Name: Brighton and Hove Albion FC
Stadium: AMEX Stadium (or Falmer Stadium) capacity – 30,000.
Manager: Chris Hughton
Captain: Bruno Saltor
BRIGHTON will officially become the 48th different team to play in the Premier League next season and after years of narrowly missing out on the big time, it’s fair to say that they may well deserve the chance.
Albion almost went into non-league and liquidation in 1997 and have been beaten play-off semi-finalists in three of the past four years, but the 2017/18 Premier League season will give them that long awaited opportunity to prove that they can cut it with the best that England has to offer.
After a 34 year absence from the top flight, the Seagulls sealed automatic promotion to England’s Premier division with a nervy 2-1 win over strugglers Wigan on Monday night. Huddersfield’s 1-1 draw with Derby County meant that Chris Hughton’s men were safe from having to battle through the play-offs this time around. It’s just a matter of whether they finish as Champions or not from here on out and a win at Norwich on Friday, will hand them the prize.
This year, despite competing with the likes of Newcastle and Leeds United, they’ve dominated the Championship and have been a real joy to watch at times.
Much like Bournemouth had been when they were promoted to the Premier League ahead of the 2015/16 season, Brighton’s squad is not one that is full of unplayable talent, but what they lack in world class abilities, they more than make up for in team spirit and commitment to the cause.
Winger Anthony Knockaert has been voted as the Championship Player of the Season and has been the club’s most outstanding individual by far. The former Leicester man has lit up games on his own and has an impressive record of 15 goals and 9 assists in 42 games, so if they can hang on to him this summer, which they should be able to, he’ll be a massive boost to their side next season.
Having Premier League experience can often be the key to surviving the drop in the big league and the Seagulls aren’t short on that (If they keep their squad more or less the same that is). As well as Knockaert, they have former Reading, Chelsea and Stoke star Steve Sidwell in their squad, as well as veteran striker, Glenn Murray, who played for Palace and Bournemouth in the Premier League. Defender Liam Rosenior was once a regular for Fulham, Reading and Hull in the top flight as well and goalkeeper David Stockdale and defender Shane Duffy came through the ranks of Fulham and Everton respectively.
So will they be able to handle the pressure of playing at the highest level?
I don’t see why not. I predicted (sorry to mention them again but) Bournemouth to stay up when they got promoted to the Premier League and they more than handled themselves and are continuing to do so even now.
It seems as though Brighton have a unique mixture of pace, strength and experience within their ranks.
Captain Bruno Saltor, brings an abundance of strength, as does fellow wing back Gaetan Bong and both are brilliant at going forward with the ball too. The two centre back’s, Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk are both 6ft 4′ and have bossed many a striker around over the course of the season. Substitute defender Connor Goldson and Uwe Hunemeier are also reliable players to call upon.
SIDE NOTE: For me, Dunk is a player who could go on to play for England in the future. I’ve been watching him for quite a few seasons now and must say that it is no surprise to me that the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal have been after his signature in the past. I believe that the only reason he hasn’t been called up to the England squad yet is due to him being overlooked because he is playing in the Championship, so with the Gulls on their way up now, next season could be the making of him. If Phil Jones can play for England regularly then I have no doubt Lewis Dunk can!
The pace in the team that allows them to push forward falls to the magnificent Knockaert of course and also to fellow winger Solly March, who has burnt past defenders with his blistering pace this season.
The experience of playing in the Premier League comes from the likes of Sidwell, Murray and Rosenior, but there are other players who can provide some motivation.
Israeli midfielder Beram Kayal, who has become a regular feature in the middle of the park for Brighton, spent four and a half years at Celtic, winning the Scottish title in each season he was there, so he knows what it takes to compete. The aforementioned Saltor was once playing at the highest level with Valencia and Oli Norwood (Northern Ireland), Jiri Skalak (Czech Republic) and Vegard Forren (Norway) are all full internationals, so they too bring a wealth of competitive experience to the side.
It’s also fair to say that they aren’t shy of scoring a goal or two either. 73 goals in the Championship this year in fact. Glenn Murray is the second top scorer (behind Leeds’ Chris Wood) in the league with 22 goals to his name and he has proven crucial to their side. Fellow strikers Tomer Hemed and Sam Baldock have also chipped in with 11 goals each and of course Knockaert has provided 15 from the wing, so they’re certainly not a one man team by any means.
Many teams have gone up from the Championship to establish themselves as mainstay Premier League teams, with the likes of Stoke, Southampton and (At the moment) Swansea all having stayed in the top flight for many a year now. Of course, there’s Leicester who have won the league just a season after being promoted (but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves eh!).
Manager Chris Hughton has received high praise for the way that he has set his side out to play. The former Newcastle United and Norwich City boss may have struggled with managing teams in the Premier League before (but in fairness he nearly always took over when they were doomed anyway), but he has won the Championship before in 2010 with Newcastle and is currently flying high with this Brighton side. His record at the club is simply incredible and he’s got the best out of each and every player during this campaign.
They also have decent players within their ranks who have learnt how to grind out results on their way to the top of the Championship this season, battling it out with Newcastle, leapfrogging one another on several occasions before eventually opening up their current four point lead.
Congratulations to the Seagulls on finally getting into the Premier League, I for one am delighted to see them up there at last!