off the mark with a sublime chip from Glenn Murray. This is a goal that has to go down as one of his best for the Albion, whilst it was from close range, the skill and technique to flick the ball up and chip the ball over United ‘keeper De Gea was a sight to behold.

Whilst the Albion faithful were in a state of shock to be ahead, a second Albion goal from Shane Duffy sent the AMEX into a state of pandemonium. With Shame Duffy allowed an absurd amount of time to take the ball down he then rifled it home to give the team a two-goal lead. After Lukaku pulled one back with the Albion conceding another goal from a corner, last season’s Brighton player of the season Pascal Gross converted a penalty to regain the team’s two goal advantage going into half time.

As the first half ended it was hard to take stock of what had been a whirlwind of a first half. One where the Albion had played with a level of pace and intensity unrecognisable from the defeat to Watford the week before. Despite an improved display from United in the second half they rarely trouble the Albion defence, making the late penalty clumsily given away by Duffy and scored by Pogba a meaningless consolation for the visitors. In contrast to the game against Watford there were so many positives, none more so than the previously mentioned debutants Martin Montoya and Leon Balogun.

Nonetheless the two sloppy goals conceded were a concern. It was four conceded in two now from the Albion and there were more to come.

Which bring us to the Ugly, Liverpool away. Ugly because of the dreadful way the Albion gifted Liverpool the lead via an error from the otherwise impressive Yves Bissouma. After he was dispossessed by the evergreen James Milner in the Albion’s defensive third, Liverpool made no mistake and took the lead which they held onto for the rest of the game to take all three points.

Nonetheless this was a good Albion performance where they minimised Liverpool’s well-known attacking threat (particularly well-known by Albion who lost 4-0 at Anfield as recently as May) and could have nicked a point if Gross or Knockaert had beaten the keeper with good chances to score in the second half.

Matchdays 4-7 – A charitable donation of a 2-0 head start

So, it had been a mixed start for the Albion but one that gave hope for better things to come. But then followed a string of four games where the team gave all their opponents 2-0 head starts and took only two points from a possible twelve.

First up Brighton returned to the AMEX to face a newly promoted Fulham side in good spirits after their first win of the season, a 4-2 win at home over Burnley. But it was Brighton that started the stronger, earning an early penalty, but one that this time Pascal Gross failed to convert.

On this moment the game swung and Fulham took advantage taking a 1-0 lead into half time. Brighton’s defence was again looking shaky and with a newly returned Lewis Dunk looking as if he’d been rushed back too early from injury, the Albion soon found themselves 2-0 down after the aforementioned Dunk was outmuscled by Fulham’s new signing Mitrovic who put the ball past Maty Ryan and into the top corner.

It had been an incredibly frustrating first 60 minutes for the Albion and particularly for last season’s player of the year Pascal Gross. In fact it had been an underperforming start to the season in general for Gross, who was clearly playing through an injury. He was brought off on the hour and hasn’t feature since this season, such is the strength in depth that the Albion now has in its squad.

So Gross was replaced by Bissouma and with some added attacking impetus from his fresh legs and incisiveness, the game swung again as the Albion started an impressive comeback. First after a wonderful run from a reinvigorated Anthony Knockaert, he found Murray in space on the edge of the box to pull Albion back in it. Then after an inexplicable handball from Fulham goalscorer Mitrovic, the Albion were awarded a penalty. One which Murray dispatched to earn Albion a draw.

Next up was Southampton on one of those weird Monday night games Sky Sports insist on organising. And it took Brighton 45 minutes to get their head in the game as what followed was the worst half of football the Albion has produced so far this season. It was reminiscent of many other away performances since promotion, one with poor ball retention, a lack of tempo and intensity in and out of possession, leading ultimately to a lack of attacking intent.

Southampton took advantage, first through a spectacular long-range strike from Hojbjerg. Then after the Albion gifted the opposition another penalty, this time via a clumsy foul by Gaetan Bong, Southampton striker Danny Ings scored to make it 2-0.

So the Albion found themselves once again needing another great comeback and a remarkable improvement materialised. The midfield pushed up, the full-backs made more forward runs and the Albion created multiple opportunities to score. And after Duffy scored again from a set piece, Murray scored a late penalty to make it 2-2 in the second consecutive game.

Next up it was Spurs at the AMEX, who were on a three-game losing streak meaning there was optimism of an upset. But after a third sloppy concession of a penalty so far this season, this time via an inexplicable Murray handball (a matter of feet away from the spot where Mitrovic conceded a penalty via the same fashion as in the last home game) the Albion were 1-0 down at the break. Then Erik Lamela finished off a wonderful team move to give Spurs a 2-0 lead. The Albion rallied and attempted another unlikely comeback but could only muster a late Knockaert consolation goal. If only he’d taken the chance he had from only a few yards out earlier in the second half with the game at 1-0. Ultimately, the game swung on moments of skill and good decision making that goes to show the quality the Spurs squad has in greater supply to the Albion.

A trip to Champions Man City followed where an ever-greater supply of quality players was on offer and it was like Albion were lambs to the slaughter. That said, having put five past Burnley and Cardiff and six past Huddersfield, despite losing two-nil the Albion can take many positives from the performance if not the result. In conceding twice despite having only 20% possession the defence had to dig in and concentrate for long periods to avoid a thrashing, which they did, and it was a sign of things to come.

So although ending match-day seven with two consecutive defeats, the City game was still an improvement on the performances away from home that we’d seen previously given the standard of opposition the team were facing.

In fact considering the calibre of opposition the Albion had faced in the first seven games, (which included playing all of last season’s top 4 and an in-form Watford side) a five-point tally coupled with some good performances against the top teams was satisfying. However, taking account that the only win came against United at home rather than against Fulham at home or Southampton away it suggested a certain amount of missed opportunity and meant the next three games, two at home with the away game to winless Newcastle, had a bit more riding on them than they should have.

Matchdays 8-10 – 1-0 to the Albion, defensive solidity at last!

So if the first seven games showed signs of a team with a habit of conceding soft goals. The next three games that followed demonstrated the team were capable of the exact opposite. There were two 1-0 home victories courtesy of Glenn Murray’s 99th and 100th goals for the club, which were sandwiched between a hard fought 1-0 victory away to struggling Newcastle.

This run made it seven one-nil wins since promotion for the Albion, and thirteenth clean sheets, a good record all things considered. Hard-fought one-nil wins have been a regular feature of Hughton’s tenure at the Albion, with six coming in the promotion season alone.

The first of the three consecutive wins was one of those special Friday nights at the AMEX. A night where we welcomed West Ham, a team the Albion convincingly beat twice last season and a team we would beat once more.

Wins over the teams around you at home is always important in a battle for survival from relegation, but in a game like this where the Albion were under pressure from West Ham attacks for so much of the game it is all the sweeter.

Hughton started with a changed midfield, with Stephens and Gross out, Kayal and Propper started in deep lying central midfield roles and Knockart and Jahanbakhsh played on the wings with Solly March surprisingly getting nod to play in the number ten role in a three behind Murray. And it worked for much of this and the following two games, with Stephens replacing Propper and Izquierdo replacing Knockaert in the following two games.

It was a sign that the impressive player recruitment the Albion have continued to make since winning promotion is paying dividend in the form of options for and unpredictability in Hughton’s team selection. We rotated mainly between the same 15 or 16 players throughout most of last season with no decent back up in many positions. In fact we have already used 18 players this season and whilst this is comparable to the total this time last season, it’s no doubt that the standard of the second-string players has improved significantly. With the remaining players from the squad like Florin Andone and maybe the odd development squad player likely to be used at some point in the near future, there are real signs of the added options and strength in depth available to Chris Hughton.

This is most true in attacking areas and that night against West Ham the adapted system meant the three behind Murray provided lots of threat through runs on and off the ball, with March particularly causing the opposition lots of problems. This left space for others to exploit. Something which Kayal did exactly that for the goal, finding space on the left wing to cross the ball to Murray in space at the back post.

The return of Izquierdo was a welcome positive, but the three games were dominated from an Albion perspective by the return to powering dominance of the centre-back partnership of Dunk and Duffy. Who were no doubt buoyed by the good display in the previous game at the Etihad. Before the West Ham game it was announced they both signed five years deals and if performances like this continue over that period, they should go down as the best centre back partnership the club has ever had.

A week later the team travelled to the North East to face a Newcastle side who’d lost all their four previous home games this season, and Albion would make it five with another hard fought 1-0 win.

After Murray came off injured with a nasty looking head injury, Kayal opened the scoring by deflecting an Izquierdo shot past the Newcastle ‘keeper. What followed was another display of defensive solidly from the Albion as Duffy and Dunk once again showed why the club had just extended their contracts, whilst Maty Ryan made multiple saves to earn his second clean sheet of the season.

Then came the third win in a row and it was becoming a case of Groundhog Day for the Albion. Another 1-0 home win, another Glenn Murray winner, more great defending from Duffy and Dunk, and some reliance on a few top saves from Maty Ryan to keep the clean sheet.

It wasn’t just any old 1-0 win though, Glenn Murray cemented his place as only the second ever player to score one-hundred goals for Brighton. He also becomes the highest post-war goal scorer, taking over from Kit Napier on 99 goals.

And he did it in typical Glenn Murray fashion. He spoke in Nick Szczepanik book ‘Brighton Up’ about how he would often find space in the box by standing still, whilst others moved around him. This day was no different, as the ball fell to Bruno on the right side of the box the Wolves defence shifted in his direction. In the same motion Murray stayed almost stationary but alert to find himself in acres of space at the far post to score his century goal.

But that day and in fact across the last three games it wasn’t vintage Albion. Hughton admitted after the Wolves game that the team were not at their best, citing the problem of poor ball retention that has been a bad habit throughout the first ten games of the season.

As centurion Glenn Murray stated after the win over Wolves it was ‘back to basics’ for the Albion. Keeping it tight at the back by defending deep and not giving too much away to the opposition and then relying on taking the odd chance you get at the other end. Whilst this worked over the past three games and was a system that kept us safe last season, there’s plenty of flaws in this tactic.

For me, the biggest example of this is the amount of draws last season that could have been wins. We entered the final third of last season having been hammered by Chelsea and mainly as a result of all those draws, relying on winning the home games we had left. We did this emphatically and partly through allowing the team more attacking licence and creating more chances to score. Swansea and West Ham at home being the best examples. But given the amount of sloppy goals conceded in the first seven games a back to basics approach was required.

A ten-games in summing up

There is plenty to be pleased with out of the first ten games, nothing more so than the points tally. But let’s not get carried away it’s a tally of 14 not 40, and none of Albion’s wins were emphatic. What the first ten games have shown, as we all knew before the season started, is that there is very little difference between all the teams that will fill the bottom end of the table.

One stat that’s been mentioned a lot since the Albion’s recent run of wins is that the team have conceded the second most amount of shots in the Premier League this season, whilst having the least amount of shots ourselves. But stats are sometimes misinterpreted and given the way the fixtures have fallen and the easier run of games ahead for the team, I suspect that both statistics will revert to a similar level to last season.

As we quickly approach the winter period of the season, one thing that has proved founded, despite the early bump in the road at Watford, is the wave of optimism from back in the summer. Many of the new signings have given the squad a strength and versatility that was not on offer last season. These additions have allowed the Albion to make changes in personnel and tactics more often as well as making changes during games that have helped towards achieving the points total amounted so far.

The idea the team could have coped with the absence of Dunk, Stephens and Gross for long periods in the first ten games, whilst playing such high calibre opposition and find themselves with the outcome they have so far this season, would have been unthinkable this time last season. Whilst this season has been and will continue to be a scrap, the investment in player recruitment made by the club and led by Paul Winstanley and his team in the recent transfer windows, looks to be making the difference for the Albion. Long may it continue…

Thoughts from Brighton’s 1-0 win over West Ham

Phew! As clean sheets go that was the most fortunate that I can remember for some time. After the game Hughton even admitted that we ‘rode our luck’ and West Ham boss Pellegrini somewhat justifiably claimed his side were the better team. So whilst we walked away with the three points, there’s plenty to improve on from another hectic Albion game. One which I’ve tried to make some sense of below.

Poor in possession – whilst there were positives, nonetheless this game highlighted again some of the issues from recent games, one of which being our poor ball retention. Hughton said after the game that the players ‘made some poor choices in possession’, which frankly undersells the issue somewhat.

The stats tell the story: 36% possession, 68% passing accuracy, frankly we were below our usual standard, not good enough and got away with one. The lack of possession was clearly somewhat a tactic to dispel West Ham’s threat on the counter attack, but nonetheless the poor ball retention when in possession was a real issue that threatened to cost the Albion all three points had West Ham been better in the final third. Much of the talk before the game was of the strengths of the Hammers front three and the threat it posed to the Albion defence, but considering the amount of possession we gifted them, they nonetheless offered a relatively meek threat that the Albion back four dealt with well.

This is particularly true of gifting free kicks in dangerous positions, something we’ve discussed before. The more the Albion gave the ball away the more players like Duffy and Kayal were forced to make a tactical foul to prevent instant danger whilst giving away a set piece around the edge of the box. The comforting thing is that whilst the Albion faced nine corners and a number of free kicks from outside the box we defended them well on the whole, progress from last season that shows the work on the training ground is paying off.

It can be said that the issue of poor ball retention is exaggerated as we were missing Dale Stephens, which is true. He’s often been the lynchpin of the side and as recent performances have shown you only really notice how key certain players are when they’re not there. But some of the passing was reminiscent of the first half performance away to Southampton when we put on probably our worst 45 minutes of the season so far, barely stringing a pass together at times, a game which Stephens was involved.

Propper was at fault both then and in my opinion last night too. He made too many sloppy passes and made too many passes where better options were available to build play and the move soon broke down. That said news of his injury is a blow, especially with Stephens still out. He was key last season after a slow start and I have no doubt this season he will have the same impact. But as one door closes, a Bissouma sized window opens.

Bruno bought in for composure… ironic? – Hughton stated in his interview with Sky Sports after the game that captain Bruno was brought into the side to provide some composure on the ball, which is ironic considering how bad our ball retention was.

In fact Bruno had the 3rd worst passing accuracy of any Albion outfield player (61.5%) only beaten by Duffy and Murray, players in positions you’d expect a lower than average percentage, whereas the other players in the wide positions were much nearer a 70% accuracy last night, that said you’d normally expect nearer an 80% accuracy from those areas of the pitch.

Bruno also struggled to get forward, often penned in by West Ham’s attacking threat, this made things especially difficult as the full backs are often a key attacking outlet for the Albion. Coupled that with Bong’s more defensive nature it’s no wonder West Ham dominated possession.

Bruno’s unusually quiet attacking game is demonstrated by him making no crosses. Bruno averaged nearly 2 crosses a game last season, a stat Montoya has equaled in his period in the side, something that may tempt Hughton to revert back to Montoya for the game against Newcastle after the international break.

‘Brave’ defending from the centre backs – one thing that doesn’t need improving on is the centre back partnership of Dunk and Duffy. They both put in a compete defensive performance, blocking, heading away and generally dealing with any attacks the Albion faced. The threat posed by the West Ham front three was diminished by this wonderful defensive partnership and whilst we rode our luck, nonetheless they did their jobs well. Some are saying this is the best defensive partnership in the club’s history, five more years of this and they’ll be no one doubting the fact.

Izquierdo’s impact – another of the real positives of the night was the return to the AMEX of Jose Izquierdo, who offered a great impact as a late sub. Whilst he came on in the late stages of the game where we were mostly seeing out the game by defending very deep, the threat was always there. He showed with his pace on the break and willingness to attack what a threat he is. All this with the added danger of the ability to shoot from long range, something West Ham will know all about from last season. In fact this could have led to a second, had Locadia not strayed marginally offside before he put the ball past Fabianski off the rebound of an Izquierdo shot.

The Brilliant Solly March – in a bold and surprising move Chris Hughton asked Solly March to play the number ten/second striker role behind Glenn Murray and what we saw certainly in the first half was plenty of good reasons to repeat the tactic. With the role usually filled by the injured Pascal Gross, March filled in and offered a very different threat to the German.

Whilst Gross’s ability to pick out a pass and create a chance is second to none, a front two of him and Murray lacks any real threat from pace, which in a game with such low possession stats can counteract any attacking threat. It was this pace and ability to take on defenders and stretch the play that March showed which caused West Ham issues on a number of occasions and a bit of better decision making on a couple of those occasions from March could have seen the Albion further ahead at the break.

It’s notable that despite all the attacking talent brought into the squad in the last two transfer windows, that it’s the long serving established players like Knockaert, March and Murray that are continuing to create most of the attacking threat for the Albion.

Murray completely unmarked? – how you can leave him unmarked in the box is criminal! This goal was a great example of Murray’s previously discussed tactic of standing still whilst others move around you. In doing so he again found himself in the right place at the right time to score the winner. He also did the same to be in the right place at the right time to block a goal bound shot from Arnautovic with the game still at nil-nil Another vintage display from Mr Murray.

Summing up – so whilst there’s plenty to improve on there’s also plenty to be thankful for, particularly the defensive abilities of Dunk and Duffy and the goal scoring ability of Murray. Once again it was the ability to win the battle in both penalty areas that told for the Albion rather than the battle in the midfield, which was quite clearly lost. With eight points from eight games we enter the point picking period ahead of many people’s expectations (including my own), which is kudos to Hughton’s tactics and team selection.

When the ball hits the goal it’s not Shearer or Cole it’s…

If my last blog was my hardest to write, this will be the easiest. I, like most Albion fans, love Bobby Zamora. I love what he did for the Albion and what he went on to do after he left the Albion. But, when he moved to Spurs in the summer of 2003, it was the end of an era for Brighton and my favourite Brighton player.

Bobby truly caught my imagination. I was so obsessed with him I became known for boring others with my Zamora based rambles. So much so that an ex girlfriend photoshopped a picture of me celebrating a goal with Bobby for a birthday card, albeit one from during his time for West Ham but she wasn’t a football fan and the gesture was there.

The love affair for me started early on. I still remember jumping around my parents living room when Bobby signed permanently for the Albion for £100k from Bristol Rovers in the summer of 2000, a lot of money for the Albion at the time but a proven investment. Bobby had already caught the imagination of the Albion faithful when he scored 6 goals in a 6 games during a loan spell the season before. The highlight of which, a hat trick in a 7-1 demolition away to Chester.

There had been talk that Brighton would sign Zamora but talks had stalled and dragged on most of the summer. Then manager Micky Adams told the BBC at the time: “It’s been a frustrating time. I really thought the deal was dead and buried, but Bobby was keen to join us and I’m delighted we’ve got our man at long last.”

Before his time with Rovers, he grew up playing for the distinguished east London youth team Senrab, where he played with the likes of John Terry and Ledley King. This earned him a place with West Ham youth team but he was later released, at which point he joined Bristol Rovers. But despite some successful loan spells, in his time with Rovers he failed to break into the first team.

But whilst Bobby was keen to leave Rovers to get first team football, he was aware of the competition for places that existed at the Albion. He told the BBC “I’m very pleased to be here, and hopefully I’ll be able to get some first-team games. I know there are already three strikers here, but hopefully I’ll be able to break into the team.” However it was clear from the start he would not just be starting but a talisman for the team. After losing away to Southend on the opening day of the season, Zamora scored twice in a 2-1 home win over Rochdale and the goals just kept coming, 70 in total during this spell with the Albion.

When he was younger, as he was a West Ham fan Bobby claimed to have originally modelled his style on Hammer legend Tony Cottee, before adapting his style to suit the strengths of his height and pace. But he wasn’t just scoring any goals, Bobby was scoring spectacular goals, one of my favourites a 35 yard lob against Bury. I would suggest a trip to YouTube if you haven’t seen them, and even if you have they’re always worth a watch as a reminder of how great he was.

Zamora was the leagues top scorer in both seasons during Brighton’s back-to-back title wins, with the club rising from the forth tier when he joined in 2000 into the second tier of English football in 2002. Bobby wasn’t affected by the rise in standard either and the goals just kept coming. Bobby is quoted in the guardian as saying: “I thought the Second Division would be a lot different after the Third… Everyone is a little more keyed up, on and off the field. And Stoke and Brentford have really impressed me. But I can honestly say that I don’t find scoring goals any more difficult.” During that time, it felt like if we need a goal he was always going to get one.

His progression was being noticed nationally and Brighton rejected numerous bids for him during his time with the Albion, but at first he was happy to stay. It wasn’t until after two years and with the club now playing in the second tier, his head was turned. With the club retaining many of the players who had been with them in the forth tier that now found themselves playing in the second, some struggled to make the step up, especially at first and Bobby was evermore the standout player.

Therefore, it was no surprise that at the beginning of that season, his absence caused one of the worst losing runs in the clubs history. With the Albion in the second tier and taking 4 points from the first two games, his injury at home to Norwich coincided with a run of 12 defeats including a 5-0 loss to rivals Palace. Once Zamora came back from injury he quickly again looked the part and at times that season, dragged the team through games. He also showed his class and ever developing ability with some great goals, not many better than a sublime chip in front of the Sky TV cameras away to Wolves.

With the club appointing Steve Coppell and Zamora back in the team, Brighton hit a run of form that against all odd left them in with a shout of staying up on the final day of the season. And despite a Zamora penalty (his last for the club at this time), Brighton went back down to the third tier and Bobby inevitably left.

Bobby’s relationship with the club at the time grew strained though. With his future clearly elsewhere he was keen to get a move to progress, but the club were keen to protect their asset. Bobby and his agent made it clear he wanted a move to the Premier League and with that the Albion fought back. The then club Chief Executive Martin Perry was quoted in the Argus as saying: “Bobby or his agent need to get into the real world of football finance. The club has received no offers for him and if we were to then Bobby would be informed.” When relegation was confirmed it was inevitable he would go and a £1.5m move to Spurs followed. A sum at the time I thought was cheap, but one that probably reflected the fact that most of his goal for the Albion came in the forth and third tier of English football.

His move to Spurs was doomed soon after arriving though when the club sacked Glenn Hoddle, the manager who brought him to the club. When they appointed his successor David Pleat, Bobby’s opportunities were limited and he soon left for his boyhood club, West Ham. Four years there followed including a Playoff final winning goal and a FA cup runners-up medal. He then moved over to Fulham for another four years, where he got a Europa League runners-up medal and two England caps.

In fact it has been widely reported that he would have gone to the 2010 World Cup were it not for injury. During his time at Fulham he also got the opportunity to play international football for Trinidad & Tobago, but injury and his hopes of playing for England stopped him from taking that opportunity. As a Brighton fan, it made me feel proud to see the player who’d lit up the Withdean every week in an England shirt. If for no other reason than that I’d been telling everyone who’d listen he should have been picked for years!

He then spent 3 further years with QPR, scoring another playoff final winner and being a key part of the team that stayed in top flight the following season. After which, a much hyped and long time rumoured return to the Albion followed. He was a key part in the team that just missed out on promotion to the top flight on the final day of the 15/16 season, despite being ruled out by injury for large parts of the season. A clearly very distinguished career, but for me it’s his first spell with the Albion that will always be what I remember his football career for. Here’s to Bobby…