• Championship Preview: Brighton and Hove Albion v Middlesbrough

    The October international break is now out of the way, and Albion are back in Championship action as they kick off a hectic period of seven games in the space of three weeks against Middlesbrough at the Amex this afternoon.

    Sami Hyypia will no doubt be glad that the first team players who were on duty for their countries have come back unscathed – with Gordon Greer returning a hero amongst Scottish fans for his performance against Poland – and can help build on the work done on the training pitch with the rest of the squad during the two week break.

    The 1-1 draw against Watford 14 days ago once again highlighted his sides inability to put away goal-scoring chances. Whilst Albion are undefeated in their past four league matches, all of those have been drawn, with two having ended goalless. Their last win in the division was almost two months ago against Bolton on August 23rd. With his side currently closer to the three teams in the relegation zone after 11 games, The Finn will be hoping that his side show a more clinical cutting edge to regain some momentum as soon as possible.

    However they will have their work cut out if they are to secure all three points against Boro. Having made a number of shrewd signings in the summer, their turnaround of form under former Real Madrid assistant Aitor Karanka has carried over from last season.

    The North East side have struggled to compete at the top end of the second tier of English football after relegation from the Premier League in 2009 for the most part, however this looks to be their most promising season for a return to the top flight in the last five years.

    Historically the odds are also stacked against Albion. On most occasions they’ve been outshone when facing off with the Teesside outfit, whose 22 wins is comfortably ahead of the Seagulls nine, with 11 games having ended all square.

    Villa Loanee Bennett will face his former side today

    Whilst Brighton picked up a victory at the Riverside Stadium last year, you have to go back to 1990 for their last win against Middlesbrough in Sussex, with Mark Barham’s sweetly struck volley sealing victory for Albion at the Goldstone Ground.

    Since the move to the Amex Boro have picked up two victories and a draw in the fixture. Last season goals from Albert Adomah and Danny Graham were enough for the win, whilst the previous year a deflected strike from Marvin Emnes made the difference on the day.

    In terms of the Albion starting line-up for today’s game, whilst the defence is likely to remain unchanged from the draw at Vicarage Road, Hyypia does have the added option of Inigo Calderon, who returns from the suspension he picked up after being sent off in the Capital One Cup against Burton.

    In midfield, the news that Andrew Crofts will have to spend the rest of the season watching from the sidelines afters tears to his ACL and meniscus has limited options in midfield, with Dale Stephens also still ruled out of action.

    Danny Holla and Jake Forster-Caskey would be expected to start, however with the latter having started in both legs of England Under 21’s Euro 2015 play-off win over Croatia during the international period he may be rested to give him time to recover from the trip. Gary Gardner, Rohan Ince would be favourites to play with Holla if this is the case.

    In the attacking midfield role, it’s any ones guess as to the two men Hyypia will go with. Kazenga Lua Lua, Joao Teixeira and Adrian Colunga are the freshest players ahead of this game, however after his recent showings from the bench Paddy McCourt could get the start many fans are calling for. The Northern Irishman was called up for his country but only played 23 minutes in their 2-0 win over the Faroe Islands.

    Up front Sam Baldock will more than likely slot back into the lone striker role after recovering from a calf problem that kept him out of the last three league games. With Craig Mackail-Smith out with a hamstring injury and Chris O’Grady’s future at the club looking uncertain, Albion will be relying on their marquee summer signing to get off the mark soon to help turn results in their favour.

    In the past 20 or so years a handful of players have come and gone between both sides. The aforementioned Mark Barham played for Boro earlier in the season before scoring in Albion’s last win over today’s visitors in February 1990.

    Baldock set to lead the Albion attack on return from injury

    Striker Ian Baird scored a number of goals in short spells for both clubs, whilst goalkeeper Ben Roberts began his career on Teeside in 1993, and arrived down south at Withdean ten years later to form part of the Division Three Play-Off winning squad under Mark McGhee.

    More recently, having not been offered a deal after a trial with Albion in 2010, Emmanuel Ledesma was snapped up by the Riverside Stadium outfit two years later after impressing at League One Walsall, however he has only featured twice for them so far this season.

    One current member of the Seagulls squad who will no doubt be relishing taking on his former side is loanee left-back Joe Bennett.

    After moving to the north-east at age 10, Bennett was enrolled in Boro’s youth setup a year later, and made his first team debut in the Premier League as a 17-year old.

    However it wasn’t until the arrival of Tony Mowbray as boss in October 2010 that the 24-year old was established as the sides first choice player in the position. Bennett made 84 appearances in four years on Teeside, with Aston Villa making a move for him in the summer transfer window in 2012.

    Of all the games for us to be playing at this point after the international break and looking for our first win in eight weeks, this is probably one of the last fixtures we would have wanted.

    On paper everything points towards Boro leaving the Amex with three points for third year in a row. Not just the historical facts and figures, but their current form as well. They have only lost one game in seven in all competitions, and have picked up 10 points from their previous five away matches.

    However as Sami pointed out in his pre-match press conference, stats can mean nothing, and things such as records and form are there to be broken. Our performances have improved recently, however the closing stages of the Watford game saw glaring chances to win the match missed.

    That is the winning margin that has been sorely missing recently. The pieces of the Albion jigsaw are slowly coming together, and for Hyypia this can’t come soon enough. With a quarter of the season almost gone, there’s only so long we can continue missing scoring opportunities and not winning games before we start having to look behind us at the teams sitting in the relegation spots.
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