Brighton & Hove Albion Season Preview

brightonThe Football Lab interviewed the owner of Brighton & Hove Albion Twitter account @BrightonFanbase, ahead of the new season.

Brighton drew as many as 17 games last season, and 79% of their defeats came by a margin of 1 goal. Would you say that a 20th place finish was a slightly unfair reflection on the team’s general performances?

The statistics certainly make for a better showing, but as many people know the league table never lies. Our general performance level wasn’t too bad, even under Sami Hyypia we weren’t being humiliated every game, its just that the team was desperately lacking the quality that it needed in the final third to be able to win games. The fact that the majority of our defeats were just by one goal shows how the team lacked quality in the final third of the pitch. Chris Hughton managed to improve the performances of the team in the second half of the season and perhaps we were maybe a little bit unlucky to not be a few places higher in the final standings.

Chris Hughton took charge back in December. How would you assess his management of the team?

Hughton`s appointment gave the massive lift to the club with the players and fans responding well to his arrival. He won his first two games in charge and produced a spirited performance against Arsenal – something that looked impossible under Hyypia. Hughton introduced more conservative and defensive tactics a which although, unpopular with a minority of fans, was a sensible move given the lack of attacking options at his disposal. Wins against Ipswich and Derby at the Amex were the pick of the results in the second half of the season, although it end disappointingly as Albion found the net just once in their final seven games picking up one point in the process.

30-year-old goalkeeper Nikki Maenpaa signs from VVV Venlo. What are his chances of dislodging David Stockdale? If Christian Walton does well on loan at Bury, does he have a shout?

Maenpaa arrives with a good reputation from his time in Holland and will provide strong competition for David Stockdale. It is likely that Stockdale will remain as first choice goalkeeper, despite being criticised by fans several times last season. I think he will have a really strong season now that he has Maenpaa on his toes. Christian Walton was loaned out with the aim of giving him regular first team football and I expect him to do very well at Bury. Many fans were keen to see Walton given the number one shirt this season but perhaps it was a bit too early in his career for that to happen. However, given how he has developed over the past seasons and the potential he possess, I expect Walton will challenge for the number one spot next season.

Brighton had the 7th best goals against record in the Championship last season. Are you pleased with the team’s defensive setup?

Yes, we only conceded 54 goals – the same amount as 6th-placed Ipswich and just 4 more than runners-up Watford – which shows that our struggles last season were due to our lack of goals and attacking quality. The back four from last season has been strengthened with the addition of full-backs Liam Rosenior and Gaetan Bong and defensively Albion should be fine again this season.

Bruno looks a little bit rash at times. Do you think new signing Liam Rosenior will start at right-back instead of him? Should Inigo Calderon play there?

I think Liam Rosenior will be the first choice right-back ahead of Bruno. Bruno has been a great player for us over the past 3 seasons but he is now approaching 35 years-old and it is likely to be his last season at the club. Rosenior is three years younger than Bruno and been brought in because of his vast experience in both the Premier League and Championship. Rosenior will give a little more stability and balance to our back four instead of Bruno who likes to attack and get forward. I expect Hughton will keep Inigo Calderon in a midfield position as he impressed on the right-wing last season.

You’ve not signed a centre-back this summer. Given the shortage of cover for Lewis Dunk and Gordon Greer, was this a mistake?

Having released Aaron Hughes and lost Greg Halford in the summer I am surprised that the club have not signed any replacements. However, I believe we will see another centre-back come in before the end of the transfer window. Gordon Greer and Lewis Dunk had good understanding at the heart of the defence last season and both will continue to play alongside each other this season. But with under-21 defender Glen Rea the only realistic back-up option and given that Gordon Greer will be turning 35 this season, I expect Chris Hughton will want to bring in at least one other centre-back.

New signing Gaetan Bong is a Cameroon international. Given that the club has relied on the loan window to acquire left-backs in previous years, are you pleased he has joined permanently?

Ever since the club has moved to the Amex, we have relied on loan players to fill the left-back position with Wayne Bridge, Stephen Ward and, most recently, Joe Bennett all impressing in season-long loan deals at the Amex. This system has worked well but it means that the club is always looking for replacement each summer. So it is good that Gaetan Bong has been brought in on a permanent deal which should give the side some stability. Hopefully Bong will be able to replicate the kind of form that we saw during his time in France at Valenciennes a couple of years ago that made him a Cameroonean international and saw him linked with Arsenal.

There is a hardworking, tenacious feel to Brighton’s midfield. What are your thoughts on the trio of Rohan Ince, Dale Stephens and Beram Kayal?

Central midfield is probably our strongest area of the team. Rohan Ince impressed in the second half of the season as he played more regularly under Chris Hughton than he did under Sami Hyypia. He is one of the best defensive midfielders in the league and brings a huge physical presence to the team. Beram Kayal was undoubtedly the stand-out player of the second half of the season for the Albion following his January move from Celtic and would have player of the season had he been at the club since the summer. I know many fans are looking forward to seeing Kayal in his first season and his aggression was something that was missing from the midfield before he arrived. Dale Stephens is a similar type of player with a good range of passing and similar aggression. All three are very good players and they will be tough to be play against if used in a midfield three.

Last season, Brighton had 7.5 shots per game from inside the box – the 7th highest number in the Championship – but on average just 0.7 of them resulted in goals. Were the goalscoring problems down to not taking chances, rather than not creating them?

The stats make for interesting. At home, Albion were capable of performing well and creating chances. It was, however, a completely different story away from home as we struggled to even create chances never mind score goals. The creative spark of Joao Teixeira will certainly be missed this season. The Liverpool loanee was one of our stand-out players and his creative spark will certainly be missed. Last season he created 63 chances, 50% more than any other player, and played twice as many successful through-balls than any other Albion player. So creating chances wasn’t a massive problem, but taking them was as strikers Chris O`Grady, Craig Mackail-Smith and Leon Best all struggled to consistanly find the back of the net. It seems Albion have solved this goalscoring problem with the signing of striker Tomer Hemed, but it is a concern we have lost our most creative player.

Brighton struggled for quality out wide last season. Do you think there will be an opportunity for winger Joe Ward, who has joined the club’s Development Squad, to make his mark on the first team?

Our lack of quality out wide is evident from the fact that 33 year-old right-back Inigo Calderon was used predominately as a right midfielder for the second half of last season. This actually proved to be a great move by Hughton as Calderon impressed in this position and won our player of the season award. You can get away with using a full-back on the wing when you are struggling at the bottom of the table, but Calderon will not provide the creativity needed in that position to be able to compete at the right end of the league table this season. This is why the wide midfield position is a big area of concern at the moment as the squad has just two recognised wingers, Solly March and Kazenga Lua Lua, both of whom did not feature much last season and regularly suffer from injury problems. This could mean that new signing Joe Ward might be thrown in to the side at some point following his summer move from Chelmsford, but I am confident the club will make the signings needed to allow Ward to continue his development for the under-21 side. It is the clear that we need another winger and the club continues to be linked with a move for Blackburn`s Ben Marshall.

Chris Hughton has always tended to favour powerful forwards who are good in the air, and new signing Tomer Hemed fits the bill. Do you think Hughton will use Hemed as the main striker, rather than a smaller, more agile forward such as Sam Baldock?

Tomer Hemed is the stand-out player of the six summer signings we have made so far. Hemed arrives with a good goalscoring record in La Liga and for his national side Israel, and he looks like the type of strong and physical centre-forward that Albion missed last season. Hemed will certainly be the first choice striker this season but if Chris Hughton continues to use the 4-4-2 formation that has worked well in pre-season then Hemed will be joined upfront by Sam Baldock. The physical presence of Hemed certainly seems to complement the speed and agility of Baldock. Albion fans have been longing to see two strikers play together at the Amex and it looks like this could finally be the season.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

They finished 20th last season, but Brighton’s narrow goal difference and high number of draws suggests poor shooting, rather than poor performances, was the main reason for this. If new boy Tomer Hemed shows some confidence in front of goal, we could see a more prosperous Seagulls side. 7th