• Championship Preview: Brighton and Hove Albion v Birmingham City

    After a second goalless draw in a row at Sheffield Wednesday last weekend, Albion will be aiming to get back to winning ways on their return to the Amex, as Chris Hughton faces off against one of his former sides for the first time since joining the club.

    Whilst the need for picking up three points from games is crucial with The Seagulls still in a precarious position at the bottom end of the Championship table, the tightness of the game up at Hillsborough means that to have come away from there with something, is better than nothing.

    The result also meant that a small gap has been built up between Brighton and Millwall and the relegation zone, and with every point counting as the final 15 games of the season come about, that could make all the difference in May.

    With Hughton’s men now having not won there last five games in all competitions, they’ll want to rebuild the momentum ahead of a trio of what could be classed as winnable games before the visit of high-flying Derby next month, with two home games in the space of four days coming up.

    The first of those matches sees Albion’s boss pitted against one of his former sides for the first time this season, with Birmingham the visitors this afternoon.

    Having taken over The Blues after relegation from the Premier League in 2011, the former Newcastle boss was charged with the task of not only putting on a successful Championship campaign to get back into the top flight, but also had to juggle that with a run in the Europa League, with the club having qualified for the competition through winning the League Cup in the previous season.

    Hughton enjoyed a successful season at St Andrews, leading the West Midlands side into the group stages of the European competition, along with a fourth place finish in the league before bowing out in the play-off Semi Finals against Blackpool.

    The 56-year olds success at Birmingham attracted the interest of top-flight Norwich, which saw Hughton move on to Carrow Road after a year in charge in 2012, and in the three years since then they have yet to match that season's performance.

    Off-the-field issues coupled with a dip in form on the field almost saw the Blues’ drop into League One on the final day of the season last year, with a late goal from Paul Caddis ensuring they avoided relegation on goal difference.

    Despite ongoing problems at board level this season, they have enjoyed a relatively successful campaign in contrast to last term since the appointment of Gary Rowett as boss in October, and currently sit comfortably in mid-table.

    With providing and scoring goals having been a concern in the past two games, Hughton as finally added a new face to the squad in an area he has been looking to fill ahead of today’s game, with his latest acquisition likely to go straight into today’s match day squad.

    Winger Emmanuel Ledesma has joined on-loan – initially for a month – from Championship leaders Middlesbrough, and could add more creative depth to the squad.

    The Argentina has a previous association with The Seagulls, having had a trial with the club after his release from Genoa in 2011, however he was not offered a permanent deal, and went on to join Wallsall, before being snapped up by Boro in 2012.

    Having featured over 50 times for the Teeside club, the 26-year old has struggled to find a place in Aitor Karanka’s plans so far this season, and has spent time out on loan at fellow Championship side Rotherham in the first half of the campaign.

    With Solly March set for another spell on the sidelines, the introduction of Ledesma comes at a crucial time to provide quality out wide for the Seagulls.

    Greg Halford is the only other short-term absentee along with March, as he is still suffering with a calf problem.

    Ledesma set to feature today after arrival from Boro this week

    Ahead of the game, Hughton spoke on the club website about the need to provide the kind of football that can get the Amex rocking, and help get the fans more vocal in their support of the team at home.

    “We have a responsibility as a team. You cannot expect to turn around and see the crowd cheering if you’re not giving them something to get behind the team for.

    “What they will do is get behind the team and the club as a whole; they’re very good supporters and I must admit in the games that I’ve been involved in at home so far, I can’t fault how they’ve been and are very fair with the team. But what you want to do is get them up off their seats and you can only do that by playing winning football.”

    Albion have failed to pick up a win on a Saturday 3pm kick-off at the Amex since the back-end of August 2014 against Bolton. Failure to do so today will see that statistic tick over the six-month mark. That says a lot about the season we’ve had so far, in particular our form at home.

    Whilst we have been unable to pick up wins in our last two away games, the difference between them and performances in our own back yard is that we have been resolute in ensuring that we have at least picked up a draw from those away games, whilst on our own turf we have been more prone to giving away goals cheaply.

    Getting the right balance between defending well and scoring goals isn’t easy, but it’s the gap that needs to be bridged if we are to secure survival in the Championship for next season.

    One, if not two of the three teams behind us have the ability to build up steam at some point in the remaining 15 games and put a run together that could see them get out of trouble. We have to ensure that if and when that happens, we are not in the position to be leapfrogged and find ourselves in the bottom three.

    We have proven we can score goals recently, but now is the time for us to find some consistency up front at home, and put together the series of results that can steer us clear of trouble.
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