It’s all turned rather sour in recent weeks for Brighton and Hove Albion. After 22 unbeaten matches, Chris Hughton’s side tasted defeat on three occasions in just 13 days, failing to score in four consecutive games before first team coach Nathan Jones packed his bags for a managerial role at Luton Town.
The feeling of ecstasy following Albion’s blistering start to the season has taken a tumble and with many doubters now rubbing their hands after Brighton’s recent decline in form, the character of not only Hughton’s depleted side, but also the club as a whole, will be tested throughout the month that lies ahead.
January has arrived at the perfect time for the Seagulls and with the chance to replenish in numerous areas, the generosity of Chairman Tony Bloom will be relied upon as the club looks to “strengthen from a position of strength”, something the wealthy Brighton fan promised prior to Albion’s sudden slump.
With goals hard to come by, more evidently in recent weeks, a striker must be top priority in Hughton’s pursuit of a squad capable of sealing promotion come the end of the season. Albion’s league position may look flattering compared to last season’s miserable finish, but cracks have started to appear and when you look beyond the final score line, the signs were always there.
All 12 wins this season, in both league and cup competitions, have been secured with a single goal advantage and having only scored more than twice on 2 occasions from the 27 available, Albion’s impressive points tally has camouflaged their struggles in front of goal.
A landslide of pressure has buried Albion’s defence following four consecutive games without scoring a goal and now more than ever, Hughton’s injury hit squad is crying out for a goal scorer to put the wheels back on Albion’s promotion charge.
Elsewhere, injuries in wide positions have restricted Albion’s threat from the flanks, with Kazenga Lua Lua and Solly March absent following impressive starts to the season for both livewire wingers. The balance in midfield has been lost, disrupting the fluency of Dale Stephens and Beram Kayal in central midfield as they look to make up for the missing element in Albion’s attack.
Anthony Knockaert is on the verge on completing a deal from Standard Liege, which will boost Albion’s options out wide, easing the pressure on Jamie Murphy’s shoulders and with Lua Lua close to returning to first team action, Hughton will be spoilt for choice heading into the opening months of 2016.
With experienced defender Liam Ridgewell arriving from Portland Timbers, central defence should not be of major concern to Hughton, however the lack of options in the left back position is something that has contributed to Albion’s recent crumble in form. Injuries to Gaetan Bong and Liam Rosenior have led to Inigo Calderon’s inclusion at full back; however his influence on games is inferior to that of the crocked duo.
Albion miss the attacking threat Bong and Rosenior brought to the side and although Calderon is thought of in high regard at the club, his lack of pace to prevent and beat a player is a major disadvantage compared to the energetic impact his fellow full backs can offer.
Andrew Crofts has returned to the side recently, largely thanks to Albion’s lack of options in wide areas and although he’s performed reasonably well, the trusted partnership of Kayal and Stephens that has orchestrated Albion’s success is unlikely to break without injury.
Richie Towell is now available, however his ability at Championship level is yet to be discovered and options elsewhere, including Jake Forster-Caskey and Rohan Ince, have struggled to make the grade as of yet, increasing the importance around the well-being of Hughton’s first choice pairing.
Quality support for Kayal and Stephens would be a welcome addition, however this type of player is hard to find considering they would initially have to settle for a place on Albion’s bench.
A formula to achieve positive results was found throughout the opening stages of Albion’s season, but a new substance must now be discovered to create a solution for long term success. January has opened its window at just the right time for Albion’s revival and as long as Hughton spends wisely, Brighton will get back on track and comfortably secure a top six finish in May.