Brighton Hove and Albion look set to match and potentially eclipse last season’s rollercoaster battle for promotion. However, with the arrival of Newcastle, Norwich and Aston Villa, three massive clubs safely cushioned by their parachute payments, the competition for an automatic spot is tougher than ever. For manager Chris Hughton, this is surely the now or never moment that careers hinge upon.
Sticking with the majority of the squad which produced such exciting, attacking football last term, Hughton has held onto prized midfielder Anthony Knockaert whilst adding touches of experience in the form of ex Seagulls Steve Sidwell and Glenn Murray.
The return of Murray is perhaps the shrewdest piece of summer business for the Seagulls. A proven scorer at this level (he notched up 8 goals for Reading in just 18 games) renowned for his clinical finishing, he could prove the dream partner for livewire forward Sam Baldock. Secured on a season long loan from Premier League side Crystal Palace, Murray looks a classy signing.
Sidwell joined Albion in the January transfer market on loan from Stoke City, and after impressing with a string of dominating performances in the heart of midfield the move was made permanent this summer. Once the bright starlet of Chelsea, he brings essential Premier League pedigree to Hughton’s squad.
The addition of Northern Ireland midfielder Oliver Norwood from Reading gives Albion an extra dimension in the middle of the park. A hard working player who can spot a lethal pass, he creates yet more competition for a place in the starting XI.
It’s easy to forget the depth of the squad. The supremely talented Lua Lua and Murphy often occupy the bench, whilst winger Solly March looks set to return in September.
The critical issue for Hughton is not to let this abundance of ability overwhelm. A settled team is vital for success – just ask a certain Italian – and the inevitable urge to chop and change between players must be ignored.
Sitting pretty in 2nd place at the time of writing, Albion are ready to put playoff heartbreak behind them and mount another promotion challenge; this season, perhaps, will have a happier ending.
Albion are running an excellent early season promotion for old and new fans alike. Flexi4 allows you to book four Championship home games of your choice for a fixed, reduced, price.
For under 21s this comes to £80; just £20 a game to watch free flowing football at The Amex. Throw in a free Bronze/Young Seagulls Plus Priority Membership, and there really is no excuse to miss out on what should be a thrilling slice of the season.