After such a promising start to the season, Brighton & Hove Albion have taken a hard hit in recent weeks, as a 2-0 defeat at Rotherham United on Tuesday evening moved Chris Hughton’s faltering side to within one place off play-off rejection, extending Albion’s goalless run to six games.
Five defeats off the back of Albion’s stunning 22-game unbeaten run has lowered the mood on the south coast, as the club’s supporters suffer from mid-season deflation following a string of uninspiring performances that have triggered Albion´s shallow fall from Championship grace.
The cup-tie at Hull City last weekend was a forgiving loss considering Hughton’s logical decision to rest fatigued players within the squad. Heading into the midweek clash against another Yorkshire opponent, optimism was in the air as revitalised players returned from rest and injury, as well as the matchday inclusion of Anthony Knockaert, the club´s £2m arrival from Standard Liege.
A feasible opporuntity to get back to winning ways was there to be taken, however another lethargic display heightened the current disappointment as Albion sunk further down the league table and appear unrecognisable from the resiliant side that dominated league proceedings earlier this campaign.
Having only gone behind in three games all season, prior to Middlesbrough´s record-breaking arrival at the Amex Stadium, the Seagulls have now conceded the first goal in four of their last five league games, heading in at the break disadvantaged on all four occasions.
Although scoring the first goal doesn´t guarentee winning games of football, it does however provide something to protect, which is a luxury Chris Hughton´s side have struggled to earn in weeks gone by. Ipswich Town and Wolverhampton Wanderers perfectly demonstrated the importance of taking an early initiative, as they sat back on their lead and welcomed Albion´s failed breakthrough attempts.
Brighton must turn the tables on their opponents and rediscover the fast-paced openings that saw them take the lead in 16 of the opening 21 league outings, an impressive stat that strongly contributed towards the table-topping success throughout the opening months of the season.
A handful of defensive errors have also cost Albion dearly in recent weeks, with central defender Lewis Dunk headlining the calamitous circus show that hopefully ended at Rotherham on Tuesday night.
Conor Goldson´s unfortunate own goal against Wolves and Bruno´s mindless header, that followed Dunk´s defensive slip to reward Rotherham with the opening goal, went towards the deconstruction of Albion´s overwhelming confidence, that once felt unbreakable.
Albion´s defensive mistakes cannot be covered up with excuses, however their failure to score up the other end is no doubt making life harder for under-pressure defenders at the club. With no cushion to fall back on, Albion are suffering due to their blunt attack and after fading within the promotion pack, they are now paying the sharp price for beginning games on the back foot.
A trio of northern games come to a close on Saturday when Albion travel west to face Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park. A 35th minute Kazenga Lua Lua strike was the difference the last time they met and with Albion managing just one clean sheet in 11 league games, a scrappy 1-0 win would be more than satisfying as Brighton desperately search for misplaced solidarity.