When Brighton and Hove Albion were promoted to the Premier League, many thought they would be a team who’d immediately struggle with the big boys. Having dominated the Championship for the majority of last season, the Seagulls missed out on the title in their final three games of the season, needing just a point to add a winners’ medal to their Premier League promotion. But two defeats and a draw on the final day of the season meant they lost out by a point to Newcastle United.
Failure to thrive under pressure?
Manager Chris Hughton must have been very disappointed by his side’s inability to finish the title run off and their end of season collapse meant there was a bittersweet ending to their league campaign. With this in mind, it became clear that maybe Brighton would really stumble under the pressure in the Premier League and especially in the relegation zone, as they would come under intense scrutiny. So when the 2017/18 season kicked off with a 2-0 defeat to Manchester City, although the opposition were strong, many fans felt they would struggle.
This theory was only strengthened when Brighton lost their second game of the season too, this time to Leicester City. It was another 2-0 defeat and was followed by a 0-0 draw away to Watford, even when the Hornets had 10 men for over 60 minutes. Three games in, zero goals scored and only a point to show for it didn’t look like the kind of form Hughton would have wanted his side to show, especially when they were known for scoring plenty of goals.
The likes of Anthony Knockaert and Glenn Murray were struggling, their top two goal scorers in the Championship. Their poor performances affected the team as they couldn’t use new signing Pascal Gross’s creativity to any effect. It wasn’t looking good for Brighton until their next game at home to West Bromwich Albion. The Seagulls almost definitely looked a completely different team as they convincingly beat the Baggies 3-1, marking their first goals and win of the season. Gross managed to get two on the day, showing why Brighton chose to sign him in the summer.
After that however, defeats to Bournemouth and Arsenal were in between a 1-0 win over Newcastle, marking a rise in form. Even if they were beaten twice, they weren’t poor defeats by any means. Since those losses, Brighton have gone on to win 2 and draw 2 of their next four games, against big opposition. Particularly the 3-0 win over Everton was a great indication of how Hughton can make his side play when they are on form.
Turning fortunes around
The Englishman’s tactics of keeping men behind the ball and hoping to hit on the counter or from set pieces, it looked like they wouldn’t work at the start of the season but after a bit of work, the rhythm is all there to see. Brighton are playing with more vigour and it’s actually the improvement of form by talisman Knockaert which has inspired his side to perform well. The French winger looks on top of his game now, beating players at will and whipping in some dangerous crosses on his left foot. It’s not just him however who has shone with Groß pulling strings in the middle of the pitch with defenders Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy are really holding the fort.
There shouldn’t be anything taken away Hughton’s management as he has really stopped a mini-rut from occurring. His awareness to start securing the game from the back is pivotal as the key is to stop the opposition from scoring goals. When the basics like that are right, the charisma of a team and being able to take the game to the opposition just comes as second nature. You could argue that Brighton only look like they’re doing well because they have faced sides which are currently struggling, such as West Ham, Everton and Swansea but you can only beat what’s in front of you and Brighton have done just that.
Next up they face sturdier opposition in the form of Stoke City, Manchester United, a resurgent Crystal Palace and then Liverpool. Those are four pivotal fixtures which will really help shape their season. If the Seagulls can get seven points in those four fixtures, that is the sign of a club who are going to overachieve this season. Anything above the relegation zone would be a great accomplishment for Brighton but it seems that they are going to do a lot better than that.