• Championship Preview: Norwich City v Brighton and Hove Albion

    With the last international break until March 2015 out of the way, Albion go into a crucial run of games to pull them away from the sides below them.

    The Seagulls are still only one point away from dropping into the bottom three, and face a tough run of games over the Christmas period, starting this afternoon at Carrow Road.

    With Tony Bloom having given his backing to Sami Hyypia during the two week break, it’s now up to the Finn to repay his chairman’s faith, and pull Brighton away from the sides below them.

    With a number of players picking up injuries in the weeks before the last bunch of international games, the recent period without matches has allowed a number of them to regain fitness, giving Hyypia more options for today’s trip to Norwich.

    Having gone through their own rough run of games this season, Albion fans will have some understanding of the predicament the Canaries are in at the moment.

    Neil Adam’s side started life back in the Championship strongly, losing only one of their opening nine games and finding themselves top of the table. However after defeat to Charlton at the end of September their form has deteriorated, and since then they have only picked up one win in eight games.

    The 2-1 loss at Nottingham Forest a fortnight ago was followed by the sacking of one of Adam’s backroom staff, first-team coach Mark Robson, although the Yellows’ boss insists it was not results related.

    Since then they’ve appointed former Manchester United assistant Mike Phelan as his replacement, however with his arrival coming only days before today’s match, it’s unclear how much of an impact he’ll have on the sides performance.

    Chairman Bloom gave Hyypia his backing during international break

    Over the years Albion haven’t faired as well in the fixture as their opponents, although it’s a narrow margin. Norwich have the upper hand on the Seagulls, with 31 wins to 29 in both league and cup, with another 23 fixtures having ended all square.

    In truth Carrow Road hasn’t been a great hunting ground for Brighton. In 42 trips to Norfolk to face the Canaries, the Seagulls have come away with a victory eight times.

    The last win came when the sides met in the second tier of English football in December 2002. A solitary strike from loanee Steve Sidwell in the first half was enough to give Steve Coppell’s struggling side their fourth win of the season.

    Albion’s last outing at Norwich came in League in November 2009, as the Seagulls were swept away 4-1 by the home side in one of Gus Poyet’s first games as manager, with James Tunnicliffe scoring a consolation goal for the away side.

    Hyypia’s options in certain areas of the pitch have both been strengthened and weakened since the 1-1 draw with Blackburn.

    David Stockdale has resumed training after breaking his finger in a warm up session last month, and with loan ‘keeper Ali Al-Habsi given permission to take part in the latter stages of the Gulf Cup with Oman, the former Fulham stopper is likely to reclaim his place between the sticks.

    In defence right-back Bruno could fit back into the side once again after recovering from injury. With Adam Chicksen out on loan at Gillingham, Inigo Calderon’s presence on the bench as cover for both fullback positions will be needed.

    Lewis Dunk picked up his fifth yellow card of the season in their last league game, therefore picking up a one match suspension that sees his miss today’s game. Gordon Greer could also match that tally if he picks up a caution this afternoon, however the Seagulls skipper will partner either Greg Halford or Aaron Hughes, who recovered from the injury he received at Bournemouth to play for Northern Ireland during the international break.

    Top Goalscorer Dunk suspended for today's match

    Jake Forster-Caskey played an hour for the England Under 21s in France on Monday, but is likely to partner two of Danny Holla, Rohan Ince or Gary Gardner in midfield.

    With Albion facing his parent club this afternoon, Elliott Bennett is ineligible to play, therefore Joao Teixeira or Adrian Colunga could partner Kazenga Lua Lua in behind lone striker Sam Baldock,.

    Solly March has also begun training once again after a lengthy absence, however a start at Carrow Road for the promising 20-year old is unlikely.

    Albion certainly aren’t going into the game underestimating their opponents, with Hyypia speaking ahead of the match about the threats posed by the Canaries, however he does believe they can go there and get a result.

    “I think their offensive game is very good. They play with high tempo and try to play good football as well and create chances. Defensively we have to be on top of our game to face them.

    “However on the defensive side that’s been a weakness for them. They’ve been conceding goals and maybe we can exploit that, score a few goals and win the game.”

    Aaron Hughes also spoke ahead of the game, and whilst he acknowledged that the Canaries possibly aren’t in the best run of form, they can’t go into the today’s clash thinking they will have an easy task on their hands.

    “They’ve come down from the Premier League and they’ve got pedigree and good players there with a lot of experience.

    “Over the course of the season you’re going to get peaks and troughs where you’re playing well, hit a bit of bad form, and it’s about getting that consistent level week in week out so that when the good times are there, it’s easy because the confidence is there.

    “It’s going to be a tough game, and they’ll be looking to start this period well, as we will be. We can’t underestimate them.”

    The period of games up until Christmas will be crucial in seeing whether Albion can pull together and but a good string of performances together to pull them away from the bottom of the table.

    With January just over a month away thoughts are already turning to the kind of player Hyypia may bring into the club, therefore many players – in particular the strikers – know they will have to step up there game to keep their place in the side.

    Whilst Norwich haven’t been at their best in recent weeks, they have one of the strongest squads in the division, and on home turf will be no pushovers as they look to get back to the top of the table.

    With the chairman having put his faith in him, it’s now down to Hyypia and his players to deliver on that trust. As Bloom acknowledged, the performance has been there sometimes, but not always the result that is deserved or wanted. Delivering on the result front today would be a good start to getting out of our current situation.
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