Preview: Brighton & Hove Albion

A large part of doing this blog is about trying to apply rationality to what happens with this club, yet it often feels as if what happens with this club isn’t rational. The law of averages dictates that at some point we’re due a promotion season, but there seems to be some greater force which seems to completely derail us whenever things seem to be heading in the right direction.

This season seems to be another case in the mounting evidence that this club has been cursed, not only have we lost arguably our two best players to season-ending injuries, but just when we looked to be timing a run of form to plant ourselves in the automatic promotion race, a combination of injuries and illness decimated our squad for a key promotion game and we look now to be reeling from that psychological blow.

This FA Cup game against Brighton could be an opportunity to put those concerns on ice and return fresh next Saturday to kick-start our season, alternatively, it could further harm the confidence that seems to have seeped out of this side over the past week. Playing against Premier League opposition, it’s a chance for Mark Robins to re-instil the defensive organisation that seems to have abandoned us, or it could serve to make things worse.

In terms of team selection, Mark Robins remains hamstrung by the injuries in defence and central midfield. Playing Jordan Willis at right-back isn’t ideal, but it seems as if Dion Kelly-Evans has put himself out of favour after his performance against Accrington last week. We could also probably do with resting Tom Bayliss and Jordan Shipley with both having played a lot of football in their first professional seasons, but there is a dearth of alternatives, which means we’ll have to hope they can be the rare youngsters that avoid burn-out.

Finding that balance in the front four over the next few games could be critical to whether this season continues to implode or whether we can get back on track. Having Shipley and Vincenti out wide on Tuesday was probably overly cautious from Robins, as while they are our best defensive wingers, neither offers much on the counter. If Kyel Reid can be integrated into the side, it would give us the ability to carry the ball forward out wide that we’ve lacked since Jodi Jones’ injury, although he is cup-tied for this game. Additionally, if Jonson Clarke-Harris can harness his physicality and natural goalscoring ability, we have a striker on our books who is too good for League Two.

Last Time We Met

Coventry and Brighton are two clubs that have been on very different trajectories over the past decade – although Brighton’s recovery from homelessness offers some hope for us. Our last meeting came in the Championship during our relegation season under Andy Thorn. It came during the period around the turn of the year where survival started to look probable, Gary McSheffrey and Lukas Jutkiewicz scored the goals at the Ricoh to take us off the bottom of the table.

Interestingly, one player from the two sides on that day remains at their club – Lewis Dunk.

How Are They Doing?

Brighton have adapted to life in the Premier League this season fairly successfully, finding themselves in the relative comfort of mid-table – although only two points above the relegation zone. Chris Hughton has them set-up relatively solidly at the back, with just enough flair up front to eke out the results to currently keep them above water, although creativity remains an issue for them.

Brighton’s intelligent transfer policy has been a crucial element in their adaptation to Premier League life, with attacking midfielder Pascal Gross, goalkeeper Mat Ryan and winger Jose Izquierdo looking particularly excellent signings. Although discussion of their key players feels somewhat academic as Chris Hughton has already demonstrated that he will play a second-string side in the earlier rounds of the FA Cup, something unlikely to change against League Two opposition.

Possible Line-Up

This game looks an opportunity for Hughton to give a run-out to their big January signing Jurgen Locadia. A powerful and pacey striker, it remains to be seen how his form in the Eredivisie translates to the Premier League, but Brighton will be hoping we’ll provide a chance for him to get going. Our struggles in defending crosses this season could prove particularly helpful in that regard.

Elsewhere, Brighton’s second-string side is likely to include the midfield talents of Dale Stephens and Beram Kayal, both capable of taking hold and running a game of at least Championship standard, which means we’re especially likely to be on the end of long periods without the ball. Ex-Newcastle stalwart goalkeeper Tim Krul looks another set to be given minutes, while the mercurial Anthony Knockaeart could obliterate us floating in from a wide position if the mood takes him.

In short…

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Prediction

The leveller for this game looked to be our greater sense of unity and cohesion against a second-string Brighton side trying to figure out each others’ games. However, it isn’t just our poor form that hinders our hopes for this game but the amount of players that have come into the side over the past couple of weeks which has robbed us of some vital cohesion. Brighton’s back-ups may still struggle to click in this game, we’ve got to hope that the sense of occasion snaps ourselves into a functioning team-unit.

Looking at it rationally though, it’s hard to see any other result here than a comfortable Brighton win. If we can keep it down to a couple of goals, then hopefully it won’t affect confidence any further than the past couple of results have done.

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