• Championship Preview: Brighton and Hove Albion v Nottingham Forest

    After a narrow defeat away at Blackpool last weekend saw the sides below narrow the gap between them and the Championship bottom three, Albion will be looking to move back on up the table this afternoon as they take on a Nottingham Forest side who have rung in the changes in the past six days.

    Chris Hughton’s side were unable to find a way past the division’s basement side seven days ago, with the Bloomfield Road pitch playing a part in them being unable to play their football and put the beleaguered Seasiders under pressure.

    In the end the contest was decided by a late set piece from Tangerines’ midfielder Jamie O’Hara, whose free kick sent The Seagulls on the way to their first loss on the road since Hughton’s appointment on New Years Eve.

    With other results in the league not going their way, the result has dropped Brighton two places to 21st in the table, with only two points separating them from the side directly below them, Millwall, who are in the bottom three.

    With the January transfer window now shut, it’s up to the former Newcastle United boss to work with the players at his disposal – bar any deals being struck in the emergency loan window – to put together a run of form that can see them secure a place in the Championship for next season.

    With the arrival of Beram Kayal from Celtic having been the only permanent transfer made during the window, the assumption has to be made that the rebuild of the squad in Hughton’s image will take place in the summer, when the club are more likely to get better value for any players bought and sold.

    For now though the priority is still securing survival in the second tier of English Football, and Albion will continue in their efforts to do so when they play host to the former back-to-back European Champions at the Amex this afternoon.

    It will also mark the first outing for The Red’s latest managerial appointment, with Dougie Freedman taking charge of his first game since stepping into Stuart Pearce’s shoes not long after the former England Under-21 manager had been ousted from his position at the County Ground.

    Pearce’s departure came in the wake of Forest going on a run of one win in their past 11 games. Having been one of the bookies favourites for promotion in pre-season, they looked set to match those odds early on as they went on an unbeaten run of 12 League games. However they started to fall of the wagon in November and now sit in mid-table.

    With his connections to Crystal Palace as a player and manager still fresh in the memory to most Albion fans, Freedman won’t expect a warm welcome in his first game as Forest boss.

    The Scot already has one bad memory from being in the away dugout at the Amex already this season, as he saw his Bolton side lose 2-1 in August.

    That was the last time that The Seagulls were victorious in a three o’clock kick-off at the Amex on a Saturday afternoon, and it would be apt for them to inflict that for the first time since then on Freedman once again.

    The meeting between the teams earlier in the season saw them play out a 0-0 draw at the City Ground, with Craig Mackail-Smith going closest for the away side. Brighton’s last hoem victory in this tie came just over three years ago in December 2011, as a goal in injury time from Will Buckley ensured all tree points for Gus Poyet’s side.

    Kazenga LuaLua came off the bench to feature in that game, and the winger looks set to make his comeback from injury in today’s match.

    The 24-year old has been out of action since the end of November with a knee injury, however he came through a half whilst playing for the Albion Under 21s in midweek, and looks set to play a part whether it be from the bench or in the starting line-up.

    Having also played and scored in his first outing for the club in the same game as LuaLua earlier in the week, Kayal could make his first team debut today, however if he does so it’s likely to be from the bench due to him needing to gain match fitness.

    Dale Stephens’ recovery from long-term injury is almost at an end, with the midfielder also playing a part for the Development Squad recently, however today may be one game too early for the 25-year old.

    LuaLua's last Albion appearance was during the 2-1 defeat to Fulham on November 29 last year

    The only other absentee of note today is Greg Halford, with the defender unable to play against his parent club.

    Speaking with the media ahead of today’s clash, Hughton has urged his player’s not to lose focus of the task at hand today with the distraction of their opponents new manager surrounding the build-up to kick-off.

    “That [Freedman’s appointment] is something that we must not concentrate on because we can’t really affect that. It has to be about our own game.

    “We are conscious that they’ve changed it, and sometimes with that comes a little spring in everybody’s step, sometimes a little change of fortune. We’ve seen it all too often.

    “The message from us will be very much about us being on the back of two good home performances. We are at home and we’d like those performances to continue.”

    With the gap at the bottom of the table having narrowed once more, the need for Albion to continue to try and pull away from the bottom three is still as great as it ever was, and with home form playing a key part in that, we will need to turn that around as soon as possible.

    The appointment of Freedman has certainly made the tie a spicier affair before a ball has been kicked. Even putting the Palace connections aside, the fact that this will be his first game in the dugout for Forest will elicit a tougher performance from his players as they look to make an impact for their new gaffer.

    With the likes Britt Assambolonga providing the threat up front, The Reds will prove a tricky test for our defence, and despite their form they have still got good quality across the pitch.

    However there is still a real need for Albion to not only pick up wins, but also do so in their own back yard. After their last home game against Arsenal in The FA Cup, Hughton’s side will be hoping the Amex crowd gets behind them it did in the second half against the Gunners.

    With a number of tough sides still yet travel to Sussex this season yet in the division, we need to build up more momentum at home to start picking up the points we need to beat the drop, starting with today’s game against Forest.
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