The Seagulls Take Flight

I’m not usually one to indulge in schadenfreude being a firm believer that karma, especially in football, is very much like a boomerang made of razor blades. It will come hurtling back to you and it will hurt. That being said I have taken a fair bit of pleasure in seeing Middlesbrough, the team which pipped us to the Premier League last season by two goals, being relegated just a year later with one of the lowest numbers of goals scored in Premier League history.

Will that paragraph come back to haunt me? Only time will tell but that is very much a problem for the version of me living in 2018 in a Star Trek-style utopia where money is no longer a necessity, we do what we love instead of what we must and we finally have Pit Bull hoverboards. This Chris Baigent living in the weird and scary world of 2017 has a couple of years of Championship football to reflect on and, more importantly, an entire season of Premier League football to look forward to.

Brighton and Hove Albion’s promotion to the top flight was all-but guaranteed with a 2-1 victory over Wigan on April 17th, and was mathematically secured after Jacob Butterfield equalised for Derby against Huddersfield in that day’s late kick-off ending a 34-year absence. In the intervening time, the club has been homeless, flirted with complete oblivion and played in exile before returning to an athletics track all whilst a grassroots campaign fought to have a new stadium to call home.

In the six years since moving into the AMEX, we’ve had it all. Playoff pushes, promotion tilts, shits on dressing room floors, managers sacked live on air (except not really) and a little spin on the management merry-go-round signalling the end of the disastrous reign of Sami Hyypia, who seemed intent on seeing us back in League 1 for some reason. Nice bloke, awful manager.

Everything got a bit more stable when Chris “The Nicest Man Who Was Almost an Elevator Engineer in Football” Hughton signed to steer us clear of the black hole of relegation. It wasn’t pretty, in fact at times it was downright tedious but it did the job. Relegation avoided you’d have been forgiven for thinking they were putting something in the water at the AMEX by the midway point of the following season. We were unbeaten and top of the league until Middlesbrough dropped in on Boxing Day with one of the worst Christmas presents this side of a pair of woollen underwear.

The unbeaten run was broken and we did embark on a slight wobble but we finished that season strongly ending up in third, with astute January signing Anthony Knockaert proving to be a fan favourite and probably the most gifted player I’ve ever seen in the stripes. Carrying on a ‘proud’ Brighton tradition we lost in the playoffs to Sheffield Wednesday, and I like to think some of their fans are now regretting the taunting and gloating that followed.

After the incredibly deflating end to last season, I was not optimistic for the upcoming campaign. The miserable pessimist in me couldn’t see how we could go again and would honestly have been happy with having another shot at the playoffs. Turns out I needn’t have worried, although if you ask any of the poor bastards who have to sit near me at the AMEX they’ll tell you I worried. A lot. But against the odds, my mental bookie had it that we’d not only skipped the playoffs entirely, we’d found ourselves in a race for the title alongside a Newcastle United team you’d have expected to have won the league by mid-September. The race, however, lasted to the 89th minute of the last game of the season. And they still needed Jack Grealish and a goalkeeping howler to clinch it.

Some would say the hard part is done because, and make no mistake about it, getting out of the Championship is no easy task, and to a large extent that’s quite true. The Premier League is a different beast altogether and we’re going to be transitioning from a team used to winning more than their fair share, to a team likely to be on the end of a few bent over the knee spankings. How the team handles that transition is going to be crucial, especially in the early fixtures, and beyond some grit and good luck I estimate we need a few new signings in some key areas in order to get through Year One.

Goalkeeper
Championship Team of the Year goalkeeper David Stockdale is out of contract and our only backups currently are Niki Maenpaa and Christian Walton, neither of whom have made more than a handful of starting eleven appearances. If Stockdale does go, and rumours on the Twitter-go-round are that he might be off, then we’re a touch knackered. I’d be looking at Jordan Pickford who is a good goalkeeper, and with a defence that isn’t complete dog shit in front of him could be brilliant. I suspect however that his £30m price tag would put him out of our reach.

Right Back
Brighton captain and owner of one of the best beards in football, Bruno, will be 37 in October. Though he seems to get better with every passing year it pains me to say I am concerned about his ability to deal with the pace of the wide players in the Premier League. Liam Rosenior is more than able to step in, and has invaluable Premier League experience in a squad largely lacking it, but I think we need to get someone young in as well; someone who can learn from both Bruno and Rosenior. Ideally? Fikayo Tomori from Chelsea. He played well for us on loan, if you ignore his own goal scoring debut at Lincoln, and he seems to be very well regarded as one for the future. I’d also try and get Calum Chambers in on a season-long loan. He played OK in that piss-poor Middlesbrough side but is quite unlikely to break into the Arsenal first team.

Left Back
Bit of a problem position for us over the years. We haven’t had a proper quality player in there since Wayne Bridge a few seasons back. Gaetan Bong and Sebastien Pocognoli performed well this year but the former is now out of contract and the latter is back at West Brom, yet also out of contract. I would be more than happy for both of them to be here again next season but, as with right back, I also think we need a younger player to come in and deputise. Scott Malone would be a good shout and, with Fulham now certain to be in the Championship next season, a raiding party could be sent to London. There’s another player we could bring back with us as well…

Central Midfield
Tom Cairney. He’s impressed me in most of the games I’ve seen him in over the last few years but with Dale Stephens having signed a new contract, set to rekindle his formidable partnership with Beram Kayal, he may not be needed. Not to mention that in an uncharacteristically early bit of business we’ve already made our first signing; Pascal Groß will be joining the team from relegated FC Ingolstadt. He seems to be well regarded in Germany and Opta has him down as the leading chance creator of the entire Bundesliga with 95 to his name. With Groß playing in the role Cairney would occupy I think midfield might actually be sorted. I wouldn’t say no to Aaron Mooy either, to be honest. He’s had a great season on loan at Huddersfield and it’s not hard to see Mooy playing in the top flight next year, with or without Huddersfield.

Forwards
Another problem position for us over the years. Ashley Barnes, though derided for some of his time here by sections of the support, has gone on to prove himself an able Premier League player with Burnley. Ditto Glenn Murray who was incredulously allowed to leave on a free transfer to arch-nemesis Crystal Palace before coming home this season. His 23 goal tally for this season, not to mention the 30 he banged in for Palace during their promotion season, goes some way towards proving what an absolutely batshit mental decision it was to let him go in the first place.

Again, as is the case with most of the positions mentioned, the main issue is that Murray is getting older. We have Tomer Hemed and Sam Baldock, but once more I’m of the opinion that we need another young player or two. Of course, if someone said “Chris Wood for £12m” I’d bite their bloody hand off. I’d also put in a bid for Tammy Abraham. He had an incredible season at Bristol City, matching Murray’s 23 goals, and at 19-years-old is definitely one I’d like to see in the stripes next year.

So just the six or seven players we need then. Some of those seem more likely than others but whoever comes and goes we’re in for a spectacle, and I’m already finding myself scouring the corners of the internet for any hints of a whisper of a transfer rumour.

Now, does anyone know when the Panini sticker album comes out?