• Championship Preview: Brighton and Hove Albion v Fulham

    With Albion scoring three goals without picking up the victory at Norwich last weekend, they will be hoping to bring that confidence in front of goal back to the Amex and keep out Fulham as they go in search of win number four in the league.

    Whilst taking a point away from home against an always dangerous and dogged Canaries side is a good thing, with the Seagulls now precariously perched just above the relegation zone
    with goal difference the only thing separating them from the bottom three, Sami Hyypia will be wanting his side to convert these games into three points to start working on moving up the table as soon as possible.

    Since the last game the club has been boosted by the arrival of a new signing who, if they deliver, can certainly bring the goals needed to get away from the scrap at the wrong end of the table.

    In what most clubs at this level will see as a real coup, Brighton brought in Aston Villa and England striker Darren Bent for a month mere days before the loan window shut on Thursday evening.

    The 30-year old has a great track record of scoring in the top flight form at most clubs he’s played for. Despite featuring for the Villains in Monday’s 1-1 draw with Southampton, the former Spurs front man said that he just wanted to go somewhere to play on a regular basis, something he is certainly likely to do.

    His arrival has also seen Craig Mackail-Smith and Chris O’Grady head out on-loan to Peterborough and Sheffield United respectively on short-term deals.

    Ironically Bent’s first game in the Blue and White stripes will see him face off against one of his former clubs in Fulham.

    Despite spending heavily in the summer, including paying the princely sum of £11m for Ross McCormack the Cottagers have so far failed to live up to expectations in their first season outside of the top tier in 13 years, having propped up the bottom of the table for the opening few months until the sacking of their former controversial manager Felix Magath.

    Bent's last spell in the Championship was at Ipswich nine years ago

    After initially taking charge of the side after Magath’s dismissalas caretaker boss, before being handed the managers role at Craven Cottage last month, Kit Symons has helped them regain some form to the point where they have overtaken Albion, with today’s visitors currently sitting in 17th place, although only one point separates the sides.

    The two sides have met each other a number of times over the years whilst yo-yoing between the third and four tiers of English football, with The Lilywhites having won more of the past matches by 19 to 15, with five having ended a draw.

    The last time the sides met in Sussex was 18 years ago during the last season at the Goldstone in October 1996, with the game ending a goalless draw. To find Albion’s last home victory in this fixture you have to go back over 20 years to April 1994, with two goals from Paul Dickov sealing all three points.

    As with the trip to Norwich last weekend, Hyypia once again faces a selection headache in regards to his starting line-up, however probably for a different reason.

    For that match the Finn was without two key players in Elliott Bennett and Lewis Dunk, both of whom are eligible to play once again today. Add in the arrival of Bent and the possibility of Solly March featuring from the bench, and the former Liverpool defender is spoilt for choices.

    With only five loan players able to feature in the match day squad, two of the seven currently will miss out today. In truth with David Stockdale proving his worth up at Carrow Road seven days ago, Ali Al-Habsi is surplus to requirements after only featuring once in his time here. Greg Halford’s loan from Nottingham Forest has been extended until January 1st, but he is likely to be left out unless either of the first choice centre backs is suspended or injured.

    Stockdale will therefore be between the sticks today, with the only change in the back line likely to be the return of Dunk, with Aaron Hughes dropping to the bench.

    The midfield trio of Rohan Ince, Jake Forster-Caskey and Gary Gardner is likely to remain unchanged, although Hyypia’s fondness for tinkering could see Danny Holla come into the side.

    The return of Elliott Bennett means he’ll slot straight into the side, with Adrian Colunga the most likely to make way setting up the opener and scoring last weekend.

    Bennett back after being unable to face parent club Norwich last week

    Benno’s return will likely result in a slight re-jig of the formation, with Kazenga Lua Lua likely to play in a wider role that suits him more on the left, with the aforementioned Norwich loanee performing the same role on the right flank.

    Sam Baldock once again went missing for parts of the last match, and with no guarantee that Darren Bent will be at the club for longer than the current month long loan, Hyypia will want to get the most out of a great asset while possible, meaning that Bent will more than likely be making his Albion debut in the starting line-up tomorrow.

    Ahead of his eagerly anticipated first appearance for the club, Bent spoke about the test he’s going to face in the Championship after almost ten years since playing at this level.

    “I don’t quite know. I’ve not played in the Championship for a while now, since I started off here with Ipswich. I know the game’s changed a lot since then and is a lot more physical.

    “The standard at this level is getting better. Anyone who watches games on TV knows it’s not just about long balls and kicking lumps out of each other. Teams do get the ball down and play football and Brighton definitely fall into that category.”

    Hyypia also spoke about the opportunity to get to work with Bent, and leapt at the opportunity to bring him to the club.

    “When I heard that he would be available, I was quite excited. I’ve played against him and he has proved that he can score goals in the Premier League and I think he can score goals here as well.

    “We worked to get him here and I’m very happy that he’s here and that he can hep the team to gain that confidence and winning mentality with his actions on the field.”

    With the gap at the bottom having narrowed after the return from the international break, wins are still high on the agenda for Hyypia’s men going into the Christmas period. And with tough fixtures such as trips to Derby and Wolves on the horizon, it’s games like this Albion should be looking as a priority to get all three points.

    The arrival of Darren Bent has created a real buzz at the club, and we need to give him the chance to make a difference whilst he is here, because given the chance he will put away goals at this level, and can make a real difference to our position in the New Year.

    Fulham have slowly been finding their feet at this level after the poor start under Magath, and won’t be easy to face by any means. However with a number of players back and confidence built from the attacking and goal scoring display at Carrow Road last weekend, we have to take the game to them and make our efforts count.

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