Much to the surprise of many, Brighton find themselves comfortably above the Premier League relegation zone. The Seagulls sit in twelfth, taking 11 points from their first nine games. Much like their success in the Championship, Brighton play with the simple ideology of aiming for an away draw, and playing with more attacking intent when at home. Although they took three games to score a goal, their 3-1 win over West Bromwich Albion fuelled Chris Hughton’s squad with the confidence and belief that they can secure Premier League survival.
Defensive Consistency Key for Brighton
The Best Defence is a Good Offence
Brighton’s story is well known to many, given they were on the brink of being dissolved and now find themselves playing in the Premier League. The Albion are now in the top tier with state-of-the-art training facilities and a 30,000-seater stadium. How did Brighton go from the brink of administration to the successful footballing side they are today? Defensive consistency.
During their 2015/16 campaign, Brighton finished second in the Championship, only falling short to free-spending Newcastle. The Magpies were clear favourites from the beginning, with probably the greatest side to the ever play in the Championship. Players such as Jonjo Shelvey, Matt Ritchie, and Christian Atsu were ever present during their title-winning campaign. All three were equipped with Premier League experience.
Brighton’s consistent pressure on the winners throughout the season was undoubtedly an achievement within itself. Most Championship critics concluded that whilst Newcastle had the strongest squad, Brighton was the best team. Much of their success is simply down their renown defensive capabilities.
Debatably, Gus Poyet’s controversial time as Brighton head coach started the defensive trend. Later developed through Oscar Garcia, Chris Hughton and Sami Hyypia, it has evidently gone from strength to strength. Some Brighton fans may sneer at Hyypia’s mention. However, would Lewis Dunk be the player he is today without Sami consistently playing him? Absolutely not. Dunk came into his own under Hyypia, proving he was ready for first team football, finishing with seven goals from centre back.
Poyet evidently recognised the importance of defence, bringing in experienced names such as Wayne Bridge, Matthew Upson and club captain, Bruno. All leading to the controversial argument that Poyet is, in fact, the ‘mastermind’ behind Brighton’s defensive ideology.
Oscar Garcia took over from Poyet in the 2013/14 campaign. Evidently, Garcia expanded on the defensive approach Brighton had in place. His team conceded only 40 goals and finished in a play-off spot, an incredible achievement. The Seagulls stayed competitive despite an injury list featuring seven first-team players and dealing with the transfer of two-time player of the year, Liam Bridcutt. Garcia resigned for medical reasons after Brighton missed out on promotion. They were outclassed by Will Hughes and Derby County in the play-off semi-finals.
A notably tough season gloomed over the 2015/16 campaign under Sami Hyypia, the only positive being the employment of Chris Hughton in late December. Hughton saw Brighton just miss out on promotion the following season, despite inheriting the ‘unbeatable’ nickname after not losing for 21 games straight.
Hughton’s first full season showed glimpses of defensive coaching style in full effect. His side only conceded 42 goals, 12 goals less than the previous season. However, it was not until the following season where they recorded 21 clean sheets and achieved promotion to the Premier League.
Throughout Brighton’s time in the Championship, it was evident that Hughton was tactfully building a defence capable of performing in the first tier. Acquisitions included the £4 million signing Shane Duffy and Gaetan Bong, who showed some form under Hughton. They partnered up with academy graduate Lewis Dunk, Bruno and David Stockdale to create a formidable back line in front of goal.
Having a solid back line allowed players such as Anthony Knockaert and Glenn Murray to play with more freedom, scoring 38 goals between them. Brighton fans will remember the frustration of slacking behind on goal difference due to a lack of goals. Evidently, Hughton has tried to improve the defence again this year, making minor adjustments whilst maintaining the defensive core through Bruno, Dunk and Duffy.
Markus Suttner, Ezequiel Schelotto and Australian international, Matty Ryan, all enhance the team’s current defensive capabilities. Notably, Brighton has conceded goals whilst in the Premier League; two against Manchester City and two at the Emirates. However, when they have won, their defensive performance has been superb.
Brighton has started their defensive campaign in impressive fashion, giving themselves a base to improve on throughout the season. Keeping Dunk and Duffy fit is key to this. The partnership is debatably as strong as any defensive partnership in the Premier League. Duffy is already playing regularly international football but could this be Lewis Dunk’s year? With 29 games to go, he has nothing to lose.