Birmingham City arrived at the Amex on Saturday boasting the best away record in the SkyBet Championship. That record counted for nothing as Brighton & Hove Albion inflicted their second away defeat of the season, impressing in front of a record crowd as they regained their lead in the battle for promotion.
Chris Hughton’s side continue to defy the odds, stretching the club’s record unbeaten run to 19 games, beating one of the league’s other surprise packages this season and maintaining the consistent form that looks to be spearheading a challenge to reach the Premier League.
It’s hard to identify any backward steps Albion have taken so far this season, picking up points from every single game on route to leading the promotion race heading into December. Consecutive draws against both ‘Wanderer’ clubs at the end of September is perhaps the only feeling of disappointment from an impressive string of results that have left the Seagulls flying high.
Albion’s fall from the league peak was brief and following the 2-1 victory over Birmingham, a number of positives can be taken into the league leaders’ next fixture, as they play host to Charlton Athletic on Saturday afternoon.
Last weekend’s game undeniably saw Solly March’s best performance in a blue and white shirt, as the promising youngster threatened from start to finish, adding consistency to his game and making better decisions within the final third.
March opened the scoring with his third goal of the season, burying the ball from close range when it could have been easier to blaze the ball high over the bar. The 21-year old who has a tendency to fade throughout a game, showed maturity in his decision making, better quality on the ball and positivity when picking the ball up in advanced positions.
With Kazenga Lua Lua still missing from the squad due to injury, pressure has been placed on March’s shoulders to perform in his absence and following Saturday’s game, the talented winger will be attracting attention from other clubs leading into the January transfer window. After turning down hefty offers for Lewis Dunk and Dale Stephens, the club is likely to be tested once again and whatever decision is made is likely to have an impact on the remainder of the season.
Following the addition of James Wilson and Rajiv van La Parra last week, Albion’s clear message of intent was strengthened by the signing of Dundalk’s 29-goal midfielder Richie Towell. Brighton beat a number of clubs to the signature of Towell and although the Irish playmaker cannot play until January 2nd, the 24-year-old will add another element to Albion’s attack once he is available.
His ability is unknown to the majority of Albion fans and until they get to see the PFAI Young Player of the Year, statistics will continue to create excitement as his goalscoring prowess draws attention following his move to England.
Another positive was James Wilson’s introduction to the game last weekend. The youngster showed glimpses of what Albion fans can expect from the Manchester United loanee, hitting the post after showing great movement to race through on goal and dragging a shot narrowly wide on a separate occasion.
Hughton seems to be keeping faith in Tomer Hemed despite his miserable run of games without a goal, however with Bobby Zamora scoring another winning goal and Wilson looking positive in dangerous areas, Albion’s manager may have to select his team based on form as the Israeli striker continues to struggle.
Saturday’s victory did see one negative and that was the injury to Liam Rosenior. The summer recruit has undoubtedly been one of Albion’s best performers this season, adapting to different positions and consistently occupying a place within Hughton’s starting line-up.
Rosenior’s injury looks to be long-term, adding him to a large casualty list that includes Gaetan Bong, Sam Baldock, Kazenga Lua Lua and Andrew Crofts. Albion’s stunning form is even more impressive when these injuries are taken into account, with all these players being key components of Hughton’s promotion chasing squad.
Inigo Calderon is likely to step in for Rosenior at left back and the Spaniard is more than capable of holding his own within Albion’s starting line-up. He doesn’t possess the same energy and enthusiasm down the wing compared to Rosenior’s efforts but Calderon is stable defensively and comfortable within a team he’s been part of since 2010.
Adam Chicksen looks unlikely to make the permanent step up into Albion’s match day squad, therefore Hughton must look for cover at left back but with the loan window now closed, Calderon must hold tight throughout December before additional support can arrive in January.
Before then, the Albion must endure a tough run of fixtures over the festive period, including Charlton Athletic on Saturday which is a potential banana skin as Albion will be firm favourites and expected to win. Consecutive aways games follow at Derby County and QPR, before Albion host Middlesbrough in front of the Sky cameras. The short trip to Loftus Road will also be televised.
Brighton continue to move forward as difficult hurdles frequently fall into place. Despite the collection of injury setbacks, the league leaders are coping well under pressure, improving under a respected manager and when combined with Tony Bloom’s generous chequebook, the Albion look focused on reaching the Premier League this time around.