• League Cup Preview: Brighton and Hove Albion v Cheltenham Town

    It seems a long time ago since the likes of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez took to the Amex pitch for Albion’s third round League Cup tie with Liverpool in 2011.

    The gutsy performance in the 2-1 loss to the Merseysiders has yet to be matched since in the competition, with two first round defeats to lower league Swindon and Newport County following the clash with the Reds.

    It now falls to a former Anfield player and Kop legend in Sami Hyypia to try and turn our fortunes in the competition around against Cheltenham Town, another lower league side who will no doubt come to the Amex this evening looking to cause an upset.

    Sami: one of us now

    However history points towards the home side having the advantage going into the game, with The Robins having only won two of the 16 encounters between the sides. The last time they met saw the sides play out a 2-2 draw two months into Gus Poyet’s tenure as Seagulls boss, with Nicky Forster and Adam Hinshelwood on target for the away side.

    After a disappointing 1-0 defeat in the first league home game of the season against Sheffield Wednesday at the weekend, Hyypia will be looking to turn fortunes around and gain momentum before travelling to Birmingham on Saturday.

    The Finn hinted in yesterday’s pre-match press conference that there would be some rotation of players tonight, however there is one change he is going to be forced into making after their opening Championship game.

    Having been shown a straight red card in the second half against the Owls, Andrew Crofts will be forced to sit out tonight’s match through suspension. He is one of two confirmed absentees, with Dale Stephens still recovering from the ankle injury he picked up at the back end of last season.

    The introduction of either new signing Nzuzi Toko or Kemy Agustien is therefore likely, however if Sami decides to rest Rohan Ince or Jake Forster-Caskey then both could get a look-in after starting Saturday’s game on the bench.

    First start for Toko?

    At the back it’s highly probable that Lewis Dunk will start in place of either Gordon Greer or Aaron Hughes. After signing a new contract in the summer, the 22-year-old will be looking to recapture the form he showed upon breaking into the side under Poyet. Adam Chicksen is likely to replace Inigo Calderon at left back, with the fan favourite likely to take the place of Spanish counterpart Bruno in his preferred position in the right of the defence.

    After a back injury prevented him from taking part in the defeat to Wednesday at the weekend, Solly March returned to training yesterday and could feature in either the starting line-up or on the bench.

    Whilst cup games usually see a second string keeper given a chance to play, it’s likely Albion will stick with David Stockdale. The former Fulham ‘keeper has spoken about his desire to get games under his belt to make up for a lack of pre-season game time with the Cottagers, therefore he is likely to keep his place between the sticks ahead of Casper Ankergren and Christian Walton.

    With only two experienced strikers in the squad, logically it would make sense to rotate between them for games such as this, therefore a start for Craig Mackail-Smith ahead of Chris O’Grady is a possibility.

    CMS - chance to shine?

    As for visitors Cheltenham, they go into the game with little to lose and with the momentum of an opening day victory against Bury.

    Substitute Joe Hanks grabbed the winner, after coming on in the eighth minute to replace the injured Asa Hall, who has been ruled out of action for at least a month with a calf injury.

    The League Two side will feature on face familiar to Albion fans as a hero for them in the competition six years ago.

    Matt Richards – on-loan from Ipswich – tucked away the fifth and final penalty for the Seagulls as they caused a shock upset in the League Cup with a shootout victory over current Premier League holders Manchester City.

    Having plied his trade on the left side of the back four during his three loan spells at the Withdean Stadium, Richards role has seen him move further up the pitch into midfield, and is in his second year at Whaddon Road.

    Speaking to local press ahead of the game, Robins boss Mark Yates believes his side can do well if they stick to their gameplan.

    “Tomorrow will be a really tough game but so was Bury. Brighton will probably dominate possession but Bury did as well according to everybody up there. As long as we go there and work on what we have been doing then we'll give a good account of ourselves.”

    As they have done in previous years, Brighton will go into the game as most people’s favourites against lower league opposition. However as we’ve learned in previous years, cup competitions are there for underdogs to make a name for themselves and cause an upset.

    Having tasted defeat in his first competitive game in charge, Hyypia won’t want a repeat of his predecessor Oscar Garcia by following that up with a first round exit to a side two divisions below. He has spoken about wanting to win every game, and whatever side enters the Amex in the Blue and White stripes tonight, they’ll be going all out to achieve that goal.
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