• Championship Preview: Brighton and Hove Albion v Derby County

    After defeat to Bolton saw Albion’s four game unbeaten run come to an end on Saturday, they will face a tough test if they want to get back to winning ways, with league leaders Derby the visitors at the Amex this evening.

    After back-to-back victories at home, Chris Hughton’s men hoped to take that form on the road with them to the Macron Stadium at the weekend, however their efforts were undone on 64 minutes as the home side found the back of the net, sending Albion back to Sussex empty handed.

    Whilst a draw may have been a fairer result at the final whistle, the fact that one chance decided the game should be of no surprise to those Albion fans who didn’t travel to Greater Manchester, with that having been the story of the season so far.

    However the silver lining of the result was that Millwall were also beaten in their game at Rotherham that afternoon, which keeps the six point gap between the Seagulls and the relegation zone intact.

    With The Lions travelling to second placed Middlesbrough this evening, it offers up a chance for Brighton increase that gap, and put more daylight between themselves and the bottom end of the Championship table.

    However they will have their work cut out to do so, as they take on Steve McClaren’s table topping Rams at the Amex tonight.

    The former England boss has slowly put together a formidable side over the past few years, and they have gone from strength-to-strength since the start of 2015 with a number of loan signings made in the January transfer window.

    Among them were two players who have previously plied their trade with Albion in recent years. Manchester United youngster Jesse Lingard spent the second half of last season in Sussex, whilst Darren Bent had a short month-long spell with the club at the back-end of 2014, playing under Sami Hyypia and caretaker boss Nathan Jones, scoring twice in five appearances.

    Since joining the Rams, the former England striker has been in fine form, scoring seven goals in eight appearances. However the 31-year old picked up a hamstring injury in Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at Fulham, and could be out for up to a month.

    Bent’s absence gives Albion a better chance of picking up a result this evening, however with the likes of Lingard, Will Hughes and Tom Ince forming part of Derby’s attacking threat, it won’t be an easy task for Hughton’s men to pick up a win tonight.

    The hope from Seagulls fans will be that they put in a better performance this evening than they did in the reverse fixture at the start of December last year.

    Having started without a recognised holding midfielder at the iPro Stadium, Hyypia’s men found themselves bombarded by the home side from the get go, and were 3-0 down within the opening 20 minutes.

    The decision to bring on Rohan Ince seven minutes after going three down was a classic case of closing the stable door after the horse had bolted, and was a damning indictment of the Finn’s tactical naivety whilst at the club.

    Ince is sure to retain his place in front of the back four, however the defence itself couldsee at least one change from Saturday’s defeat to the Trotters.

    Catalan right-back Bruno has picked groin problem, and could be absent for the visit of the Championship’s top side. With Inigo Calderon in fine form playing further up the field, he may not be forced to slot in on the right hand side of the defence, as Greg Halford could be called upon to make his first appearance since the goalless draw at Sheffield Wednesday on Valentines Day.

    Craig Mackail-Smith is a doubt having picked up a knock at the weekend. Hughton has a number of options if The Seagulls’ record signing is unable to play, with Leon Best or Chris O’Grady could be brought back into the starting line-up.

    Halford could make return to side after missing the last three games

    There is also the option of moving Sam Baldock from his role out on the left wing and into the centre of the attack, with Kazenga LuaLua or Emmanuel Ledesma filling in for him out wide.

    Ahead of today’s game, Brighton’s vice-captain Calderon spoke on the club website about the threat tonight’s opponents will pose, and he believes the way both sides play will produce an open game that’s anyone’s for the taking.

    “I like them because they try to play football and try to score that first goal.

    "Some teams come here just to defend and park the bus. I think it's going to be a good game to watch, because both teams want to win games.

    "They have a formidable squad, not just the starting eleven but the whole squad. Playing against them away from home was our worst game this season, but now we are at home and in this division anyone can beat anyone.”

    With the last two home games having produced two strong goal-scoring performances, Albion will need to dig deep and find that confidence once again in what will be one of their toughest tests at the Amex this season.

    Despite a blip at the weekend at Craven Cottage, The Rams are a force to be reckoned with, and at this points they are shoe-ins to be playing Premier League football next season, with their flowing passing game a delight to watch.

    The absence of Bent along with top scorer Chris Martin – who has made a habit of scoring against us in recent games - is a blessing in disguise, however they still have a wealth of talent who can cause our defence problems.

    In our last encounter we went in tactically unprepared, however the managerial experience of Hughton has helped us make great strides towards being an improved side, and he will have the team well prepared and set up for whatever Derby have to throw at us.

    In truth it’s a game where before kick-off most would be happy for us to come away with a point, and a defeat would not be unexpected against such a side.

    However in the Championship anything is possible, and you can never rule out Albion causing a shock.
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