• Hyypiä facing quite a quandary over who to start between the sticks

    Sami Hyypiä finds himself in quite a quandary ahead of tomorrow’s match with Blackburn Rovers.

    The Albion head honcho has to decide which of his six loan players to leave out of Brighton’s 18-man match day squad, with league rules stipulating only five can be selected.

    That leaves him in something of a pickle. Both the Bennetts – Elliott and Joe – will surely play, and Greg Halford was borrowed from Nottingham Forest to provide defensive cover while the Seagulls have to do without the injured Aaron Hughes. The suspicion, then, is that the versatile defender will almost certainly be included on the Brighton bench.

    So who to leave out?

    Gary Gardner scored the winner against Wigan Athletic in an improved performance and Joao Teixeira has just seen his encouraging form rewarded with a call-up to the Portugal Under-21 squad. That leaves Ali Al-Habsi, the goalkeeper signed to provide cover for David Stockdale.

    Much, therefore, rests on who Hyypiä decides to pick in goal.

    If young Christian Walton gets the nod between the sticks, the likelihood is that Casper Ankergren would fill the substitute ‘keeper slot on the bench, meaning all five outfield loan players could be picked.


    Walton impressed against Wigan with a man of the match performance during which he looked confident, assured and commanding. The England Under-20 international is highly thought of and did not look overawed when he made his first team debut at White Hart Lane in the Capital One Cup.

    True, he dispatched a few kicks straight into touch against Wigan but he kept a clean sheet, made some useful saves and, if the manager decides to operate an “it is your shirt to lose” policy, he will start.

    Hyypiä though has already shown he is more than happy to shuffle the pack from game to game. Al-Habsi, for example, was put straight into the Albion team after joining on loan despite Walton’s competent display at Spurs.

    Had Walton not had quite such an impressive game against Wigan, it would appear a relatively simple decision.

    But he did. And it isn’t. Not in the context of the Albion’s frustrating start to the season.

    Should Hyypiä go with the experienced goalkeeper regardless of Walton’s form or persevere with youth for what could be a vital game?

    A poll of Albion fans illustrates just exactly how difficult a decision the manager is facing.

    At the time of writing 154 fans had voted in the site’s poll and the per centage split was 50 per cent in favour of Al-Habsi and 48.7 per cent favouring Walton. Two people voted for Ankergren, one can only suspect they were filling the form in on their smartphones and their fingers slipped onto the wrong option. Or they are nice and think Casper deserves a go. Either way the overall choice of starting ‘keeper is clearly split evenly between Al-Habsi and Walton.

    But who will Hyypiä go with?

    The smart money would be on Al-Habsi. However promising Walton’s opening two first games – and they were promising, very promising – he remains an inexperienced young goalkeeper. Al-Habsi, on the other hand, has a wealth of top flight experience. He is also, lest we forget, a very capable custodian in his own right.

    With the pressure on Hyypiä unlikely to have been drastically reduced by the team’s midweek win, tomorrow’s match could not be more important to the Finnish manager. If the Albion were to lose and potentially head towards the international break in the bottom three, his job would surely be in danger.

    Hyypiä will know how vital this game is. It is, one suspects, as close to a must win for the manager as is possible to get at this stage of the campaign.

    Back-to-back wins and the Seagulls and their supporters can begin looking forward with optimism. A defeat and the relief felt after Tuesday night’s long-awaited league victory will disappear in an instant.

    Walton may be incredibly talented, mature beyond his years and a future star-in-the-making, but Hyypiä will surely opt for experience. Walton’s ability won’t have come as a surprise to Hyypiä. He sees him every day in training, has watched him in games and presumably, together with the rest of the coaching team, knows all about his temperament.

    There was a reason he moved for Al-Habsi. He wanted experience. It would seem strange not to take advantage of it at such a pivotal point in his spell as Albion manager.

    Sitting out a game also won’t do Walton any harm. He played well at Spurs, sat out the next game and then won man of the match against Wigan. He is only 18. His time will certainly come. Hopefully it will be at Brighton and he will be an outstanding number one for years to come. He certainly has the potential.

    But in a game which could conceivably decide Hyypiä’s future, he will surely go with Al-Habsi. Unless he wants the five outfield loans players available, in which case he’ll go for Walton. Or Ankergren. This management lark isn’t as easy as it seems.

    Usually such a dilemma would be a nice problem for a manager to have. In the current circumstances, with Hyypiä’s job appearing to be on a knife's edge, it is probably one he could do without.

    In all honesty, however, whoever Hyypiä picks will come under scrutiny unless the Seagulls win – and perhaps even if they do. Pick Walton and lose and he will be criticised by some for exposing a young player too soon or wasting wages on Al-Habsi.

    Play Al-Habsi and lose and there will be sections of the Amex support saying he should have stuck with Walton.

    It may be that Hyypiä cannot win. Unless, of course, the Seagulls beat Blackburn, in which case supporters probably won’t care who was in goal.


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