17 April 2019
Less than a week ago, Brighton were five points and two places clear of relegation.
In the two home games that have followed, the Seagulls have conceded seven goals, scored none, and are now just two points ahead of a Cardiff side who comfortably beat them at the Amex on Tuesday night.
The problem isn’t that Chris Hughton’s side are in the thick of a relegation battle, it’s that they are ill-equipped to fight it.
The spirit in the camp would appear non-existent and their capitulation against Bournemouth at the weekend piled the pressure ahead of the visit of the Bluebirds – pressure they just couldn’t cope with.
They even held the always popular ‘clear the air’ meeting on their day off on Sunday, where ‘frank exchanges’ took place. The result of that meeting was a 2-0 home defeat against their relegation rivals two days later.
The problems are real and the players are presently unable to address them.
Poor in defence, poor in attack, and time running out. It seems they must hope for help from others to stop the seemingly unstoppable slide towards relegation.
The pressure, which they appear unable to deal with, will only increase, especially at home, and their best hope for points is the clash against Newcastle United at the Amex on April 27.
After the trip to Wolves this weekend, they face Champions League chasing Spurs and then the game against the Magpies; their other two clashes are at Arsenal before they finish against title contenders Manchester City.
If they fail to pick up any points before the game against Rafa Benitez’s side, a situation that is highly likely, then the intensity surrounding that clash will provide another test for Hughton and his players. Unfortunately, they have failed most of their big tests over recent weeks.
Their best hope may now lie with Cardiff failing to win again this season.
Despite the Bluebirds having played one game more than the Seagulls, the run-in favours Neil Warnock’s side who have games against Fulham and Crystal Palace to come.
The future of Chris Hughton is now the main topic pre and post-match for most Brighton fans and even some of his biggest supporters are predicting, at best, his four-and-a-half-year reign will stutter its way to the end of the campaign and then the club will act.
Even if they can somehow manoeuvre their way to safety over the next few weeks, it seems inconceivable that Hughton will remain in charge.
For all the plus points it seems Brighton’s relevant success over the last two seasons – back-to-back Premier League campaigns and a run to the FA Cup semi-final – will lead to Hughton losing his job.
Both fans and chairman Tony Bloom will be looking to make the next step up from a yearly relegation fight and it will take a lot of persuading from the former Newcastle United, Birmingham City and Norwich City manager to convince him is still the man to do just that.
Hughton’s detractors, of which there are now many, look at the bare statistics of the last five games – no goals and just one shot on target in the four games before the Cardiff debacle – and can see no signs of improvement.
The poor run stretches back to the turn of the year with only two Premier League wins registered in 2019, one of those being at home to already relegated Huddersfield.
Many point the finger at the switch to a 4-3-3 formation from the 4-4-1 that Hughton started the season with – a change the fans see as exposing the full backs and weakening the defence.
Last season they lost four at home in the league and they’ve lost seven already this campaign including three in the last three weeks against Southampton, Bournemouth and Cardiff.
There are those who are still in the 60-year-old’s camp and remind their fellow Albion fans that they have enjoyed two years in the top flight for the first time in almost 40 years. If the worst comes to the worst, the same supporters see Hughton as the best manager to get them back up.
However, those wanting Hughton out are becoming more and more vociferous and relegation or not, it would be a surprise if he remains in charge at the Amex next season.