• Transfer window allows Hughton to strengthen

    Chris Hughton is already relishing life as the new manager of Brighton & Hove Albion and while his immediate attention will no doubt be on preparing a team for Saturday’s FA Cup clash with Brentford, he will surely have already started casting an eye over his new charges ahead of the transfer window.

    While it is true that the Seagulls squad he inherits from Sami Hyypia is not on a par with the relative riches enjoyed by Gus Poyet and Oscar Garcia, it is also accurate to say it is certainly better than the Albion’s current league position suggests.

    Put simply: a side which did not adequately replace the likes of Leo Ulloa, Will Buckley, Matthew Upson and Stephen Ward was never likely to be fighting it out at the top of the highly-competitive Championship. But it shouldn’t be slumming it out at the bottom. Not by a long way.

    David Burke the club’s Head of Football Operations has, presumably, paid the price for a poor summer of transfer dealings and the Albion’s over-reliance on loan signings. Perhaps, with shepherding the club through the final stages of designing the new training ground high on his work agenda, Burke was spread too thinly across off-the-field requirements including player recruitment. He certainly had some successes during his time at the Albion. He was in the same role during both Play-Off clinching seasons and presumably had some involvement in signings such as Upson, Ulloa and the like.

    Upon leaving his job last month, Burke also spoke of his pride in seeing young players like Rohan Ince progress to first team football. Christian Walton – the young goalkeeper who won plaudits for his opening forays into senior football earlier this season – was also, one imagines, at least partly identified by Burke and his team.

    That said, the summer’s recruitment was nothing short of woeful. Of the players signed on a permanent basis only David Stockdale has established himself as a genuine key player. Adrian Colunga has been vastly-improved in recent weeks while the season-long loan players Joe Bennett and Joao Teixeira are both decent, if temporary, additions to the squad.

    Sam Baldock and Chris O’Grady have yet to really impose themselves. In fact, despite an encouraging return to the Albion against Fulham, O’Grady is still being heavily linked with a move away from the Amex. If that mooted move comes to fruition, then Hughton’s first job has to be to sign a forward to provide competition for Craig Mackail-Smith and Baldcock.

    Mackail-Smith’s contract is nearing its expiry date. But, as pointed out on NSC earlier this week, the likeable frontman could find himself back in favour. Hughton had previously tried to sign the Scottish centre forward whilst manager of Norwich City. It would certainly be a surprise to see him shipping CMS out this month a la Ashley Barnes last January.

    But who will Hughton look to bring in? The obviously, and perhaps most romantic suggestion, is Glenn Murray. The swaggering striker looked at his imperious best leading the line for Reading at the Amex recently and looks to be surplus to requirements at Crystal Palace. He still lives in Brighton and boasts the distinction of having scored more league goals at the Amex this season than any of the Albion’s current forwards. If, as he has suggested, Hughton will continue the Albion’s established 4-2-3-1/ 4-3-3 formation, Murray would appear a perfect fit in the central striking role. His wages may prove a stumbling block but, with Darren Bent having returned to Aston Villa and unlikely to return, there are surely finances available to fund such a move – particularly with the Ulloa/Buckley/Bridcutt cash still burning a hole in the Albion’s collective back pocket.

    Another player Hughton has history with is Luciano Becchio. The one-time Leeds United striker was signed by Hughton for Norwich City where he remains. He does, however, appear to be out of favour at Carrow Road and spent the early part of this season on loan at Rotherham. He was due to return to Norwich City on New Year’s Day and, should they decide to cash in on the Argentinian, he would certainly be within the Seagulls’ price range.

    Hughton, of course, is well-connected and, importantly, well-liked throughout football. He could opt to turn to the loan market for a striker. Paul Winstanley, the club’s head of player identification, will almost certainly have eyes throughout the professional divisions although, with the Albion in a relatively precarious league position, Tony Bloom et al may prefer a tried and tested forward rather than one with potential or raw ability. Either way, it is difficult to imagine the Albion not adding to their attacking ranks this month.

    Elliott Bennett would be a popular signing should he either return for another loan spell or, perhaps, join permanently from Norwich. He hasn’t quite hit the heights of his previously spell at Brighton but he injected some much-needed enthusiasm, creativity and positional sense to the Seagulls side. Former club Wolves are rumoured to be interested in taking him back to Molineux but he retains genuine affection for the Albion and presumably wouldn’t be against a return trip South.

    Rohan Ince and Danny Holla, finally afforded the opportunity to forge a central midfield partnership, were excellent against Fulham. Jake Forster-Caskey has been an almost ever-present in midfield this season and between the three of them, Hughton has a competitive trio from which to select his deep-sitting duo. Gary Gardner has gone back to Villa and does not look like coming back any time soon and with Dale Stephens and Andrew Crofts both still injured, Hughton will almost certainly be looking for midfield reinforcements. That is unless his arrival can breathe new life into the Albion careers of Nzuzi Toko or Kemy Agustien. At least one experienced central midfield player is probably needed.

    Apart from up front, an additional midfield schemer and a wide player in the style of Elliott Bennett, the one position the Albion could benefit from an extra player is defence. Between them Inigo Calderon and Bruno should have right-back covered, while Joe Bennett and Adam Chicksen are capable enough on the other flank. Much, though, will depend on any January interest in Lewis Dunk as to whether the Seagulls move for another central defender.

    Gordon Greer is due back from injury and Aaron Hughes remains a competitive and experienced member of the squad. The perfect scenario would see Brighton either re-loan Greg Halford or sign the Nottingham Forest utility player on a permanent basis. Most teams need four central defenders. The Albion currently only have three. Halford has been in excellent form lately and his signing would cover not only defence but provide options in a host of other positions.

    Another possibility is, of course, to promote from the development squad. Glen Rea has impressed enough to be rewarded with a call-up to the Republic of Ireland Under-21 squad but Rea aside, there are no prospects obviously demanding immediate progression. It may be that Walton, Ince, Forster-Caskey and Solly March provide sufficient youthfulness given the club’s precarious league standing.

    Hughton will be busily assessing his squad and his January transfer budget. Arrivals are inevitable and with the change in structure, Hughton should have more of a direct say than his predecessor.

    Bloom has indicated the club is ready for the notoriously busy January window and has shown his intent to back the Albion’s manager by funding the early loan deals for Bent and Elliott Bennett.

    It may be that Hughton, Bloom and Winstanley need only find three or four players to see them through to safety before embarking on a what is certain to be a more intensive re-shaping of the squad in the summer months.

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Stumpy Tim's Avatar
      Stumpy Tim -
      Fair reflection of the situation. Yet again we come back to the standard Albion problem though... "we're one quality forward away from being a decent team". I hope we have some foreign unit (like Ulloa) lined up for the first week of January
    1. fat old seagull's Avatar
      fat old seagull -
      A good informative article.
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