Brighton and Hove Albion: Contenders or pretenders?

What a difference a few weeks make in football. If you look back to the tail-end of last month, Brighton had just completed their 5th league victory in a row and were sitting pretty at the top of the championship. However, a frustrating turn of events and only one measly goal in their last five outings, the Seagulls find themselves lodged in 9th position subsequent to a narrow defeat away at table-toppers Leicester on Tuesday evening.

The form that Gus Poyet’s men showcased early on now seems a million miles from the limp efforts that the squad are currently displaying, and even the gaffer himself has declared his ‘boredom’ of managing the side.

So far this season, things are looking incredibly similar to those of the last campaign, with Albion having a flying start to life in the league and attaining top-spot, before a torrid run of form which results in the club sinking down the table like a rock in the ocean. From watching a team who look like hitting the back of the net with every attack, to witnessing a group of feeble individuals who pose no attacking menace whatsoever, fans have been left pondering whether it is tactical flaws of the management team that is contributing to the existing struggle, if it is a consequence of the players not putting in a shift, or perhaps the squad is lacking a certain spark that could be generated by a target-man to annul some of the pressure on Craig Mackail-Smith’s decreasing shoulders.

During a fan-forum prior to the season, Poyet pointed out the weaknesses in his squad and clarified how he was going to accomplish those defects in detail, outlining that a big, strong striker who can support Mackail-Smith and link the midfield to attack was his main priority. This never happened. The closest we came to seeing this signing was in the shape of 5ft8, Jon Richardson (Google him!) look-a-like, Stephen Dobbie, who joined the club on a three-year deal from Swansea City.

Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that Poyet should make a U-turn and demand that the team should start lumping balls to a hefty, big-man up front, but when you’re in desperate need of a goal and you are being forced into delivering crosses into the box to an attacking line whose average height is 4ft-nothing, then it’s time for plan-B.

The major positive for the Albion is the quality of players at their disposal compared to last season. With the best defensive record in the division, full backs Bruno and Wayne Bridge look like very shrewd signings indeed, contributing massively to the fact that Brighton have conceded 7 fewer goals than at this point last term.

The squad are playing at a much higher tempo this time round with more crisp, thought-out passing which lead to their winning streak earlier in the season. However, the threat of the wide men at the club is failing to blanket the limited attacking punch that has been exploited by many previous opponents, and probably many more.

A worrying stat for fans of the Albion is that it is now 57 league games that the club last overcame a goal deficit to win a game. FIFTY-SEVEN. Whether that is because of the formation or whether it is because of the player’s lack of self-belief is what the manager is paid for to figure out, but whatever the reason, that is unacceptable.

Gus Poyet is a stubborn man who sticks to his guns when implementing his style of play, and I salute him for it. Some of the football we have been lucky enough to observe has been sensational, but when the pass-and-move philosophy fails, you need to have the facility to incorporate a different approach. I firmly believe that there is no right or wrong way of playing football, some more attractive than others, yes, but you simply cannot play with the same outlook against every opponent (unless you’re Barcelona, of course!).

Poyet’s managerial record against teams in the top 6 of the league is nothing short of dreadful. The team often dominate possession against opponents, but severely lack any bite in the final third when tested against the stronger outfits in the league, which is laboriously difficult to watch for supporters. When a team is winning and the football they’re creating consists of short-passing, free-flowing, attack-minded play, then it is a joy to watch. However, the flip of the coin is when you get stuck in a rut, which Albion currently are, then it is extremely hard to grind out results as a result of competitors knowing exactly what you’re about.

My glass is most definitely more than half full and I am eagerly anticipating our fixture away at Blackpool this Saturday. If we manage to reverse our fortunes and win the game, then our league record will better that of last season, played 13, won 6, drawn 3 and lost 4 and anything higher than our 10th placed-finish will be a positive step in the correct direction, in my opinion.

Again looking back to the 2011/12 campaign, after 12 games Reading were struggling in 14th position and looked depleted after experiencing a dogged run, and look where they ended up in May…

It is a frustrating feeling knowing the club are a few tweaks from completing a squad that will be genuine contenders to reach the Premier League, but it’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do about it, and I trust Poyet to make the right changes.