• Championship Preview: Reading v Brighton and Hove Albion

    A week on from picking up a surprise win over high-flying Derby County at the Amex, Albion travel to the Madejski Stadium for a midweek clash with Reading that could put further distance between them and any fears of relegation.

    Chris Hughtonís men found themselves on the back foot for the majority of the game seven days ago, with the then-league leaders piling on the pressure throughout the 90 minutes.

    However substitute Dale Stephens found the back of the net with just over 20 minutes remaining in the contest, and on 77 minutes Kazenga LuaLua grabbed Albionís second to make the three points safe.

    Whilst the result was a smash and grab that didnít reflect how the game had gone, itís fair to say that Brighton have been on the other side of those results on many occasions this season. Therefore it was only a matter of time that we picked up a win in a game where the other team put on a better performance.

    That shouldnít take away from the overall performance, with The Seagulls putting in a good shift from front to back, with Lewis Dunk and David Stockdale both putting themselves in the line of fire to give us a chance at picking up a result.

    Crucially the victory put nine points between Albion and the relegation zone, which should secure a place in the Championship next season. However the unpredictability of this league means you can take nothing for granted, and there is still a real need to go out and win as remaining 11 games as possible.

    With Reading in FA Cup action over the weekend, Seagulls fans had to watch on as the majority of the division were in action, with the possibility of those below them closing the gap.

    However of the teams in and around the bottom end of the table, only Rotherham picked up a win, meaning that Brighton remain 19th in the table, with the nine-point gap separating them from the bottom three remaining intact.

    Therefore tonightís trip to Berkshire offers the chance for Albion to go 12 points clear and move up three places in the league if they can pick up a win over The Royals.

    The former Premier League side have continued to struggle in 2015 after sacking Nigel Adkins as boss in December, with Steve Clarke taking over as manager, with their visit to the Amex coming in his second game in charge.

    The sides last faced off on Boxing Day, with Nathan Jones taking charge in the home dugout for the first time as interim boss after Sami Hyypiaís resignation earlier in the week.

    After conceding twice in the opening half hour to goals from former Seagulls striker Glenn Murray, the home side rallied to grab a goal back before half time through Jake Forster-Caskey, and were forced to wait until late in the game for an equaliser, with Inigo Calderon putting the ball in the back of the net to seal a vital point for Albion.

    Ahead of the game, Hughton will be forced to make a change up front having lost one of his key strikers for the rest of the season.

    Sam Baldock limped off a week ago in the first half with a knee injury, with the 25-year old suffering damage to the ligaments that will keep him out of action for the rest of the 2014-15 campaign.

    Itís a disappointing blow for the former West Ham forward, who had started to find some form in front of goal since Hughtonís appointment, having found the back of the net three times since January and looked comfortable playing out of position out on the left wing.

    Craig Mackail-Smith may be rested for todayís game, having missed last weekís win with a slight hamstring problem, and Solly March is still out with a calf issue.

    LuaLua's last started for Albion in the 2-1 loss to Fulham at the Amex

    The absence of Baldock and CMS could mean that LuaLua gets his first start of 2015, having come on from the bench in the last six games since returning from an injury he picked up at the back end of November.

    The winger has always been a thorn in the side of his opponents, and he proved that by putting away his fourth goal of the campaign against the Rams seven days ago.

    Ahead of the visit to the Madejski, Hughton spoke on the club website about the need for them to regain some form on the road after three successive home wins that have done the world of good for their standings in the table.

    ďItís very nervous stuff when youíre either in the bottom three or very close to the bottom three. Itís not a very comfortable feeling for anyone associated with the club, so all you want to do is get yourself away from that, which in some ways relieves the pressure.

    ďThe home form has improved which is good, but now weíve got two away games over the next week and itíd be nice to get something from them.Ē

    Having had a longer break than most of the teams around them, Albionís game in hand is a great opportunity for them to put further distance between themselves and the bottom of the table.

    In truth, with a nine point gap we are now at a point where fans will start to look more at the teams above us, and see how high a result can move us up the table, as opposed to worrying about where those below are likely to be able to close the gap if we slip up.

    However we canít afford to get complacent, because no team is too good to fall right back down to near the bottom, and we need to keep ourselves focused until itís mathematically impossible for us to be in League One next season.

    The Royals themselves arenít out of the woods yet, and could be dragged into the relegation scrap if they arenít careful, therefore they wonít be an easy team to beat this evening.

    Previously we have looked to our away form as where to pick up points earlier in the season, however the last three games at the Amex have changed that. Now itís simply a case of picking up as many points as we can both at home and away to make sure of our safety for next season as soon as possible.
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