Brighton in the Premier League: Half-season review

Brighton & Hove Albion are halfway through their first ever season in the Premier League. Has it gone better than expected? What have been the highlights? Will the Seagulls stay up?

Sunday, 24th December 2017, 8:00 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 6:41 am
Albion celebrate a goal in their 3-1 win against West Brom in September. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)

Sussex Newspapers reporters Steve Bailey and Ollie Berry, Juice FM's Bradley Stratton and fan Adam Stenning assess Albion's season so far and look ahead to the January transfer window as the Seagulls bid to stay in the top flight.

Is the start better than could have been expected?

Steve Bailey: I'm sure Chris Hughton will be delighted with the position the club are in, especially when you think back to the last day of the summer transfer window when Albion failed to add a striker to the squad.

Anthony Knockaert and Glenn Murray celebrate the latter's second goal in the 3-0 win at West Ham. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)

Hughton and chief executive Paul Barber were both at the Lancing training ground until the early hours as deals for Florin Andone and then Vincent Janssen fell through.

At the time, Brighton had played three Premier League matches, failed to score and had just one point from three matches. If Brighton had been offered 21 points from 19 games at that stage, I'm sure they'd have snapped your hand off.

A run of 15 points from nine games followed the close of the window but it was always going to be a tough ask for a relatively small squad to maintain that level of performance and results.

A seven-game winless run was disappointing but the only really poor result was the 2-0 defeat at Huddersfield. Home draws with Crystal Palace and Burnley came with the opposition in good form and those points could be crucial come the end of the season.

Albion keeper Mathew Ryan has impressed so far this season. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)

Ollie Berry: Sitting 12th in the Premier League with 21 points from 19 games is something that you only could have dreamed of back in August and it shows just how impressive the Seagulls' start is.

I expected, right from the start, a game of leapfrog week in, week out, dicing with the relegation places all season. But at the midway point, Albion have avoided that pressure so far.

Bradley Stratton: Considering they were among the favourites to go down, I would say it certainly has been a start that exceeded expectations

It took that first month to bed in to the Premier League, but since September Brighton have shown they can give all the teams outside the big six clubs a run for their money.

Brighton defender Lewis Dunk's impressive start to life in the Premier League led to calls for England selection. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)

Adam Stenning: Definitely, especially when we were in the game against sides with the quality of Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal for such long periods and then only lost narrowly.

I’ve also been impressed with the way we have really gone at teams both home and away and given them a good game, rather than going away and parking the bus and trying to get a point.

Who have been the star performers?

Bradley Stratton: Three names stand out when you talk about Albion’s best players so far in the top flight. Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy have excelled at the back, while at the other end of the pitch Pascal Gross has arguably been the Premier League’s bargain buy of the summer.

Tomer Hemed celebrates after scoring the only goal in the win against Newcastle. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)

I would also say that after a shaky start, Maty Ryan has more than proven his critics wrong between the sticks.

Ollie Berry: Maty Ryan stands out for me, let's not forgot some of the early criticism he came in for. Questions were asked after a couple of early errors - Tim Krul was even possibly set to step in at one point - but the Australian has responded brilliantly.

He's made some crucial saves and no doubt saved more points than he has cost Albion in those few nervy early games. It's worth pointing out that some outfield players often get the 'it's his first season in the Premier League, he needs to adapt to the game'. We give them a season's grace, but there is no such luxury as a goalkeeper - mistakes are punished unforgivingly.

I have to mention Lewis Dunk here as well. I've lost count of how many times I have written 'body-on-the-line defending' but it sums up the committed centre-half. He can pass, head, run and is a leader at the back. It's typical that when the England manager Gareth Southgate was looking on at Huddersfield, he had a rare off day.

Solly March also. What a transition this young man has made stepping up to the Premier League. He gets Albion on the front foot and is always stepping into the opposition's box.

Adam Stenning: There have been quite a few. I think Maty Ryan has been outstanding between the sticks and for me is one of the best goalkeepers I have seen in my lifetime in terms of shot stopping and double saves in particular.

Albion defender Shane Duffy. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)

Both Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk have been solid in the centre of the defence as they have thrown themselves at everything in order to stop teams from scoring.

Davy Propper has been one of the best signings. He makes so many interceptions and tackles. He also has a good eye for a pass and always fancies taking on a shot from outside the box which is what you want from your central midfielder.

I have also been pleased with the performances of both Glenn Murray and Tomer Hemed as there were fans moaning about not signing a prolific striker in the summer but Hemed and Murray have given 110 per cent and managed to get seven goals between them, which is not the worst return.

Steve Bailey: Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk have been the stand-out performers but the Premier League was a new challenge for the bulk of the squad and they've all adapted well.

The two centre-backs have received many plaudits for how they have performed this season and rightly so. Jamie Carragher was vocal in his praise of the duo and Ian Wright led the calls for Dunk to be called up into the England squad.

And after question marks in the early part of the season from some fans, Mathew Ryan has proved an excellent addition in goal with some outstanding saves and has ensured Albion have not missed David Stockdale.

Pascal Gross also made a flying start to life in the Premier League and is a big reason why Albion have started the season so well.

What's been the highlight of the season so far?

Steve Bailey: Every win has been special but the 3-0 victory at West Ham will be remembered for a long time.

It was the perfect away performance against an established Premier League side with quality throughout their squad. Perhaps Albion played the Hammers at the right time as they were in a bit of disarray back then but the following week West Ham went to Wembley and beat Tottenham 3-2 in the Carabao Cup, having trailed 2-0 at half-time.

That's the level of performance Albion will have to replicate to pick up more much-needed away points during the rest of the season.

The 1-0 win at Swansea also proved to the players they can grind out results in the top flight without playing at their best.

Admittedly, Swansea have been the poorest side - by a long way - I've seen in the Premier League this season but those three points could prove crucial come the end of the season.

Ollie Berry: As funny as it sounds, I think you have to see the 2-0 defeat to Manchester City as a highlight. Saturday, August 12, will go down in Albion history, their first-ever game in the Premier League, back in the top flight for the first time in 34 years and even the result was almost a lot different.

When you look at what City have done since, it was even more of a monumental effort.

On from there, the first point against Watford was the first landmark and the maiden win against West Brom.

The overall highlight for me, however, was that 3-0 win at West Ham. In the capital, under the lights and from the first minute to the last it was a superb display from the Seagulls. They looked every inch a Premier League team and it was a perfect away performance.

Adam Stenning: I would say the two that stick out in my memory are the victories over West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United. The West Brom game was incredible - to score a goal against one of Tony Pulis’ side's at the time was an achievement but to score three was amazing and the atmosphere and belief from both fans and players that we can hold our own in this league was incredible.

The West Ham game was also an amazing one as, although they had been struggling at the start of the season, you looked at some of the players in their team and thought this is going to be a tough evening. But again once we scored, the belief from the players was clear to see and hence why we went on to win the game 3-0.

Bradley Stratton: The wins over West Brom and West Ham will be up there for most people quite rightly, but for me there was so much to take from the way Chris Hughton’s side performed at Old Trafford against Manchester United.

They made one of the biggest clubs in the word look incredibly average and were only beaten by a fluke deflection. While the result wasn’t what we deserved against Jose Mourinho’s side, I don’t think I’ve left a game this season feeling as proud as I did that evening.

And the lowlights?

Adam Stenning: For me there have been two lowlights, one more surprising than the other.

The first of course was the heavy defeat to Liverpool at the Amex last month. Although Liverpool’s front three turned up, I felt we were ultimately masters of our own downfall in terms of conceding soft goals and the amount of chances we failed to convert. If they had been converted, it could have been a much different game.

The other is the defeat to Manchester United. We played incredibly well throughout the game and deserved at least a point, maybe even all three. To lose in the manner that we did was so heart-breaking for me as a fan, let alone what the players must have been feeling.

Ollie Berry: The footballing lesson against Liverpool was one of those days that were always going to happen at times this season. No-one likes to see five against their name, but it was the manner of the defeat that would have hurt.

If players can come off the pitch saying they gave their all, then you can't criticise too much, especially against the formidable attacking line-up Liverpool boast. But what Albion have done well - organisation, work rate, keeping things tight - just weren't there that day.

Similarly, away to Huddersfield. Again, it was a poor display in terms of doing the basics. In terms of the opponents and that swing of points available against relegation rivals, that wasn't a great day.

Steve Bailey: The Crystal Palace match had a horrible, tense atmosphere and was the only game I haven't enjoyed as such so far.

It was the first match between the sides in four years - and the atmosphere was edgy throughout unlike previous encounters between the sides at the Amex.

Maybe the game was built up too much. I get the local rivalry and all that surrounds it but, at the end of the day, it's just a game of football and that's worth remembering.

On the pitch, the most disappointing match was Huddersfield away. Against a side that will be in-and-around them come the end of the season, Brighton just didn't turn up. But it's probably the only time you can say that this season, which speaks volumes about how the side have performed so far.

Bradley Stratton: The seven-game winless run was the hardest part of the campaign.

We’ve struggled for goals since the end of the November international break and results such as the thrashing by Liverpool and loss at Huddersfield were hard to swallow.

How many players do Brighton need to sign in January and in what positions?

Ollie Berry: Three minimum, ideally four in my opinion. What has become evident is the lack of real quality in depth. Yes, on the bench there are proven Championship players, but I find many of the substitutions made are like for like, particularly up front or on the wing. There isn't a real spark that you feel is going to come on and change the game - Solly March aside, if he is on the bench.

A striker is a must, that goes without saying. But the others have to be game-changing players - an attacking midfield/winger, an experienced defensive minded player for the middle of the park, with Steve Sidwell still out. I fear for the situation if Dale Stephens gets injured and cover at full-back - Bruno aside, no one else has fully convinced me yet this season.

Adam Stenning: I would say three or four signings. The first and main position is upfront as we have the players to give great service but not the prolific striker to bang in the goals.

For me, both the strikers that we have been linked with would be great in Florin Andone and Moussa Dembele.

Another position that we need to strengthen is the left-back department. I think Gaetan Bong has been superb so far this season. However, Markus Suttner has failed to impress me. When I see he is on the teamsheet over Bong I think our defence is more vulnerable. When I watched the Huddersfield game, I was really disappointed in him as they were exploiting him and he didn’t once stop them going down the right wing.

The final position that could do with strengthening is in the wide department. This is because bar Jose Izquierdo and Solly March I am not sure the other wingers are up to scratch for the Premier League.

For me, Anthony Knockaert has not been a sniff of the player that terrorised Championship defenders. He just seems to always look really annoyed and angry during games and then sulks instead of getting on with the game. In the Burnley and United games he looked more like the Knockaert we know but in the other matches he has failed to turn up.

Bradley Stratton: Most of the squad have stepped up to the challenge in the top flight, so I don’t think we will need more than two additions in January.

It was no secret that we needed a striker in the summer, and the first half of the season has shown that Albion lack an alternative to what Glenn Murray and Tomer Hemed offer. The number of points dropped at home against sides we were playing well enough to beat highlights the need to sign a game-changing goal scorer, who we will probably have to break our transfer record to get.

I would also consider bringing in another midfielder to compete with Dale Stephens and Davy Propper. It would also open up the possibility of playing the latter further forward as he has done so successfully for the Netherlands.

Any other signings may depend on interest bigger clubs have in our star players. I’m hoping in that regard Albion can hold out until the summer to let any of them make what would be a well-earned move.

Steve Bailey: At least two, maybe three.

The need for another striker has been much documented and Albion need someone to provide more competition and to ease the burden on Glenn Murray and Tomer Hemed.

They've both been superb this season but a new striker and an extra five to eight goals could be the difference between staying up or not.

I expect Albion will look to add another centre-back, more as back-up, which will allow Connor Goldson to go out on loan and get some much-needed regular game time.

Another winger or number ten-type player could also be valuable but, with inflated prices, January isn't the easiest time to bring new faces in.

Along with Goldson, Jiri Skalak and Jamie Murphy could also depart on loan in January, although the latter will probably depend on if the Seagulls bring anyone else in first.

Will Brighton stay up?

Steve Bailey: Yes, but it will be tight. There's a group of teams at the bottom and Brighton just need to make sure they finish in the top part of that.

Swansea are my favourites to be relegated and then you can pick two teams out of six or seven - Albion included - to go down with them.

Brighton have a horrible set of fixtures to finish the season, with games against Tottenham, Burnley, Manchester United and Liverpool, so they'll almost need to be safe by then.

It's the home games to come against Swansea, West Ham, Bournemouth and Huddersfield, along with away matches against Southampton, Crystal Palace, Stoke, Newcastle and West Brom which will ultimately decide their fate.

Ollie Berry: Just. I think it's going to be very, very tight and January is massive as goals are needed. It's probably easier to justify by looking at other teams, Stoke and Newcastle are in massive trouble, as were Swansea (they were shocking when Albion played them in Wales), but it all depends on managerial changes.

Whoever is incoming for the Swans could give them a much-needed spark and Mark Hughes appears to be on the verge of losing his job, someone coming into the Potteries could work with a half decent squad.

West Ham and indeed Palace, I think, will pull well clear, both spurred on by new managers, so that leaves Swansea, West Brom, Stoke, Newcastle, Bournemouth, Brighton and Huddersfield. Currently there are more than three worse teams in there, but Albion have to be wary as those sides will not stand still, changes will be made and that hands momentum.

January can make or break Albion, but it may also break the bank in terms of transfers to do so.

Bradley Stratton: Considering our first half of the season, I’m going to lean on the side of optimism and say that Albion will stay up. There are at least three or four clubs I could pick out who will be below them come May, however survival won’t be easy.

With the five game run-in we have at the end of the campaign, I feel we will have to be over the 40-point mark after 33 games to be sure of remaining in the Premier League. That is well within the realms of possibility.

Adam Stenning: Definitely. Swansea look doomed, Newcastle look the weakest of the promoted sides and I think Stoke will struggle to avoid the drop the way they have been playing this season.

I think we have enough quality to stay up, especially if we were to add a prolific striker who could get 10-15 goals when he comes in, as the defence and goalkeeper have been very solid.