Brighton’s blip

Back-to-back defeats for Hughton’s men

At the end of January last year, Middlesbrough narrowly – and perhaps fortuitously – beat Brentford 1-0 to go eight points clear in the promotion race. It looked, for all the world, as if they would coast towards the Premier League in a similar manner to Leicester during the 13/14 campaign.

Instead, a poor run of form and an internal confrontation meant they nearly blew their lead. They sealed promotion only on the final day in a 1-1 draw with fellow contenders Brighton.

This time, the Seagulls themselves are in the driving seat. At the end of January, they had just narrowly – and perhaps fortuitously – beaten in-form Cardiff 1-0. That result put them top of the league, 11 points clear of Reading and Huddersfield in third and fourth place respectively with every team 27 games in.

In the subsequent eight games, Chris Hughton’s side have picked up just 11 points. They are now only six points ahead of third place Huddersfield, who have a game in hand. While there haven’t been internal divisions, there are signs that a combination of complacency and injuries has crept in at the wrong time.

Sebastien Pocognoli contributed to a positive start against fellow contenders Newcastle, during which Glenn Murray netted a penalty. However, Pocognoli picked up an injury and replacement Fikayo Tomori’s struggled in a 2-1 defeat. This encouraged Chris Hughton to rush Liam Rosenior back from injury and the ex-Fulham man struggled in Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest, with goalkeeper David Stockdale enduring another shaky performance.

Glenn Murray, so clinical in the first half of the campaign, has scored only twice in 2017 and even Anthony Knockaert has had a couple of off-colour displays. Any jitters are added to by the injury to Shane Duffy, who had formed arguably the Championship’s best centre-back pairing with Lewis Dunk. Duffy will be out for the next six weeks, including games against Derby and Leeds later this month.

This is Brighton’s hardest spell of the season. They must ensure it is only a blip to ensure a more comfortable finale than the one they took part in last term.