Brighton should aim for promotion

It speaks volumes for the transformation in fortunes under Chris Hughton and the backroom staff at Brighton and Hove Albion to think that the club went from narrowly avoiding relegation from the Championship to being within touching distance of the Premier League within the space of a single year. Bouncing back with a twenty-one game unbeaten run illustrates the level of character and mental strength within the squad, but it will require the same resilience and belief to overcome the huge disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion on the final day by a single point and then losing to Sheffield Wednesday in the play-off semi-finals. Teams either tend to learn from the experience and come back stronger, or find it difficult to produce the same quality on the pitch – we can only hope that it will be the former for the Seagulls in 2016/2017.

The Championship has definitely developed into one of the best second-tier leagues in Europe, with the element of drama, excitement and tension at both ends of the table increasing with each season that passes by. This has come as the result of increasing quality across the board that has created a division in which anyone can beat anyone, but it will certainly not aid Brighton’s cause with promotion on the agenda. The latest football odds with Betway suggest that the three teams relegated from the Premier League – Newcastle, Aston Villa and Norwich – are strong favourites to bounce back at the first attempt, but we certainly proved that we can mix it with the best by staying around the top six for an entire season. Hughton should approach the upcoming campaign with no fear of who Brighton have to face, especially if he is able to get the team firing on all cylinders again and discover the winning mentality early doors.

Our chances of promotion will undoubtedly depend on whether Hughton is able to hang onto our key players who took the club to the brink of promotion. Anthony Knockaert and Dale Stephens were to name just two players who were integrals to the Seagulls’ cause last season, with Brighton already rejecting two offers from Burnley for the latter. Bringing exciting striker James Wilson back to the Amex on loan is certainly an option that would appease the fans, and with Steve Sidwell joining on a permanent deal and Seagulls favourite Glenn Murray returning to the club on a season-long loan from Bournemouth, everything looks bright for a promotion push. There is still plenty of time for Hughton to bring in extra reinforcements, particularly in defence after long-serving duo Gordon Greer and Inigo Calderon left the club; if the gaffer can find top quality replacements at the back to compliment an attack that managed the joint-highest number of goals in the Championship last season, then new arrivals could provide a positive answer to any question of “has it affected their odds?” Tony Bloom may be unable to match the spending power of Newcastle who are currently favourites to win the league with Betway, but any financial support he can provide the club with could prove to be the difference between promotion and falling short.

The wonderful start to last season put Brighton on the crest of a wave that effectively carried them forward, and although we could not possibly expect the team to put together another twenty-one game unbeaten run, getting off to a strong start can prove decisive. Teams who put points on the board early doors often develop a flow of confidence and belief, but does not always guarantee promotion; Derby have certainly found this to be the case in recent years, while we also suffered one or two wobbles after our unbeaten record was ended before Christmas. It often requires a strong run of performances and results, particularly during the latter stages of the season, for teams to emerge from nowhere and secure a top six finish, and while Brighton have the quality to be there or thereabouts at the summit, we have to hope that consistency remains one of our greatest qualities.

Facing Derby, Reading and Newcastle in the opening five fixtures of the 2016/2017 campaign will provide Brighton with early tests of their promotion credentials, and while the fixture computer has been rather unkind on us, facing some of the strongest teams in the division could be the best way for the players to recover from last season’s disappointment. It may provide a good indication as to whether the Seagulls will be able to challenge at the Championship summit, but after making so much progress last season, we can only hope and begin to belief that the team will go one better and secure promotion to the Premier League.

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