• Championship Preview: Blackpool v Brighton and Hove Albion

    Having put on a battling performance in their 3-2 defeat to Arsenal in the FA Cup last weekend, Albion will now put all their efforts into survival in the Championship as they return to the league action at basement side Blackpool this afternoon.

    The Seagulls encounter with the Gunners saw them get off on the wrong foot, as they sat back and gave the Premier League side time to dominate the ball and play in the first half, meaning that they went in at half time two goals down.

    However a fighting and dogged performance in the second period of play saw Brighton cut the deficit twice through Chris O’Grady and Sam Baldock. However it wasn’t enough for them to undo the quality of the cup holders, who progress to the next round of the competition.

    The second half performance is one of many positive things that can Chris Hughton’s side can take away from the match. Having looked like they would be overrun in the first half they clawed their way back into the game and gave as good as they got, and made it a thrilling contest. Whilst the majority of the record attendance Amex crowd of 30,278 will have gone home unhappy about the result, they were able to take pride in the performance the home side put on in the final 45 minutes.

    That result means that Albion’s season is now solely focused on their league campaign, and with only five points separating them from the bottom three, the task for them is to pull clear of the relegation pack as soon as possible, starting this afternoon at Bloomfield Road against the beleaguered Seasiders.

    It’s been a hard season for fans of the Tangerines, who infamously had only eight players in their squad only a few weeks before the beginning of the season.

    It’s been an uphill struggle ever since, with Jose Riga and now Lee Clark in the unenviable position as manager trying to salvage something from this season. Stuck at the foot of the table and 12 points adrift of safety, they seem assured to be playing League One football next season.

    The first half of the season has also featured continued protests from their fans against Chairman Karl Oyston, with a demonstration set to take place during today’s game.

    In the encounter earlier in the season at the Amex, it was a one-sided affair that highlighted the problems Albion faced under Sami Hyypia, as they failed to capitalise on their dominance as the drew 0-0 in a game where they had most of the possession and 25 shots during the 90 minutes.

    The last visit to the infamous Lancashire seaside resort saw The Seagulls come away with all three points as they picked up a 1-0 victory at the back end of December 2013, with Inigo Calderon putting Brighton ahead on 38 minutes.

    With a number of players possibly available for selection tomorrow, Hughton could name some changes from the side that played in Sunday’s FA Cup clash with the Gunners.

    Joao Teixeira, has recovered from the illness that saw him miss the match six days ago, while Kazenga LuaLua could feature for the first time since the end of November when he suffered knee ligament damage.

    Leon Best was cup-tied for the game last weekend, and will likely go back into the squad, however after both O’Grady and Baldock found the back of the net against Arsenal, the former Newcastle frontman is unlikely to make his first start for the club.

    Having received international clearance late last night, Albion’s latest signing Beram Kayal is likely to go straight into the match day squad, with the Israeli midfielder having sealed his move from Scottish Champions Celtic that was announced at the end of last week.

    One player who won’t be around is Adrian Colunga, who has surprisingly left the club. The Spaniard has joined La Liga side Granada on-loan for the rest of the season, with a view to a permanent move in the summer.

    Ahead of the game, Hughton spoke to the club’s website about the importance of them going into today’s game with the right attitude after the experience of playing a Premier League side in their last match.

    Kayal may make his Albion debut having received his international clearance

    “We’ve got to be conscious of going from a really hyped up game against Arsenal, to getting straight back-to-business against Blackpool.

    “The quality of the pitch will be different, but it’s not an environment that’s unusual to the players.

    “It’s away from home and we know the pitch won’t be the best, but we’re looking for the battling qualities in the team as well as technical abilities.”

    Having been knocked out of the cup, the focus for the rest of the season is a very simple one for Albion –Championship survival first, and then putting together good performances and finishing as high up the table as possible come May.

    Admittedly that wouldn’t have been the kind of expectations fans had in August, but with the first half of the season that we had and the players at our disposal, a mid-table finish would be a good achievement at this point.

    Progressing up the table relies on us picking up points, and with a number of the top sides still to travel to the Amex, we have to make the most of our strong away form, having won the last three games on the road in succession.

    Today provides a chance to do that, and make up for missed opportunities in the reverse fixture against the Tangerines earlier in the season. On that day it was a case of two points dropped for us, and we won’t be looking to make the same mistakes again.

    It won’t be an easy task travelling to Bloomfield Road, with the Seasiders always tricky to play on their own patch, but with the momentum that’s been built up under Hughton and his players there’s every chance they’ll be travelling back to Sussex this evening with all three points in tow.

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