• Championship Preview: Brighton and Hove Albion v Nottingham Forest; Friday 7th August 2015

    The wait is over, pre-season is out of the way, and football is back this weekend! However for Albion fans, the new Championship campaign begins a day early as they take on Nottingham Forest at the Amex in the first fixture of the new football league season on Friday night.

    With the Sky cameras in attendance, Seagulls boss Chris Hughton will be looking to see his side get off to a good start as they put the disappointment of last season behind them and look to the future.

    After two summers of transition in as many years that saw new managers arrive at the club and take time to bed in, Albion went into pre-season with the same manager as the previous campaign for the first time since 2012. Having that consistency in the dressing room will no doubt have benefitted the players who were already familiar with what was expected of them.

    It also meant that Hughton was able to work on getting as many deals for new players done as early in the transfer window as possible. Seven players have been brought in so far this summer, and you suspect more are still to come.

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    Liam Rosenior adds a wealth of top-flight experience and quality to the right back berth. Gaetan Bong could be the answer to the Left Back position, which has previously been filled by three loanees in as many seasons. Niki Maenpaa brings strong competition for David Stockdale in goal. Vahid Hambo and Jack Harper look to be great striking prospects for the future when they get their chance in the first team. Tomer Hemed has the potential to fill the goalscoring gap left up front by Leonardo Ulloa’s departure a year go.

    For fans though, the most exciting signing in many years came earlier this week, when club legend Bobby Zamora’s return to the club was announced. There is a special place in many supporters’ hearts for the players who were part of the back-to-back promotion winning sides of 2000-2002, and the man who fired in most of the goals during that period is rightly regarded as one of the best players to ever pull on the blue and white stripes.

    After 12 years spent mostly playing in the top flight, Bobby returns to not only a different club than the one he left in 2003, but also a different player. A prolific scorer he won’t be in 2015, but his role in bringing others into games and as a focal point up front is something Albion have been missing and will benefit from when he features this season.

    Whilst he is unlikely to start in tomorrow night’s game, the ovation he will receive when he makes his first appearance at the Amex is likely to be one of the best of his career.

    Image by Paul Hazelwood
    "When the ball hits the goal..." the sight that sent Albion fans into a frenzy on Monday evening

    As for Albion’s opponents tomorrow night, it’s hard to call what type of season they are likely to have. Dougie Freedman’s first game as Forest boss saw them beat Albion 3-2 at the Amex in February, and they found some form early on in his reign before petering out at the end of the season.

    However they’ve been restricted in the transfer market this summer after falling foul of Financial Fair Play, and have only been able to bring in new players on free transfers and loans. With the likes of Michail Antonio and Henri Lansbury still in the side, they still be looking to push for a top-half finish and will cause problems for Albion tomorrow night.

    In terms of the Albion line-up for the first game of the season, it’s likely that the starting XI won’t be too far off what we saw in the 1-0 win over Europa League Champions Sevilla on Sunday.

    Stockdale is still the number one choice between the sticks and would be expected to start tonight despite the arrival of Maenpaa. Whilst Bruno started at right-back against Sevilla, it’s essentially a coin toss as to whether it will be him or Rosenior walking out the tunnel. Skipper Gordon Greer and Lewis Dunk pick themselves as a centre back pairing, with the latter’s future at the club likely to be unclear until the end of the transfer window. Bong is the logical first choice at left back.

    In the middle of the park Hughton is spoilt for choices, however the quality Beram Kayal has brought since his arrival in January means he would be the first choice to start. Any of Dale Stephens, Rohan Ince, Andrew Crofts, Jake Forster-Caskey or Danny Holla could feature alongside Kayal, though one of the Stephens or Ince would seem the most likely to get the nod at this point.

    The wide positions are an area that still need strengthening, something which the club have looked to do with their pursuits of Alireza Jahanbakhsh & Ben Marshall during the transfer window. Solly March and Kazenga LuaLua are the only natural wingers at Hughton’s disposal, though the arrival of Rosenior means that Inigo Calderon is likely to be utilised more wide on the right this season.

    Sam Baldock and Tomer Hemed will partner each other up front for Albion. The former looked to have found his feet at the club under Hughton before picking up a season-ending injury in March, and will relish the chance to play in his more natural role in the middle as opposed to out wide on the left. Hemed has shown in pre-season that he knows where the net is, and his ability at playing as a lone striker will offer Hughton some flexibility if he wants to change things around during the game.

    Looking at the betting odds (via OddsChecker.com) Albion are the bookies favourite going into the match. They are 5/4 to win with the likes of Skybet, Ladbrokes and Paddy Power, who are have an away with for Forest in the region of 9/4 and 11/5. You will get a fairly similar price for a draw in the opening game of the season as you will a Forest win.

    Image by Paul Hazelwood
    New signing Hemed set to lead the line alongside Baldock for Albion tomorrow night

    Optimism and expectation come hand in hand with the start of an Albion pre-season. However a sense of realism is also needed when you take into account the step backwards that was made last season. Pushing for a return to the top half of the table is achievable, but with many sides seemingly going for broke this year breaking into the top six again will be a tricky task. More signings are still needed, with cover at centre back and on the wing key to Albion’ having the strength in depth to sustain a push for the play-offs over an entire season.

    While results over the whole campaign are key, getting off to a good start is also important, with a tough opening month ahead of them. For Hughton and his players, that will be the goal they aim for when they walk out of the tunnel at the Amex on Friday evening.
    Comments 3 Comments
    1. perseus's Avatar
      perseus -
      Sky Bet Championship - Match Week 1

      Brighton & Hove Albion v Nottingham Forest
      Referee: KEITH STROUD
      Ian Cooper and Daniel Leach
      Fourth Official Brendan Malone
      Read more at http://www.football-league.co.uk/new...P9aDF41XjA0.99
    1. jgmcdee's Avatar
      jgmcdee -
      Whilst Bruno started at right-back against Sevilla, it’s essentially a coin toss as to whether it will be him or Bruno walking out the tunnel.
      Think you meant Rosenior latterly.
    1. Bradley Stratton's Avatar
      Bradley Stratton -
      Quote Originally Posted by jgmcdee View Post
      Think you meant Rosenior latterly.
      Indeed I did. Thanks for pointing that out! Have rectified that.
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