Albion Ready to Mount Bold Finish with a Dozen Games to go
Brighton and Hove Albion will face a similar sequence of fixtures in the coming weeks, repeating a six-game unbeaten chunk of games that started with this Saturday’s opponents Preston North End and concluded with a 2-1 victory over Birmingham City, who Albion travel to early next month.
Chris Hughton’s side currently sit 4th in the Championship table, two points adrift of leaders Burnley, with 2nd and 3rd place teams, Hull City and Middlesbrough, both playing before Saturday’s trip to face Simon Grayson’s in form outfit at Deepdale.
Albion have reaped the rewards from a shortened injury list, taking 19 points from a possible 24, as their once crocked squad finally tilts towards full strength. Other than long term absentee Solly March, Hughton has a fully fit squad to choose from as the league season approaches the final bend.
Consecutive 4-0 wins over Bristol City and Leeds United have boosted Albion’s promotion chances, keeping them in reaching distance of the league’s summit, following an uncharacteristic 4-1 defeat at the Cardiff City Stadium last month.
The Seagulls’ six-point tally from their previous three outings was slightly bettered in the reverse fixtures earlier this season, as they shared a 1-1 draw with their Welsh opponents before condemning their most recent victims to less catastrophic defeats.
Albion’s positive form stood them in good stead for Preston’s visit to the Amex Stadium, but injuries to Dale Stephens and Beram Kayal slowed Albion’s early season heartbeat, as Andrew Crofts and Rohan Ince stepped in to unconvincingly pull the strings in a bland goalless encounter.
Of course, it was another point on the board but also the start of a hat-trick of defensive displays that lacked inventiveness and killer instinct. At that stage of the season, sitting top of the league and 13 games unbeaten, a point resembled a small step forward.
However, with Albion still in the race, but now chasing, shared spoils offer little satisfaction with the finish line clearly in sight.
Narrow wins over MK Dons and Birmingham made Albion’s accumulation of points from the six-game streak look more respectable, adding to four draws in which only two goals were scored by Hughton’s casual performers.
Following the long trip to Preston, Albion welcome Sheffield Wednesday and Reading to the Amex Stadium in back-to-back Tuesday night games, as they look to build on the four-game home winning streak they currently boast.
Earlier in the season, victory over MK Dons in the following game, added credibility to 0-0 and 1-1 draws against Wednesday and Reading respectively. The same pattern will not be good enough this time around, with more points needed to climb into the automatic promotion places and maintain that position until it really counts.
Nothing less than three points at Stadium MK will be acceptable when over 5,000 Albion fans make the relatively short trip up the M1 to take on Karl Robinson’s relegation strugglers. League leaders Burnley comfortably brushed the Dons aside 5-0 on their visit to Milton Keynes and although the scoreline isn’t imperative for Albion, a winning result certainly is.
Considering the small margins in the Championship, either team could be sitting top of England’s second tier by the time Burnley visit the Amex a fortnight later. An early Bobby Zamora goal in front of the Sky cameras was enough to share the points last time they met and with the reverse fixture televised again, Albion will look to go one better and take all three points on the south coast.
A loss for Albion in the high stakes clash at the beginning of April would significantly damage their promotion hopes, however if there’s any game in Albion’s next six, that a draw is a reasonable outcome, Burnley’s visit is certainly it. Whilst maximum points must remain Albion’s goal in every game until the finish, defeats to their closest rivals are unaffordable slips in the race for the top flight.
Like Sheffield Wednesday, Birmingham are looking to secure a play-off position and although Albion concluded the six-game streak with a win over Gary Rowett’s men last time around, St Andrew’s will provide a tougher environment to outgun their 8th placed opponents and secure another three points towards the Premier League prize.
Albion have secured 13 points from their previous six games and if they can match, or better this tally in their next half a dozen outings, Hughton’s revitalised team will be nicely positioned as they enter the home straight.
The Championship season is a marathon with plenty of twists and turns. After stalling midway, Albion’s charge is now back on track and moving at a sustainable pace. An opening sprint forgave their midseason wobble and with the full recovery of their fractured squad, Albion are now riding a wave of confidence as they head into the final dozen.