• Championship Preview: Brighton and Hove Albion v Ipswich Town

    With their unbeaten run of five games having come to an end at the weekend, Albion will be hoping to bounce back at the first attempt in tonight’s midweek Championship game against third placed Ipswich, with the visit of Arsenal in the FA Cup just round the corner.

    Chris Hughton saw his side beaten for the first time as they fell to a 1-0 defeat at the Amex to Brentford in his first home match since taking over as Brighton boss three weeks ago.

    Coming away from the game with nothing to show for it was harsh for the Seagulls to take, considering they looked the better side up until Andre Gray’s deflected shot looped into the net just before the half hour mark.

    After losing Lewis Dunk to a red card for a second bookable offence with 62 minutes played, it was always going to be an uphill struggle for Albion to find a way back into the game, but they continued to press forward with ten men until the final whistle.

    With goals needed to turn around games, pick up points, and move up the table as soon as possible, bringing in a new striker was always going to be high up Hughton’s priority list, and in the last 24 hours he has done that.

    Leon Best – who played under Hughton at Newcastle – has joined on a loan until the end of the season from Blackburn, after struggling to become a regular in the starting XI whilst on-loan at Derby in the first half of the season.

    The Republic of Ireland international’s time at Ewood Park has been fraught with injury frustrations, with this being his third loan spell away from Lancashire in a year, and the 28-year old will feel he has a point to prove in Sussex.

    Best is likely to feature in Hughton’s plans immediately as The Seagulls play host to a tough Tractor Boys side who could go top of the table if they pick up all three points at the Amex.

    Mick McCarthy has put together a side that is one of the hardest to beat this season, with the Suffolk outfit having lost only four Championship games this season – the least of any team in the division. Up until the narrow loss at home to fellow high-flyers Derby earlier this month, they had put together an unbeaten run in the league of 11 games stretching back to October last year.

    In recent games between the two sides, it’s been one way traffic over the past few seasons, with Ipswich having come away with 2-0 victories in the past three meetings between the pair.

    Earlier this season they left it late to see off Sami Hyypia’s men in September, opening the scoring in the 79th minute through Jonathan Parr, before Darryl Murphy sealed victory nine minutes later.

    Albion’s last victory over The Tractor Boys in Sussex came just under three years ago in their first season back in the second tier after promotion from League One under Gus Poyet, as an opening goal from Craig Mackail-Smith and a second half brace from Ashley Barnes sealed a comfortable victory for the home side.

    Whilst he grabbed the first goal in that game in February 2012, Mackail-Smith is one of three players whose fitness Brighton are sweating on going into kick-off this evening.

    The 30-year old picked up an ankle injury that required lengthy treatment on Saturday, and forced Albion to play for a number of minutes with only nine men.

    Jake Forster-Caskey (hip) and Greg Halford (calf) also picked up knocks at the weekend, with the former the most likely of the three to feature in today’s game according to Hughton in the pre-match press conference.

    With Lewis Dunk also suspended for one game, Aaron Hughes looks set to slot into what is likely to be an otherwise unchanged back four.

    Best likely to make his Albion debut at the Amex tonight

    If Forster-Caskey doesn’t star the match, Joao Texeira could come back into the starting line-up in an advanced midfield role, with Best likely to make his debut alongside Sam Baldock up front.

    Speaking ahead of the game on the club website, Hughton has spoken about the threat that tonight’s opponents will pose, and that they can’t allow Ipswich to settle in to their rhythm and dictate the flow of the game.

    “We have got to make sure that we’re in the game, but we’ve also got to make sure we can field a team that can cause them problems.

    “They’re a strong team away from home, so we’ve got to be able to compete and also ask those questions as well, that’s what we’ll be trying to do.”

    With Ipswich one of six sides in the top eight of the division still yet to have visited the Amex this season, picking up momentum and wins at home won’t be an easy task for Albion in the second half of the season, but it’s something they’ve got to strive towards, starting tonight.

    Mick McCarthy’s sides are never easy to play, and having made themselves one of the toughest teams to beat in the division they won’t make it easy for us tonight, especially with the prospect of going to of the Championship with a win in their minds.

    The arrival of Best is a boost to our striking options, and whilst he hasn’t been prolific up front recently, he could flourish under the man whom he enjoyed playing for on Tyneside, and could provide a physical presence that has been lacking up front and in the box from crosses.

    On the face of it a point would be a good result from tonight’s game, with picking up results simply the aim right now. However with their being a real need to turn our form at the Amex around, a shock win would be just what we need to get that started.

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