• Championship Preview: Derby County v Brighton and Hove Albion

    Having come away with nothing from a game they probably deserved something from last weekend, Albion find themselves in the unenviable position of travelling to the Championship leaders seven days after dropping into the relegation zone.

    The 2-1 defeat to Fulham has left a sour taste in the mouth for fans, with many of the same problems from previous games such as lack of concentration and not taking control of the game at crucial stages contributing to the loss, though after their first half performance Sami Hyypia’s side were worth at least a point.

    Whilst the match was marked by the impressive Albion debut of Darren Bent and Solly March’s return to the side from injury, it’s also resulted in a number of players being unable to play in today’s game with table topping Derby County at the iPro Stadium.

    Kazenga LuaLua was taken off with a knee injury and won’t feature, whilst Adrian Colunga suspended after being sent off for two yellow cards late in the second half.

    With Gordon Greer also still unfit to play, this gives under pressure boss Hyypia a selection headache ahead of the trip to Derbyshire today.

    With wins the key to getting out of trouble at this time, Brighton couldn’t have picked a worst time to have to play Steve McLaren’s side.

    Whilst they lost 2-1 at Leeds last weekend, the Rams have bounced back impressively from their play-off final defeat to Queens Park Rangers at the end of last season. With a squad full of dangerous attacking players including the free-scoring Chris Martin, and experience of battling it out at the top of the division, they’ve established themselves as one of the front runners for promotion this year.

    Over the years it’s today’s opponents who’ve come away the victors more often than not, with the Rams having picked up 19 wins to Albion’s 13, with four matches finishing a draw. That record was boosted significantly for Derby last season, as they picked up four victories over Brighton throughout the 2013-14 campaign.

    The last encounter came in the second leg of the play-off semi-final in May this year, with McLaren’s side taking a 2-1 advantage into the game from the opening leg at the Amex. The game was a completely one sided affair as the home side dominated play and ran out 4-1 winners. The other game at the iPro in January was a tighter affair, with a 76th minute goal from Patrick Bamford the deciding margin between the sides.

    Albion’s last win at Derby came in November 2011, with Craig Mackail-Smith grabbing an early goal to send the Seagull’s back to Sussex with all three points.

    As already mentioned, Hyypia will have some tough decisions to make regarding who makes the squad for today’s game.

    David Stockdale and the back four of Bruno, Lewis Dunk, Aaron Hughes and Joe Bennett are likely to remain unchanged with Greer still not fit to feature. Dunk is also likely to captain the side for the second game in a row.

    With keeping the home side at bay crucial to picking up any points this afternoon Rohan Ince is likely to back into the side in the defensive midfield role after coming on from the bench against the Cottagers last Saturday. Jake Forster-Caskey and Gary Gardner are likely to keep their places, however who Hyypia chooses to play further up the field could impact on whether the latter features.

    Injury to LuaLua and Colunga’s suspension has left the Finn without two of the attacking midfielders who started the last match. Solly March is likely to only feature from the bench again, therefore Paddy McCourt, Sam Baldock or Joao Teixeira could play alongside Elliott Bennett in support of Darren Bent up front.

    With Greg Halford likely to be on the bench, if Teixeira is brought back into the fold then one of the other six loan players would have to be dropped from the squad, with Gardner the most likely to miss out in that case. However the simple choice for Sami may be to leave the 21-year old Liverpool loanee out of the side again.

    Speaking ahead of the trip to Derbyshire, Hyypia outlined what he feels his team need to do if they are to take the game to their opponents.

    Knee injury to LuaLua gives Hyypia a selection headache in attacking midfield role

    “They are a team with energy and will try to play with high tempo. Without the ball they will try to press as well, and we need to be ready for that.

    “They have some good players up front and in one on one situations we need to be strong. We need to stop them getting in their rhythm and not letting them play to their strengths. If we stop the flow of their game we’ll have a chance.”

    Right back Bruno also spoke to the media ahead of the game after signing a new one-year deal with the club earlier this week. Whilst it’s his first time experiencing a relegation fight as an Albion player, the former Valencia right back has played for sides struggling at the bottom of the table before.

    The 34-year old believes they need to put work in throughout the side to turn around their form, with the number of goals being conceded this season a worry.

    “The clean sheet is always the most important thing because if you don’t concede goals you’ve more chance of winning the game. I think that must be our aim because if you don’t concede goals and you are strong at the back then normally you can win.

    “The last two seasons we had a lot of clean sheets, and it wasn’t about just a back four, it’s about everyone. When we are attacking its not just about strikers doing so it’s about everyone, and the same goes for the back four and defending.”

    Having just dropped into the bottom three the last thing any side would want to see up next is the league leaders, however for Brighton this is exactly what’s in store for them this afternoon.

    The previous results from last season will no doubt have many fans fearing a drubbing from the home side, and if Albion simply don’t turn up then there’s every chance it could be.

    But with troubled Leeds side taking all three points off of them last weekend, there is a glimmer of hope for Seagulls fans that they could come away with something. Steve McLaren’s side are no pushovers, and as with the away game at Norwich two weeks ago, we need to be ready to fight tooth and nail at there level to find a breakthrough

    The clichéd unpredictable nature of the Championship means that the old bottom-of-the-table-beats-top scenario might play out and could possibly go Albion’s way., however it’s fair to say fan expectation of this won’t be too high.

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