• Championship Preview: Brighton and Hove Albion v Reading

    After a positive performance almost saw all three points gained at Wolves last Saturday, it was assumed everything would flow smoothly into the Boxing Day clash with Reading for Albion.

    However on Monday the news that Sami Hyypia had offered his resignation as Brighton boss, with chairman Tony Bloom “reluctantly” accepting it, threw everything up in the air.

    While fans had been calling for the Finn to be given the sack for a number of weeks, Bloom’s backing of him recently indicated he wouldn’t be going anytime soon.

    With the former Liverpool player himself saying he wouldn’t quit unless he felt he didn’t have the backing of the board possibly suggests that either something changed behind the scenes, or that the results and negativity directed his way was getting too much for him.

    It was a bold move to appoint Hyypia in the summer, and it’s a shame it didn’t work out. However his tactical naivety and lack of experience in management has showed, and had he not jumped at some point he would have been pushed.

    Christmas Eve also saw Head of Football Operations David Burke part way with the club after a re-evaluation of the football setup.

    In truth, both of those men moving on from The Seagulls is music to the ears of most fans.

    Whilst the former Bayer Leverkusen coach has taken a significant amount of flack for the side’s performances on the pitch and current predicament in the league, the poor summer recruitment has been down to Burke. Both are at fault in different ways for the side’s current position, and both have fallen on their respective swords.

    The removal of a Director of Football position at the Amex also opens the door to potential new managers who would not have wanted to work under that system. It gives us the best chance possible to bring in the right person ahead of or at the start of January to turn around our fortunes.

    For now though, assistant manager Nathan Jones, takes caretaker charge of the side ahead of today’s home match, and will likely lead the side into Monday’s evening clash at Fulham also.

    This afternoon they face a Royals side that have also undergone a change in the dugout this month, although with a swift appointment of a new boss it would seem very much a planned decision to replace one of Albion fans' pantomime villains, Nigel Adkins.

    Jones takes charge after Hyypia's departure

    The former Saints boss seemingly couldn’t keep up with what was expected at the Madejski Stadium, being replaced by former West Brom boss Steve Clarke within 24 hours of his dismissal after the 6-1 defeat at Birmingham 13 days ago, their sixth loss in 10 games.

    Whilst they were beaten in their first game under Clarke, today’s opponents have always been tricky customers for Albion, and with former Seagulls hero-turned-pariah Glenn Murray likely to lead the line at the Amex, they won’t be an easy team to play.

    Reading have a marginal lead over Brighton in games played, with 34 wins to 29, and 28 matches having ended all square.

    The sides tussled twice in Sussex last season in the Championship and the FA Cup. The former encounter in March this year saw the Royal’s come away with a late draw through Royston Drenthe’s 84th minute strike after Albion were reduced to ten men on 51 minutes, when Gordon Greer received a second yellow card.

    In the Third Round of the cup two months prior to that stalemate, Andrew Croft’s solitary strike on 32 minutes was enough to send Oscar Garcia’s side through, setting up a trip to League One Port Vale in the following round.

    Albion’s last league win at home over reading came when the two sides were battling for the League One title in the 2001-02 season. Goals from Bobby Zamora, Steve Melton and Junior Lewis helped seal a 3-1 victory at Withdean over their opponents.

    Whilst it’s hard to say how much the side will change whilst Jones is in charge of the team, there will be at least one enforced change this afternoon due to Bruno’s sending off at Molineux six days ago.

    The Catalonian played the first hour in midfield as opposed to at right back, offering a different look to what has been considered a weak middle of the pack. Gary Gardner or Rohan Ince are therefore likely to come in alongside Danny Holla and Jake Forster-Caskey.

    Albion are also boosted by the recall of Craig Mackail-Smith from Peterborough, where he had been sent on a months loan and likely to feature in the match day squad. This suggests that Sam Baldock may not be back before the start of 2015, and that more cover is needed up front.

    Ahead of the game, Vice-Captain Inigo Calderon spoke to the press about the departure of Hyypia, and he shared the surprise at the timing of the Finn’s departure. He also emphasised the need to focus on today’s game during what has now become a disruptive period off the pitch.

    “We knew maybe two or three weeks ago it could happen but everything was calmer because the chairman said he was the perfect guy for us, we played well at Wolves and we were really close to getting the three points.

    CMS could feature for first time since win over Wigan in November

    “I didn’t expect that, but he decided that the best thing for team was to leave and that shows how good a person he is.

    “We need to keep fighting, as he did all the time, and try to move forward. We just have to think about Friday and nothing else.”

    Caretaker boss Jones also spoke to the media for the first times this season, and stressed the importance of everyone pulling together on Boxing Day.

    “It’s an important game and if we start positively, we can lift the mood of everyone quickly.

    “From the board of directors, to the coaches, academy staff, fans and players, we all have a role to play, but it is the fans and players who are going to be the most important on Friday.

    “We want to lift the fans, but we also want the fans to come with a real energy about them and remember who we are.”

    The mood amongst the support online has been more optimistic in the past week for a number of reasons. The performance at Wolves was a real positive despite the result, and showed signs that there is potential for this side to get out of the sticky situation they are in right now.

    However the departure of the two men many place the blame on for the Seagulls sitting in the relegation zone has done more to swing the mood of fans since the start of the week. Sami Hyypia was a nice man, but that doesn’t always cut it in football management, and it simply didn’t work out. David Burke has done great things for the development of future players at Albion, but the first team transfer setup hasn’t been up to scratch.

    Whether Jones can simply steer the ship through a mix bag of results until a new manager is put in place, or help start the turnaround to make the next Brighton boss’ job easier upon arrival is hard to say.

    The players have taken part of the blame for where we are right now, but they are also the ones who can change all that. All of them and Jones will need our support more than ever on the pitch today.
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