• Championship Preview: Brighton and Hove Albion v Millwall

    After being torn apart in an opening 20 minutes that sealed their fate in Derbyshire last weekend, Albion will need to pick their heads up quickly for a Friday night game under the glare of the Sky Sports cameras, as they take on another side also struggling to find any sort of form this season in Ian Holloway’s Millwall.

    Whilst the gap between The Seagulls and the sides above them hasn’t extended greatly after last Saturday’s loss to the league leaders, the manner in which they were beaten was emphatic enough to once again bring home the reality that, at this moment in time, they are in a relegation battle.

    Much of the blame and anger from the defeat at Derby has fallen on the shoulders of Sami Hyypia. His decision to bring on a defensive midfielder after going 3-0 down was a case of locking the stable door after the horse had bolted.

    Whilst their opponents sat back for the majority of the game, Albion failed to register a single shot on target, and were made to look tactically naïve by the hosts.

    With numerous fans across social media and beyond openly turning against Hyypia, there was hope amongst the #BinTheFinn critics that a board meeting earlier this week would see the former Liverpool player ousted from his position.

    However as stated by chairman Tony Bloom last month, the Finn is at the Amex for the long haul, though a continued sleepwalk towards League One would no doubt tempt Albion’s Poker playing owner to fold and end Hyypia’s time in charge at the Amex.

    As things are, the former Bayer Leverkusen coach will lead his side into what will really be viewed as a must win game against another team in the bottom half of the table struggling to pick up points.

    The Lion’s season has virtually matched Albion’s in terms of how their league form has gone. A win at the back end of August was followed by a long spell without being able to pick up a victory. Since the 1-0 win over Cardiff in October, they’ve fallen back into a slump, and are on a run of one win in their last 15 games, which almost mirrors the Seagulls’ record of one win in 16.

    A win for Hyypia’s side tonight would see them go above Millwall and Rotherham in the Championship table up to 20th. Victory would mean that they would be unable to drop back into the bottom three after the rest of the league fixtures are played at the weekend.

    Going into the game the odds are very much stacked in the home side’s favour. Brighton have won 38 of the previous encounters, compared to Millwall’s 36, with another 24 games finishing all square.

    In the past few years Albion have been on top in the fixture. They haven’t lost to the Lion’s since returning to the Championship in 2011, a run of six games unbeaten. However they have yet to record a win against the South East London outfit at the Amex.

    The last game in Brighton between the two sides saw Leonardo Ulloa come to Albion’s rescue ten minutes from time after they went behind in the second half through Martyn Woolford’s opener for the visitors on the 50-minute mark. Their task was made easier after defender Alan Dunne was sent off.

    The last time the Seagulls took home all three points from this fixture in Sussex was in November 2008. It was a rare win for Micky Adam’s side during his second spell as manager, as they swept away the visitors 4-1 at the Withdean Stadium, with goals from Dean Cox, loanee Bradley Johnson and a Glenn Murray brace sealing victory.

    With a number of players who missed the trip to the East Midlands still on the treatment table, Hyypia is likely to field an almost unchanged side for today’s game.

    Skipper Gordon Greer’s knee problem hasn’t recovered, therefore the back four of Bruno, Aaron Hughes, Lewis Dunk and Joe Bennett likely to remain unchanged, along with ‘keeper David Stockdale’s place between the sticks.

    Having made a real difference in giving the back four extra protection at Derby after coming on after 27 minutes, Rohan Ince could be brought back into the starting line-up to form a midfield three with Gary Gardner and Jake Forster-Caskey once again. However Hyypia could stick with Gardner and JFC to accomodate more players in the attacking half of the field.

    Colunga could return after one-game suspension

    Whilst Kazenga LuaLua is still out, Adrian Colunga is back from suspension, which therefore opens up the possibility of him coming back into the starting line-up. With Solly March forced into an early first start on Saturday after a long time out injured, Hyypia could choose to only start him from the bench, so to not rush his comeback

    Elliott Bennett and Darren Bent will retain there places in the side, as will Joao Texieira, unless Greg Halford features on the bench, in which case the Liverpool loanee is likely to miss out due to Albion only being able to have five loan players in the match day squad.

    Ahead of the clash, Hyypia acknowledged the pressure that he and his players are under to perform this evening, however he insists they haven’t prepared for this game any differently just because of the small gap between them and their opponents in the table.

    “If you start to pay attention to that kind of thing, that now it’s more important because they’re a direct rival of us in league position then I think that’s not the right way to approach it.

    “Everyone knows the importance of the game and everyone knows we need to turn a corner very quickly.”

    Winger Elliott Bennett also spoke ahead of the game, and he agrees with Hyypia’s sentiment regarding how they view the match as no different to any other, and he believes they’re prepared for the task at hand.

    “I wouldn’t say any game is must win, but its another game that as a football club as a set of players, manager everyone wants to win. It’ll be the same for Millwall because they’ll be coming here thinking we’re going to win.

    “I think we’ve prepared very well. Everyone is as ready as possible, and on the day we need to be better, work harder and battle harder than Millwall to win.”

    There have been many matches so far this season that have been branded “must win” for Albion, but this one comes at a more crucial time than ever for the side considering their current circumstances.

    Whilst the beauty of the Championship is that bottom of the table, sides will go and beat those at the top on many occasions. That also means that if you lose ground the gap between you and those sides just above you will continue to grow.

    In our current situation we can’t afford to do that. Whilst Hyypia says that he is not treating this game more different than others, in a relegation fight it’s the teams in and around you that you need to be beating first before you start looking at those further up the table.

    A win and getting out the relegation zone might not sway those who are determined that Hyypia should go. However with the margin between sides still being pretty small, one victory could set us up for more over the Christmas period and help turn our form around.

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