Know new Premier League opponents (Part 1): Brighton and Hove Albion

Brighton must retain Anthony Knockaert and look to build a team around the Frenchman.

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Brighton and Hove Albion missed out on automatic promotion to the Premier League by just two goals at the end of the 2015/16 season.

They were later beaten by Sheffield Wednesday in the playoffs to only come very close and yet fall apart. This definitely went on to hurt the prospects of the club playing at the top level. On the other hand, it also rejuvenated a self belief within the team that top flight football was not far from their reach. Almost a year later on April 17, 2017 Brighton beat Wigan Athletic in front of the home fans at Falmer Stadium to guarantee themselves a spot at the English Premier League. Fans were overjoyed and invaded the pitch in what followed as a night of tremendous celebrations.

Brighton’s pre season did not go well. A few injuries including center back Connor Goldson and a few below average performances in the friendlies did not set a correct tone to what would later become a phenomenal season for the Seagulls. They did manage to hold on to their star players though. Retention of Frenchman Anthony Knockaert and midfielder Dale Stephens went on to help them in the long run. To add to it all was an inclusion that changed the course of play for Brighton. Glen Murray from Bournemouth turned out to be their star goalscorer upfront.

Like the pre season Brighton did not start well in the Championship. Winning only 2 of their first 6 matches. Things were looking unsettled. Then arrived the month of September, where Brighton took their fate fate in own hands and went on an amazing run. Chris Hughton’s men went on a record unbeaten run of 18 league matches. They also won 14 out of those 18 games.

The streak started against Huddersfield when Anthony Knockaert’s shot from the edge of the box to the near post sneaked past the goalkeeper after a small error. They went on to beat Huddersfield 1-0. Then there was no looking back.

In this season of the Championship, Brighton had scored as many as 74 goals. Glen Murray netted the ball 23 times and was Brighton’s leading goalscorer. With all the good work that Murray was doing upfront, he was supplied with number of chances to convert them. Anthony Knockaert was at his best this season. He was the mainstay at the center of the field. Chris Hughton did not have to worry about quality in the midfield. Helping Knockaert out was ex Stoke City player Steve Sidwell. Sidwell also went on to win the Championship goal of the year with his long range effort against Bristol City. Another bright spot in attack was Israeli international Tomer Hemmed. Hemmed’s burst of pace and wonderful passing ability made it difficult for opponents to find an answer to his questions. With 11 goals and 4 assists, Hemmed will be one of the players to watch out for in the upcoming season.

There were times when the Seagulls were held tight by several teams. Hughton had the answer to that as well. Youngster Solly March was often thrown out from the bench to disrupt defenses. He did it with ease. His direct approach of attack was often crucial for his team’s attacking pursuit. It was also Solly’s strike against Wigan that confirmed Brighton’s top flight football.

Shaky at few times, but Brighton’s defence was overall above average. Irishman Shane Duffy and vice captain Lewis Dunk was up to the task when required. Their stability and communication among themselves and with keeper David Stockdale was quite noteworthy.

After qualifying for the Premier League, Brighton went all out for the Championship title. With the form that they were in, few doubted them to clinch it. With only 4 games remaining they were 7 points ahead of their rivals Newcastle United. It was a very disappointing display that followed. Brighton failed to win in their last 3 games. On the ultimate day of the Championship, Brighton had to secure a win against freshly relegated Aston Villa to win the title. They were put ahead when Glen Murray scored from the spot at the 64th minute. With Aston Villa down to 10 men, almost everything was in favor of the Seagulls. Then an 89th minute long range strike from Jack Grealish left the Seagulls winless in the last three and more importantly crowned Newcastle as champions.

Brighton and Hove Albion has a point to prove this season. The potential that they posses currently might not be enough for them to fight at the highest level of English Football. Fresh recruitments are required that will help them fill the gaps for defensive display. A few stars are out there to make a name for themselves. Anthony Knockaert is one of them. The Championship player of the year will be on the radars of many clubs. Brighton must retain him and look to build a team around the Frenchman. It will be difficult, but we have already witnessed a fairytale of Leicester City. Might as well be that the Seagulls are in for something special, a few years down the line.

Key players: Anthony Knockaert, Glen Murray, Steve Sidwell, Solly March

Strength: Goal scoring ability. Use of width while attacking. Counter attack.

Weakness: Avoiding offside. Defensive display. Ability to handle pressure.

Last Years position in Championship: Runners Up

Predicted Finishing position: 16th – 20th (Will be in relegation battle)

Photo by Matthew Wilkinson

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