Brighton & Hove Albion manager Chris Hughton has only a matter of days to find the missing elements in the club’s push for the Premier League. The January transfer window slams shut at 11pm on Monday evening, concluding a month of squad shuffling before the league season enters the business end.
Chairman Tony Bloom confessed his intentions to “strengthen from a position of strength” at the end of December and although a handful of players have arrived since, there remains an obvious gap in Albion’s promotion charge.
With the exception of Middlesbrough, who recorded nine consecutive clean sheets and have the league’s best defensive record, all four of the others teams that surround Brighton in the top six, have a double-figured goalscoring striker, something Albion cannot boast.
Middlesbrough can afford this due to their sublime defensive displays, whereas Albion can perhaps find themselves fortunate to sit where they do considering their lack of authority at both ends of the pitch. Bobby Zamora leads the way with seven goals from seven starts, however Hughton refuses to give him the game time his form deserves, with his decision admittedly influenced by Zamora’s fitness and age.
Tomer Hemed has struggled to get to grips with Championship football after his convincing start, Manchester United loanee James Wilson has chipped in with a few goals but lacks the experience to lead Albion’s attack alone and Sam Baldock’s injury hit season has never really got going.
Albion have been crying out for a prolific goalscorer since Leonardo Ulloa left for Leicester City in 2014. Zamora fits the criteria at Championship level but Hughton’s precautionary approach means the club must look elsewhere. The club has noticeably strengthened in other areas of the pitch, covering vulnerable gaps within the squad in preparation for a competitive run in.
Experienced midfielder Steve Sidwell offers competition and strength to Albion’s central midfield, supporting Beram Kayal and Dale Stephens, who have dealt with added pressure due to Albion’s under-qualified replacements. Irish midfielder Richie Towell is unproven at this standard; however his goalscoring prowess for Dundalk in the Irish Premiership offers plenty of promise for when his first team chances arrive.
The signing of Anthony Knockaert from Standard Liege is without doubt Hughton’s most influential purchase so far, solving Albion’s problems out wide following Solly March’s season-ending injury and Kazenga Lua Lua’s longwinded lay-off that lasted too long. Liam Ridgewell arrived from Portland Timbers and went straight into the side at left back, however his contribution is likely to be temporary with the club’s first choice options, Gataen Bong and Liam Rosenior, much better suited to Albion’s playing style.
With competent acquisitions arriving at the Amex Stadium and a number of key players returning from injury, a clinical goalscorer is all that remains to complete Hughton’s well-equipped squad for the final chapters of the league season. Albion’s promotion puzzle is taking good shape, Chris Hughton knows what piece to look for and if his search is successful before Monday night’s deadline, Premier League football could be a real possibility in Sussex next season.