Culminating in an emphatic 3-0 loss to Middlesbrough, the doors on Brighton & Hove Albion’s record breaking unbeaten run of 22-games slammed firmly shut. A brutal chain of results followed, as the Championship’s surprise package failed to score in six consecutive games and for many, Chris Hughton’s side had been well and truly sussed. Midway through February, five games unbeaten, have the doors reopened?
Tuesday evening’s 0-0 stalemate with Hull City was not only the fifth notch on Albion’s unbeaten charge, but an impressive point picked up against the Championship leaders, a team boasting the wealthiest home record. Steve Bruce’s side had won their previous six games at the KC Stadium, collecting five clean sheets and an aggregate score of 15-1.
Hughton opted for a 4-5-1 formation and his masterful game plan worked a treat, holding the Tigers to only three shots on target, on route towards another fine defensive away display. Although a win would have pushed Brighton into second place, it was more important for Hughton’s team to avoid defeat, therefore the balancing draw was a vital recruitment in Albion’s quest for promotion.
A quadruple of wins led into Albion’s trip to Hull, beginning with a scrappy 1-0 win at Blackburn Rovers, the exact type of result needed to flip Albion’s disappearing fortune on its head. A hat-trick of home victories over Huddersfield Town, Brentford and Bolton Wanderers reinstalled belief in the stands, but more importantly, reignited the faltering form on the pitch.
With Albion’s barren spell seemingly behind them, also following an astute window of squad refurbishment, another long unbeaten run is there for the taking. Of course, with only 15 games remaining, their previous best cannot be repeated this season, but another streak along the same lines could all but guarantee Premier League football later this year.
Six of their next seven games are against teams outside of the top eight, with 5th placed Sheffield Wednesday the only exception, visiting the Amex Stadium at the beginning of March for a huge fixture that will boost the promotion chances of either side. Brighton have played both league fixtures against Hull, however they must play all the other teams in the Championship’s top six at least once more before the season concludes.
Of the six teams currently sitting inside the Championship’s promotion shake-up, the Seagulls will play out the most games against opponents within that elite group, with 12 points up for grabs against Wednesday, Burnley, a penultimate clash with Derby County and finally, a trip to Middlesbrough on the last day of the season.
Albion will enjoy home comfort in three of the remaining four fixtures, as they attempt to better 0-0, 1-1 and 2-2 scorelines respectively, before seeking redemption in the north east against the team who derailed their unbeaten start to the season. By then of course, Albion’s fate may already be sealed and if Hughton’s men continue the fine form they are showing as of late, potential ‘six pointers’ could turn pointless in a memorable season of success.
Seven games squeezed into April will decide the importance of Albion’s long trip to the Riverside Stadium, however the same number of games over February and March will make it clearer what Albion have to do during that hectic month, worth a precious 21 points.
Hughton’s team currently sit just outside the automatic promotion places and with five unbeaten games under their belt, the previously stalled promotion challenge is well and truly back on. Momentum has been rebuilt on the south coast and with Albion back on track with their latest unbeaten run; a mirrored back end of the season will no doubt see Brighton reach the top flight.
The Seagulls enjoyed a breathtaking start, suffered a midseason wobble and now it is time to produce a flawless finish.