Deadline Day Recap: How badly do Albion need a striker?

Based on what I’ve read on social media in recent days, some Brighton fans appear to have a great deal of animosity towards the club’s summer transfer business. So much so it has at times been akin to a bitterly scorned partner feeling like they got the worst end of a divorce settlement. If you aren’t aware this is mostly drawn from a frustration over the club’s failure to sign a new first team striker to give a boost to its goalscoring woes.

We were all pushed to the point of frustration at times last season as Albion missed chance after chance and let a number of potential victories slip away. But for some that frustration has turned to desperation. I’ve even seen some pleading for the club to sign the likes of free agent Daniel Sturridge, a player whose historic struggles with injuries are worse than even Danny Welbeck and who hasn’t played professionally since February 2020, when his contract at Turkish side Trabzonspor was terminated after he was banned for four months for breaching the FA’s betting rules.

That said I do understand the vast majority of people who are concerned about not adding additional quality to the attack. I’m not a huge fan of the way xG is often used to definitively analyse a team’s performance, but when you are consistently underperforming a statistic as much as Brighton did last season it clearly shows there is something not going right.

The absence of the arrival of a striker is not without effort. Many well sourced journalists have been reporting Albion’s attempts to sign a number of targets like Nico Gonzalez or Darwin Nunez, but unfortunately the deal couldn’t be done. If the right player was not available within the club’s budget, then so be it. Especially given its well documented financial difficulties in recent times combined with the absurd state of the transfer market at this moment, especially for Premier League clubs.

Ultimately, the club has to be run sustainably; we can’t keep expecting Uncle Tony to pay off the overdraft every year.

That said, despite criticism over the club loaning out younger talents and reducing the team’s numbers in attack, I don’t think that’s something we should be as concerned about. The reality is Albion tend to play with just one central striker and have three senior specialist options for that one position, which is more than for most other single positions in their system.

And if Graham Potter wants to play two up top then the likes of Gross, Trossard, MacAllister, Richards and Lallana have all played in varying forms of second striker roles. We may have less options in terms of the pure number of players, but are in a far better position in terms of versatility. Something that in my eyes more than compensates and better suits Graham Potter’s style of coaching.

Of course, his main striker will continue to be Neal Maupay. A player not in everyone’s list of favourite Albion players of all-time, but he’s started the season well and if he can improve on last season and hit double figures again that will go a long way towards helping the club achieve its goals.

For me, a key part of bringing in a new striker is can you also fit Maupay into the team. If not, you’re not only losing 20 of the team’s goals (more than 1 in 5) over the past two-and-a-bit seasons, but also a player who is key to the teams build up play. Put simply, when he is missing Albion struggle to create chances. So, you need a certain type of player that can play alongside him.

Maupay has come in for a lot of flak. As a part of their 2020/21 end of season reviews the Guardian were quite typical in the national press’ distain towards Albion’s top scorer. Going in hard on Neal Maupay by naming him as one of the “Flops of the season”.

Yes, he’s missed big chances and should probably have scored more goals in his time with the club, but if he was the perfect striker he wouldn’t be at Brighton.

It is also worth noting that he’s scored 24% (20) of Albion’s goals since joining the club, whilst taking around 20% of their shots. Maupay isn’t blameless, but Albion’s problems in front of goal don’t lie entirely with him. Others also need to step up to take the weight of expectation off of the Frenchman’s shoulders.

His fellow striker partner for some of last season Danny Welbeck showed a similar level of threat in and around the box at times, but injuries have held him back from getting a sustained run in the team. Something that forced him to miss the start of this season. However, he showed toward the back end of last season that if he remains fit, he is a top striker and a good back up option to Maupay should the Frenchman be unavailable or in need of a rest.

Then there’s youngster Aaron Connolly, who looks to be currently sitting third in the pecking order. I’ve written recently about how this season is a crucial one for his prospects with the club and it’s a shame Maupay had an injury scare the other week that led to Connolly being rested for the League Cup tie and so limited his game time so far this season to just that 45 minutes in the second half against Watford.

This showed in his performance against Portugal for Ireland the other night. It was a lively performance, where he again showed he’s a huge threat if given space to run in behind. And one where with better finishing he could have put Ireland out of sight, a feeling us Brighton fans know all about.

But as opposed to the scorn often thrown his way on social media, I have sympathy for Connolly and feel that with a bit of sustained game time under his belt he would have taken at least one of those chances. So, it’s odd that given the club’s tendency to send its young players out on loan, that Connolly hasn’t had another loan opportunity since he returned from that short and largely unsuccessful, injury-hit spell at Luton.

Some will question why we are even sending players like Andi Zequiri or deadline day signing Abdallah Sima out on loan at all rather than keeping them as a further back up options. But take Zeqiri as an example. He’s been at Albion for the best part of a year and has barely played.

I understand the will for the security that increased squad depth brings, but as the example of Connolly shows, what value to these players is there staying at the club and not playing when they can go out and play regular football at a very high level? Something that is vital at this stage in their careers.

The only big disappointment of all the outs for me was Percy Tau leaving, a player I thought could give us a different option in attack this season following his bedding-in period in the first half of 2021. But I can only assume given the pressure and expectations on him from his many followers from his home country of South Africa, that he felt he could no longer wait to earn the regular football that Graham Potter couldn’t assure him of.

With these options in mind and only one place to fight for, I do find all this panic a bit silly. If it gets desperate there’s always the option of playing the likes of Leandro Trossard through the middle too, something he’s done before. Or if Potter prefers, he could give one of the development team squad a run out.

This includes Evan Ferguson who made his Albion debut the other week in the League Cup against Cardiff. He may be just 16 years old but has scored 3 goals in 3 appearances in Premier League 2 this season and is probably being considered as an option of last resort.

Evan Ferguson is one to watch having signed from League of Ireland side Bohemians in January. It would be ahead of schedule if he was used, but he’s caught the eye with both the U18s & the U23s and was described by his old boss at Bohemians as “one of the country’s brightest prospects.”

Despite being so young and featuring for only part of last season, FB Ref ranked Evan Ferguson in the top 200 players to feature in last season’s Premier League 2 and is inside this season’s top 100 for the first few of rounds of fixtures this season.

Fans of Irish football will have been following Evan for a little while. He became the youngest player in Bohemian’s first team history, debuting at just 14-year-old vs Derry City in September 2019 having made a substitute appearance in a friendly vs Chelsea earlier that year. 

Evan has already represented Ireland at u17 level, was this week selected for the Ireland U21s and will no doubt hope to copy fellow Albion development team graduates Jayson Molumby & Aaron Connolly in representing the senior national team, which could be sooner rather than later if he continues on this rapid rise

One of the common themes among many of the players already discussed and that is being forgotten in all the Deadline Day lack of a striker panic, is that Albion’s transfer policy of buying young & investing in the academy builds in year-on-year improvement amongst the existing squad and the potential for replacements from the academy.

So, do Albion need a striker? I think I’ve demonstrated that there is a reasonable level of cover for what in reality is just one position in the starting eleven.

Yes, its arguably the most important one and there is a good argument to say that added quality would be beneficial. Unfortunately, despite efforts to add this quality, the deal seemingly couldn’t be done within the club’s budget, and we have to accept that unlike sides like Aston Villa or Everton, Albion are working under very different financial restraints.

The striker is the most expensive position in football, and for good reason as Graham Potter says himself, scoring goals is the hardest thing to achieve in football. But the club have taken a different approach to some in this area, buying a crop of young talented strikers and hoping they can improve into the players that the team requires in order to take it to the next level.

For that patience will be required and accepting that the frustrations in front of goal from last season may reoccur, if hopefully less frequently. But this is a team that is nonetheless in a good place to improve on last season’s performance and goals scored tally. For me, the biggest factor that may hold them back is our lack of belief in them. So as Micky Adams used to say, Keep The Faith.

Three wins out of three, but how good are this Brighton team?

The past two weeks have seen a near perfect start to the season for Brighton. Two wins out of two in the league, through to the 3rd round of the league cup and they go into Saturday’s home match against Everton with the opportunity to go top of the league with a win if other results go their way.

It’s the sort of start to the season that has all but stopped the panic from supporters for the club to sign a new striker… well almost.

But these are very early days and we do have to acknowledge that it was only Burnley, Watford, and Cardiff that Albion have racked up these wins against. A bit of a reality check could go a long way right now.

Yes, as has rightly been pointed out after the win over Watford, these are games that Albion weren’t winning last season. However, beating the teams below you doesn’t indicate progress in terms of league status, despite it still being a sign of improved consistency from Graham Potter’s side.

In contrast, Brighton secured survival last season by picking up wins and points in games many didn’t expect, such as at home to Man City and away to Liverpool. Repeating such successes this season will be tough, so improving results against the teams below them such as the in last two matches will help to safeguard against regression rather than securing progression.

Ultimately the aim of this season, as it has been in the four previous, is to survive relegation, whilst showing further signs of progress. To be able to achieve the club’s long-term goal of an established top half place, far more time and progression is required. This may be the stated aim of some Albion players this season, but that is very different to it being a realistic expectation.

If we look at the team’s Albion would be competing with to achieve that, including Saturday’s opponents Everton, the lack of room for Albion to progress into quickly becomes apparent.

Most pundits seem to think the top 4 this season writes itself (Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man United, not necessarily in that order), with the FA Cup and Community Shield holders Leicester City the only rare exception to some predictions.

In addition to that group of clubs, Arsenal and Spurs – the other two members of the “big 6”, who whilst having had their recent struggles, will know anything less than a top 6 finish would represent an underachievement.

Then there’s Saturday’s opponents Everton, who since the investment of Farhad Moshiri have gone from a team whose glory days appeared to be in the past, to one now reverting to a club aiming to break into the top 6. But whilst the managerial tenures of Marco Silva and Carlo Ancelotti promised much, the club hasn’t finished inside the top 6 since 2014 under Roberto Martinez.

Then there’s the likes of big spending Aston Villa and last season’s big overachievers West Ham, who both have stated ambitions to break into the top 6. For Albion the reality is finishing ahead of any of these sides in the table this season would represent an overachievement. Unfortunately as Albion continue to progress, so do the teams above them.

It seems a matter of time before this weekend’s opponents Everton get it right. According to Spotrac their wage bill stands a just over £81m a year, the 7th highest in the division, only a few million pounds short of Spurs and over £30m ahead of the 8th highest Leicester City.

It also reportedly stands at more than double that of Brighton’s wage bill, reportedly the 15th highest in the division, sandwiched in-between Watford and Southampton.

Wage bills aren’t everything, but they do have a huge say in a team’s performances on the pitch and as such the expectations we should place upon them.

The book “Soccernomics” by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski talks about the degree to which football clubs can improve their competitiveness by spending more money on player wages. It included a study that covered the period 1998 to 2007, which showed spending on wages explains about 89% of performance (Kuper & Szymanski, 2010), whilst a study for the period 2003 to 2012, the explanatory power was about 91% for the clubs in the two top divisions in England.

This isn’t just one study either, several other researchers also document that wage expenditures can explain from 77% to 90% of the variations in the performance of clubs in domestic league competitions (Forrest & Simmons, 2002; Gammelsæter & Ohr, 2002; Sperling, Nordskilde, & Bergander, 2010).

It’s not all bad news, Albion have in successive recent seasons continued to over-perform its financial status. Firstly, by getting into the topflight and then by staying there ahead of some more established clubs.

In part this has been achieved by attempting to out-think its opponents. Tony Bloom realised a long time ago that if the club were to achieve topflight status, let alone sustain it, he would have to find margins and gains on their opponents by being smarter rather than simply through financial stealth.

As Sam Cunningham described in an interview with Bloom for the Daily Mail in 2017, “Bloom talks — and thinks — in edges and gains, in fortune and favour. He pauses before answering questions, always calculating.” And this is how Albion build their squad and make every decision – carefully considering how they can gain an edge on their opponents.

A growing theme of Albion under Graham Potter is the success stories of so many players who’ve previously been written off. Be it Solly March, who signed a long-term contract extension this week, man of the moment Shane Duffy, the often written-off Neal Maupay, the regularly disregarded Dan Burn, or the perennially underrated Pascal Gross. I could go on, but you get the point.

Neal Maupay in particular is a player whom opinions of have flip-flopped more than most. Have a game where he doesn’t score and misses a big chance and he’s not good enough, but then score two games in a row and he’s Albion most important player and his potential injury is a crisis. Following the prevailing thought of football supporters and pundits can be exhausting. It’s a good thing Graham Potter and the senior leadership team at the club are above such things.

Where some like the Guardian have called Maupay a “flop” (the Guardian named him as one of the five flops of the 2020/21 season despite being Albion’s top scorer for the second season running), Albion see potential. Two goals in his first two games doesn’t make a successful season, but it’s a great start. His story of patient progress that has seen him break hit the 20 goal landmark in the Premier League, is a great example of how Albion are trying to build on their previous successes and progress to one day be able to compete toe to toe with the likes of Everton and Leicester throughout a season.

Neil Maupay has gone through tough periods in an Albion shirt, but the continued trust placed in him, and others alike, is a testament to their position as important members of this squad of players.

This isn’t just about Maupay, this is an entire group of players who’ve had question marks over them at one point or another. A couple of weeks ago most Albion fans had given up on Shane Duffy, but all of a sudden he’s now a hero again.

This time last year Pascal Gross could barely get into the team, whilst the same could be said of Yves Bissouma’s after a tricky first season with the club just two years ago. But both are now widely admired and have been instrumental to Albion’s continued success and progression on the pitch.

The reality of this progress however is that it will continue to be steady, the risk of relegation remains very real and the forecast for Albion’s season is that there will be a fair few downs to go with the ups of the last few weeks. But through it all the club will remain consistent in its approach, which has served it well so far.

We are very quick to categorise players or teams as either very good or very bad. The reality, as ever, is always somewhere in the middle. Albion’s good start does not make them shoe-ins for European qualification, nor would going top on Saturday. And even if this season saw a significant overachievement it wouldn’t suddenly make them an established top half side, as both Burnley’s and Wolves’s recent brief flirtation with European competition show.

But with the steady hand of Tony Bloom on the steering wheel, the steady progress of this team looks likely to continue.

As Graham Potter said after the victory at home to Man City towards the end of last season: “I’ve never really lost that support from Tony, to be honest. No matter what is said on the outside, no matter what people write or talk about on different things, I’ve never paid attention to it.”

But all that being said, how good actually is this Brighton team?

The reality is probably about as good as it’s wage bill suggests, somewhere floating above the relegation zone in the bottom half, but, with the leadership at the club as it is, the likelihood of continuing to outperform that status (within a reasonable margin) is good this season.

However, the degree to which the club does that may be less than some fans are hoping for. A European challenge is unlikely, but finishing a few places higher than last season’s 16th place and matching its best ever finish of 13th would be a fantastic achievement, especially if the team added to last seasons disappointing goals scored tally.

As the financial might of Saturday’s opponents shows, anything above this looks increasingly difficult and will likely rely on the clubs previously mentioned underperforming, combined with Albion consistently over-performing, which over the course of an entire season is incredibly difficult to see happening.

Was Gross at Left Back really such a crazy idea?

We are 45 mins into the new Premier League season and Graham Potter has already started receiving criticism for his team selections, so far so normal. However, after some changes at half time, a remarkable second half turnaround followed and many have subsequently claimed this as a Graham Potter tactical masterclass by the end of the 90 minutes.… really? I’m not so sure.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to criticise Graham Potter’s team selection after a victory, but neither am I going to suggest he’s some kind of tactical genius after a comeback from near comprehensive defeat in the first half. The reality, as ever, is somewhere in the middle.

It’s going to be a long season; 45 minutes shouldn’t be enough for us to class him totally right or totally wrong. This is all part of a bigger picture in terms of the process of management that is required at our club in order to succeed at the highest level.

I’ve seen a fair few people suggest Graham Potter was mad for playing a few players in less familiar positions on Saturday… because he has never done that successfully before?

Playing Pascal Gross at Left Back in the first half caused the largest consternation and proved to be a short-lived experiment. But was it really such an awful or unexpected selection?

Yes, it was unsuccessful, but we should also consider why he played Gross there before we all lose our minds after just over 1% of the season has passed.

Setting up against Burnley’s front 2 with a back 4 makes sense tactically and is something Potter has often done to match teams who play a 442, rather than use his favoured 352. Partly I assume, because of the well-known advantages down the flanks that a 442 has over it.

So, then you are looking for someone to play at Left Back, and we know we are short in that position, especially with Burn out injured and with Albion’s transfer target Cucurella not having been secured, in part due to his participation at the Olympics with the Spanish national football team. And I wouldn’t be surprised is the unexpected absence of Joel Veltman changed the plan too, a player who has filled in at Left Back and Left Wing Back in the past.

Then you’re left with the fringe and development players (those who haven’t already been sent out on loan that is). None of whom I would think would ideally want their debut to be away to Burnley on the first day of the season. Probably the most prominent of these options is Michal Karbownik, young, inexperienced, and yet to make a Premier League appearance. I can understand Potter’s hesitation in using him, but his inclusion on the bench suggests Potter wanted him available as a backup just in case.

So, then you’re looking at other options, those to be played out of position. And you’re looking at players with a degree of positional intelligence and versatility. For this you need look no further than Pascal Gross.

A huge part of Potter’s coaching since he arrived at the club has been the requirement asked of his squad for adaptability. In particular the likes of Pascal Gross and Steven Alzate, who have both been asked to play in a number of less familiar positions during that time, just as they were on Saturday.

Last season Gross played in most areas of the pitch, including at one point playing a run of games at Right Wing Back, so you can understand why Potter would turn to him as an auxiliary option in this area of the pitch.

Ultimately, Potter took a few risks in his team selection, sometimes they pay off, sometimes they don’t. But it’s taking those kinds of risks and being slightly unconventional that makes him the coach that he is.

For example, playing Solly March at Left Wing Back or Dan Burn at Left Back were similar risks in that area of the pitch which paid off. And helped both players go from fringe players who were being spoken of having possible exits, to crucial members of Albion’s squad over the past two seasons. Unlikely turnarounds seem to be the mark of the Potter era in change of the first team.

I suspect this higher level of tolerance to taking risks and trust in his players are also part of the reason why the club appointed him. The club has long realised it isn’t likely to succeed by fortitude alone and needs to out-think other clubs in various ways, not just on the pitch each Saturday afternoon.

This goes back to examples like the investment in the academy and the recruitment team back in the Championship days. This isn’t all about Graham Potter after all, it’s about the club as a whole, and the culture it is trying (and successful achieving) to implement across the entire club.

This culture goes right to the top, with Tony Bloom’s wealth originating from the gambling industry. As Sam Cunningham described in an interview with Bloom for the Daily Mail, “Bloom talks — and thinks — in edges and gains, in fortune and favour. He pauses before answering questions, always calculating.”

Tony Bloom is a discreet person, but is widely considered to be a risk-taker by nature, but a calculated risk-taker. By all accounts this appears to have been where Bloom and Potter’s predecessor Chris Hughton didn’t quite see eye to eye, particularly in terms of recruitment. Bloom knows what he wants and is willing to change if he’s sure it’s necessary.

No matter what I say, I’m sure us football supporters will continue to critique Graham Potter’s team selections, like some kind of annoying backseat driver. Particularly every time something goes wrong. And that’s ok to a degree, no one is exempt from criticism and all supporters, particularly those who’ve invested years of their time and money into following the club, deserve their opinion to be listened to.

But we also need to consider the wider context of the decisions that are being made and the thought-process behind them before we throw criticism towards senior management at the club, especially the highly scrutinised Graham Potter.

Some have likened Graham Potter’s team selections to a Roulette Wheel, but in line with the culture set down by owner Tony Bloom it is less Graham Potter’s Tactics Roulette and more Graham Potter’s Tactics Poker. This is not a random spin of the wheel, but a calculated gamble based on the limited number of cards he has in his hand. And just as in a poker game it isn’t all about one hand, in a football season is not all about one game. Sometimes you have to accept a beating for the better of your chances in the longer-term.

Risk taking of the type which saw Pascal Gross start at Left back on Saturday are part of the modern culture that the club continues to practice and will likely continue despite both the extreme disapproval of many supporters when experiments like this go wrong or the extreme praise when they work.

Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t. But as they say, don’t trust anyone who hasn’t failed.

Brighton Premier League Season preview – do Albion already have the solutions to their goalscoring issue?

Albion approach a ground-breaking fifth consecutive topflight season amongst an air of frustration. Expectations are arguably higher than ever, but the lack of a new striker being signed has caused some concern, whilst a 2-0 defeat to Getafe in the now traditional final friendly of pre-season at home piling on further concern.

Concerns can quickly lead to complaints and pressure being heaped on the club and the manager. But I suspect how quickly that pressure begins to mount if the season starts slowly will depend on what business the club does between now and the end of the transfer window.

If the squad stays as it is, I doubt Graham Potter will be under pressure from the board to achieve much more than a similar performance and league position to its previous two seasons, but if the club gets a few more big signings in, particularly that highly coveted striker, then expectations will markedly rise.

But that is something which could be a double-edged sword. Realistically even if Albion do sign their reported number one target in Darwin Nunez, he’s unlikely to have much impact in their first half of the season given that he is currently out injured and when back will require some initial adaptation time. More likely is that this Albion team are where they were last season.

There has been some talk, including from Albion players, of aiming for a top half finish, but to me this feels like classic over-optimistic pre-season talk.

Anyone who has read the magazine “When Saturday Comes” will be familiar with its pre-season preview supplement with sections written by a fan of each Premier and Football League club. And will also be aware that rarely to supporters predict the type of 15th – 17th placed finish for their club that Albion have achieved in each of their past four Premier League seasons.

So, Albion currently we enter this fifth consecutive Premier League Season with a sense of Deja Vu, as yet again it begins with high expectations mixed with a sense of panic over the club’s lack of a new striker so far in the summer transfer window.

I am sure the club realise the value to the squad of adding another striker could bring to it, particularly a proven goalscorer. But it’s not as simple as just going to the supermarket and buying whatever it needs, just as so many of the ventures into the market for a striker show down the years.

Add to that the fact that most teams are looking for the same thing and it makes for a small group of highly sought-after players pushing prices to an at times eye-watering level.

There are very few players outside the top six teams that score 15 or more goals in a league season, players like that are hard to find and often the players that do are the anomalies rather than the norm.

For example, Danny Ings, who’s recent £25m move to Villa raised some eyebrows, has actually only done it just once, with injuries and form halting further profligate seasons.

Meanwhile last season’s breakout star Patrick Bamford plays in a team at Leeds United that are an outlier in terms of their style of play, creating and missing lots of chances, whilst giving away plenty at the other end. Being able to afford to do so in part, because of manager Bielsa’s well-known high expectations over his team’s highly intense working rate.

Whilst the likes of Jamie Vardy, who has turned down at least one opportunity to move to a top six club, and Raul Jimenez, signed by Wolves for £34m in 2019 (a fee then beyond most teams outside the top six, let alone a newly promoted club), are outliers in terms the quality of strikers seen at lower ranked Premier League sides.

Moreover, the example of Christian Benteke at Palace shows that a high fee and wage package along with short term success, doesn’t always lead to long term profligacy in front of goal. After signing on an initial four-year deal and scoring 15 goals in this first season for a fee of £28m in 2016, he has since scored just 16 goals in 101 appearances over the subsequent four subsequent seasons.

Rather than it being the case that spending £30m-£40m on a striker is always the solution to a goalscoring issue, examples like Benteke show that lower ranked teams and player more often than not tend to struggle to score goals either way. And it can work against you in the long run, leaving a player draining wages and stunting potential for improvement.

The average goals scored in a season by a bottom half Premier League team that has survived relegation over the last four seasons totalled 44, only four more than Brighton’s total of 40 last season. Something which was more than compensated at the back with Albion conceding just 46 goals last season compared to the 59 goals conceded on average by bottom half Premier League teams that have survived relegation over the last four seasons.

Instead, Brighton’s issue over the last season or two was more about the key moments in games too often going against them, with the team’s lack of experience often counting against it. Whether that was dropping points through late goals conceded like at home to Man United, Palace or Leicester, or whether it was key missed chances like the two penalties missed against West Brom.

In fact, it’s when in front that Albion have proved their most wasteful at both ends of the pitch, with the 25 points it dropped from winning positions being the most in the Premier League last season.

Ill-discipline comes into this too. Since being promoted to the Premier League Albion have led the way in terms of two statistics, own goals, and red cards. Red cards in particular is a worrying issue, with 14 being racked up to date, three of which coming from the club captain and talisman Lewis Dunk. The latest coming away at Wolves toward the end of last season where Albion threw away a 1-0 lead, ultimately ending with a 2-1 defeat after Dunk was sent off with Albion in the lead. An example of where their ill-discipline has cost them a lead and three potentially crucial points.

This is of course to be overly harsh on Lewis Dunk, who for a long time has been the club’s most reliable and consistent performer. A player whom without Albion would not be in the topflight. But it shows that at times we can over emphasise one issue over others and forget that even our better player make big, costly mistakes.

Nonetheless, missing goalscoring chances is clearly a big part of that conundrum and whilst I don’t think we’ve ever fully solved the issue in that area, we are now in our fifth straight Premier League season. An achievement that slightly undermines the “we need a striker” cause as it also now enters its fifth summer.

Would a 10-15 goal a season striker improve the team? Probably. Do we “need” one? No.

Yes, all the stats show Brighton don’t take as many of their goalscoring chances as they should. But assuming that one player coming in solves that issue is simply naive. Top half teams have multiple regular goal-scorers. Whereas Albion only really have Maupay. That’s the bigger issue.

In his first season Maupay looked like a player who was rough around the edges, but hungry for more and bursting with potential. But in his second he more often looked like he had the world on his shoulders, and no wonder given the poor finishing of most of his teammates.

People focus on the team’s and more specifically Neal Maupay’s underperformance against the expected goals statistic (xG), but this only really tells you part of the goalscoring tale. For a player like Maupay to have a high xG even if he underperforms against it, he needs to have the intelligence and execution in terms of movement and positioning to be in the right positions at the right time to earn those chance. Something that xG doesn’t measure and us average supporters under-appreciate, because we are too busy watching the ball.

As the past examples above show, even if Albion had scored more goals, can you rely on this team to hold onto those all leads? Probably not. So £30m-£40m on what could be a nil-sum gain is a huge financial risk for the club to take on, especially after such an unexpectedly difficult period financially.

A key part of bringing in a new striker is can you also fit Maupay into the team. If not, you’re not only losing 18 of the team’s goals (more than 1 in 5) over the past two seasons, but also a player who is key to the teams build up play. Put simply, when he is missing Albion struggle to create chances.

Albion’s end of season win over Man City is the exception to this, but City were down to 10 men for most of a game which for them was meaningless, making it a difficult situation to draw definitive conclusions from.

The other four games that Albion played without Maupay last season (Fulham away, Spurs away, West Ham home and Arsenal away) saw the team struggle going forward. In all those 4 games the team created less shots (average across those 4 games was 7.5 shots pg) than the season average shots per game (12.8), scoring just twice (half their average goals per game rate).

So, a new striker is not without its trade-offs and its potential to unbalance a team that is making great strides forward in so many areas of the pitch. So, to sign a striker to replace Maupay or anyone else, it needs to be the right player not just any old striker.

As I said at the end of last season, if we look at two teams Albion have been competing with in previous seasons that managed to lift themselves up the division last season, Aston Villa and West Ham, neither had one player on 15 goals, let’s alone 20. Instead, they had multiple goalscorers on smaller tallies, for Albion its really only Maupay. Others need to step up to take the pressure and attention off his shoulders.

It maybe that Albion already have the answers to its goalscoring problems in its midfield. If Lallana can stay fit, he has the potential to add to his goal tally of one last season. Whilst the recently added Moder and Mwepu both look like having the potential of adding goals to Albion’s midfield where others have failed to do so.

Whilst admittedly in lower standard divisions, both Mwepu and Moder scored at a high rate for their old clubs, with Moder averaging 0.3 goals per 90 and Mwepu averaging 0.22 goals per 90 in their last seasons with their previous clubs. Managing even half that rate would put them ahead of pretty much all of Albion’s misfiring midfield.

To their credit, this team tends to control more games it plays in than it doesn’t. Whilst it could have achieved more over the past two seasons with a bit better execution and decision making in both boxes, the 14 draws achieved in both of Graham Potter’s two Premier League seasons in charge at Albion show that he has made this team harder to beat whilst playing far more on the front foot, a feat that shouldn’t be undervalued.

A big part of that is how he has evolved the defence. With the signings of Adam Webster and Joel Veltman two example of how that has been achieved, by providing Albion’s back line with more capability with the ball rather than being more comfortable without it as it was under Hughton’s reign.

Ben White’s sale to Arsenal is a loss but given the depth of Albion’s squad in that area they should be able to cope without a drop in performance levels, especially given the return of Shane Duffy adding competition for places.

It may be that Duffy still leaves before the end of the window, but following his challenging exploits at Celtic I wouldn’t be surprised if he was now more willing to settle for a role as back up rather than fly the nest in search of a regular first team place. As I said last January, despite having his critics he has plenty still to offer this Albion team. His experience and know-how could be just what Albion need to resolve some off the issues it has had in throwing away leads last season.

Going into the new season with what is currently largely the same squad and front line as last season, may underwhelm some who see greater potential in this team than has been achieved over the past four seasons. But as comparisons to the teams around them show, their struggles in front of goal are far from a novel issue nor an easy one to solve.

What Brighton do have is a team packed full of talent and potential, one that has a growing amount of experience and belief in itself at this level and a coach at its head that has the ability to get the best out of it. A mix that makes for one of the most exciting seasons in the club’s history.

Aaron Connolly – Patience is required ahead of a pivotal season

After announcing himself to Albion fans with some impressive performances for the Club’s development team and winning the 2019 Premier League 2 player of the season award (ahead of compatriots including England U21 striker Eddie Nketiah), Aaron Connolly scored twice on his first Premier League start for the club at home to Tottenham in October 2019, a game broadcast live on BT Sport.

Due to this success with the development team he had already built up a huge reputation amongst the Albion supporters even prior to his fairytale home debut. But his performances since then haven’t always kept up that upwards trajectory and his 3 goals in his subsequent 37 appearances in the Premier League is a return that is beginning to lead to questions being asked of the young striker.

The last season in particular was tough for Connolly. Missed chances led to so much online abuse that he temporarily removed his social media accounts. Whilst more recently, allegations about his personal life and criticisms about perceptions of an attitude problem will only have added pressure onto a young man who has already had huge expectations being placed on him from day one.

Whilst inconsistency and difficult periods are par of the course for young players, Connolly has admitted that he hasn’t been up to the standard required at times. Saying in an interview with Balls.ie earlier in the year that “I take responsibility for the fact that it hasn’t been good enough recently.”

In contrast to some of the recent press he’s received, this was a mature, reflective, and modest interview from Aaron Connolly, especially when you consider his age. Sometimes we forget how young he is, just 21.

Whilst there are a growing number of uncomplimentary and unfair comparisons or criticisms made of Aaron Connolly’s so far short Albion career, when compared to the other eight players who were nominated alongside him for the 2019 Premier League 2 player of the season he comes out well. In fact none of the other eight have made more appearances or scored more goals in the Premier League than Aaron Connolly.

Even the player who preceded him as the Premier League 2 player of the season in 2018, Reiss Nelson, has made only 22 Premier League appearances scoring just 1 goal, compared to Connolly’s 41 appearances and 5 goals to date.

In a recent article WeAreBrighton.com pointed to his former development squad teammate Viktor Gyokeres not getting similar opportunities to Connolly. And whilst it may look like Gyokeres didn’t get his chance, what we didn’t see were the months spent training with the first team under both Hughton and Potter, neither of whom entrusted him to make even a single Premier League appearance, not even as a late substitute.

Gyokeres isn’t the first talented young player with a good record for the development team not to make it with the first team and he won’t be the last. We need to get used to that as Albion’s academy continues to make strides forward and has more and more impact on the senior team.

Whilst Connolly has racked up an impressive number of first team appearances, Gyokeres was gaining his experience out on loan. Connolly is clearly highly rated by those at the club, they gave him the number 7 shirt last summer after all. And unlike Gyokeres, the club clearly believes that so far he’s been better off staying at Albion rather than going out on loan, even if it is as back up. Maybe his short spell on loan at Luton where he made just two substitute appearances and mostly spent his time recovering from an injury has something to do with that.

And you can understand why. At Albion he’s learning from senior professionals, current and former internationals and working under Graham Potter, who has a good record of working with and developing young players.

Circumstance has also led to his first team status. Whilst Ben White was sent out on loan in 2019 to Leeds to gain experience due to a surplus of centre backs, a lack of firepower up front combined with potential new additions not materialising have accelerated Connolly’s progress into the first team.

It’s also true that not all development team products will have such meteoric rises as the likes of Ben White or Robert Sanchez. Patience is a crucial cultural attribute in turning young talent into the finished article, Connolly deserves that at least.

Yes, as he admits himself that he deserves some criticism for missed goalscoring chances last season. But as his manager Graham Potter has said on numerous occasions when questioned about the teams goalscoring problems, it’s a collective issue not about individuals.

Moreover, the accusations about Connolly’s personal life or his attitude are commonplace tropes made against struggling players with high expectations placed upon them. It’s simply an easy stick to beat them with.

Some argue that all the criticism he’s received is a sign that Connolly hasn’t been looked after enough by the club, but if so that goes for the club’s supporters too.

Brighton fans dumping their frustration over the teams goalscoring woes on a 21-year-old back up striker, when he’s hardly on his own in that regard, is nothing more than convenient scapegoating and has at times seen revolting levels of abuse.

If I’m honest, in the past I’ve probably been guilty of sticking the boot in a bit too harshly to some of Albion’s bigger money signings like Locadia and Jahanbakhsh. As a football fan it’s the hope that drives you, but it’s also the hope which can also destroy you. So it can be hard to not get a little carried away and end up taking that out on certain individuals from whom your hope was derived. Nonetheless, particularly when it comes to young prospects like Connolly who are still finding their feet in the game, as supporters we need to try to be better and more rational in our criticism, particularly when it’s aimed at an individual.

In reality we only see a small amount of the work that goes in, really, we have very little insight on how hard or not Connolly works and whether he deserves the opportunities that he gets over other players. But I’m guessing given the competition for places and the high standard of coaching at the club, that he probably does.

In a recent interview Aaron Connolly’s former teammate Glenn Murray spoke about how he needed to get out and enjoy himself after a bad match in order to lift his mood. Something which Murray said led to some criticism over his own attitude, and this is a player who only recently retired from playing at the age of 37, hardly the sign of a bad attitude.

Many supporters are happy to criticise players if we don’t perceive them to be making enough effort or having the right attitude if things aren’t going well. But as Murray’s example shows this quickly changes if things go well.

The delayed Tokyo Olympics that are currently taking place are a great (if extreme) example of how athletes spend the majority of their time building up to an event and a very small amount of time actually carrying out the work which they are judged upon , something that is true of professional footballers too.

Footballers spend years working for their first professional contracts, most of whom don’t even make it. The few that do then spend far more days and hours on the training pitch preparing for matches, or resting and recuperating after matches than actually playing in them.

Then when involved in a match (which Connolly was sparingly last season) they will only have the ball in their possession for around 2-3 minutes and spend most of the rest of the time running between 10-15 kms trying to win it back or getting into good positions for a teammate to find them.

For Aaron Connolly, as a striker who mostly plays off of the last defender, he will likely have the ball less than average and he will mostly receive the ball in attacking positions under great pressure from the opposition defence, making every poor touch or moment of hesitation far more costly than for many of his teammates. For example, last season Connolly averaged just 12 touches of the ball per appearance or 23 touches per 90 minutes played, giving him little opportunity to make up for any mistakes.

These are the harsh truths of being a Premier League and International footballer, something many of us can only dream of achieving, especially by the age of 21. Aaron Connolly still has time on his side to win around the doubters, but another season of frustration and missed chances will make that task even harder.

As such, the best thing us Albion fans can do is to give him a break and be more patient with a footballer who whilst young, has already gained lots of topflight experience, international experience and who has the talent to be a brilliant player for Albion for many seasons to come.

Albion make reinforcements in attack

Last season’s progression from Albion’s women’s team was well timed ahead of a pivotal moment in the Women’s game in England, with the new WSL TV broadcast deal with Sky beginning later this year. However, with increased opportunity comes increased risk.

It will no doubt come with an increase in the level of competition in the WSL, something demonstrated particularly by the number of new signings made by Everton, including England international Toni Duggan and German international Leonie Maier.

Everton, who finished one place and five points above Albion last season, are setting the bar for them in terms of the standard required to make further progress up the WSL next season.

And Albion have responded with two big signings of their own. Most recently Rinsola Babajide on loan from Liverpool. Who despite her parent team Liverpool’s lack of success in recent seasons, has plenty of talent to offer the Seagulls attack, highlighted by her numerous England youth caps, including winning the bronze medal at the U20 2018 World Cup, along with a call up to the senior team last year.

Yes, it’s initially only a season long loan, but given her contract at Liverpool runs out next summer and that she handed in a transfer request at Liverpool in January, it’s hard to see her going back there, especially given their off-field troubles that saw them drop out of the WSL in 2020. So, this could well become permanent next summer, who knows.

This draws to a close a bit of a transfer saga for Rinsola and Liverpool, which appears to have led to some animosity towards her from Liverpool supporters.

After she signed a new contract with the club in the summer of 2020 following their relegation, she then received a senior England call up in September 2020, but some see her subsequent request for a transfer in January 2021 as a symptom of that call up leading her to push for a move and value personal success over her club.

But one person’s disloyalty is another’s ambition. And that Albion are managing to attract players like Rinsola, looking to make a step up to regain contention for international selection is a great sign of the club’s progress in the Women’s game.

Prior to that they had already announced the signing of Danielle Carter from Reading, another one-time England international and a big show of intent from Albion.

Carter is another player to have represented England at various youth levels and at senior level as recently as 2018. She has also won various major honours in her time with Arsenal, so adds important experience and know-how to Albion’s fairly young and inexperienced if talented squad.

But rather than joining Albion with her career on the wane at 28 Carter has her best years ahead of her. And whilst it’s been a while since she was last involved with England there’s still reasonable hope for her in that area too.

Given this and her experience, it’s no surprise she is the first Albion Women’s player to demand a transfer fee, a breakthrough moment in the team’s history and a show of intent from the club’s hierarchy.

Whilst many clubs of similar stature to Brighton have reluctantly invested as little as possible in their Women’s team, Albion have prioritised it and it’s really paying off in terms of the players it is attracting and the performances on the pitch.

These are indeed exciting times, a feeling echoed by manager Hope Powell’s saying upon signing Babajide this week:

“We achieved our highest WSL position and we’re in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, but we want to push on this season and get better. Any additions to our squad have got to add value to what we’ve got and in Danielle and Rinsola that is definitely the case.”

These signings are also a signal that Powell and the club recognise the need to address Albion main fallibility in recent times, quality in front of goal.

Whilst Albion’s brilliant run of wins towards the end of last season saw them finish in the top half of the WSL, this involved the team scoring with a great deal of efficiency in front of goal, a run that probably masks its ongoing issues in attack.

An issue highlighted by the run that preceded it in the first half of the season which was near the polar opposite in terms of its attack and left the club worrying about relegation at one point after a 3-0 defeat away to Bristol City. A run that shows this efficiency in front of goal can’t be relied upon being a consistent long-term attribute of the existing squad and that improvements in attack are needed for Albion to continue to compete at the higher end of the WSL.

The key for Albion this season is to control games better and improve the frequency and quality of their attacks. These two signings, both in adding talent in attack and experience on the pitch should help them do that.

Mings, Coady and White all in contention for a starting place as England gets ready to Host(ish) a Home(ish) European Championships

England go into the much delayed Euro 2020 with high expectations and the manager Gareth Southgate having an increasingly exciting and talented young group of players to pick from. Hold on, haven’t we been here before?

Maybe, but it does feel like a different England under Southgate. Whilst you cannot please everyone, the team now come across as far more likeable than many of its previous incarnations and that’s backed up by success on the pitch too with two consecutive semi-final appearances now to their name. There is an air of confidence in this team without the arrogance of old and a firm belief in its ability without the brash cockiness seen in past eras.

England start the tournament as favourites to win their group and as one of the most highly fancied teams in the entire tournament, but they won’t be caught by surprise by any of their group opponents with each one in its own way a familiar face.

Each match will be tough, but in many ways the second match with Scotland is looking like the toughest test after an impressive run of results under manager Steve Clarke who has transformed the previously much maligned home nation. Which makes beating England’s World Cup semi-final nemesis Croatia in their opening game all the more important and that won’t be easy opponents either.

Whilst Czech Republic’s win over England in qualification, the success of Czech internationals Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal at West Ham last season, along with the success of the countries invincible domestic league champions Slavia Prague over British teams in the Europa League last season all ensuring England are well aware of their threats too. All three matches mean any speculation over potential last 16 opponents and possible routes to a prospective semi-final and final at Wembley will have to remain on ice for now.

Southgate said after England’s friendly win over Romania last weekend that he had just one place in the starting eleven for Sunday’s opener against Croatia that he was still unsure of, and I wonder if it’s his choice over defensive shape and personnel that this quandary is in relation too.

Much has been made of Man United Captain Harry Maguire’s injury in the lead up to the tournament and if he was fit he would almost certainly start alongside John Stones, but someone’s loss is another person’s opportunity and England’s back-up centre-back options of Mings, Coady and the late addition of our very own Ben White will all likely be in his thoughts.

The pre-existing members of the England squad Tyrone Mings and Conor Coady would appear to be at the front of the queue despite much derision being put their way on social media. Mings as a no nonsense defender may be Southgate’s go to option alongside Stones in a back four, whilst Coady would probably be more likely first pick in a back three.

Mings in particular has seen his fair share of criticism after a couple of unimpressive performances in England’s warm up games, but as many have already pointed out these games are more about gaining/maintaining fitness and avoiding injury than performance. Whilst his two years at Villa in the Premier League marshalling their defence to survival and then an impressive 11th place last season show he’s more than capable to fill the hole in the back four if required. As the Aston Villa online blog “Under A Gaslit Lamp” said recently: “Regardless of the occasional below par performance, Aston Villa are a better team and club due to the fact that Tyrone Mings is a part of it and he will be vital, as Dean Smith tries to steer the club into the upper echelons of the Premier League and back into Europe.” Unfortunately for him, in tournament football any mistake is likely to be amplified and ultimately this may count against him.

As an Albion fan I will be hoping that is the case and it is instead Ben White who gets the nod against Croatia, a player who’s versatility to be able to play in a number of positions along with his potential to improve appears to be what has secured him a place in England’s 26 after the injury to Alexander-Arnold.

White has continued to impress since coming to the attention of the Albion faithful during his multi-award winning season on loan at Newport County and his Rookie Premier League season saw him continue his impressive rise and surprise a few last weekend to win the club’s player of the season award, albeit seemingly with the help of his old friends from Leeds.

Whilst he only made his Premier League debut less than a year ago and his England debut less than two weeks ago, I doubt Gareth Southgate will be afraid to throw him in if he feels that he’s his best choice. After all Southgate himself was handed a surprise call up and subsequent selection to start as centre back for England at Euro 1996. Having only made his England debut seven months before, he started the opener against Switzerland alongside captain Tony Adams with just four caps to his name.

If it is Ben White who starts for England, it will be a huge personal moment for him and his family. But also for the Albion and everyone involved at the club. It is 23 years ago this week that the club made the signing of the Withdean era legend Gary Hart for £1,000 and a set of tracksuits from non-league Stansted, who went on to be the club’s joint top scorer in his first season. That youth team product Ben White has made the England squad this summer, let alone is being discussed as in contention for a start in the opening game, shows just how far the club has come since then.

The Tweeting Seagull awards 2020/21

It’s been a season like no other and one that the players deserve a great deal of credit for their perseverance in such difficult and uncertain circumstances. So here I’ve picked out a few of the best and worst moments from the season just gone.

The Guy Butters Award for defying initial judgements – Dan Burn

Dan continues to defy the expectations of him as well as the at times inane derision put his way in equally emphatic measure. His winning goal against City, whilst scrappy, was just rewards for the frequency of his forward runs and upfield impact that he has had in the second half of the season since coming into the team after injuries to both Tariq Lamptey and Solly March.

Burn also played a huge part in the other highlight of Albion’s season, their 1-0 win away to Liverpool. That night Graham Potter described him as “incredible”. Going onto say about his detractors: “Anyone that criticises someone like Dan Burn doesn’t understand football, ultimately, I wouldn’t listen to them. It’s irrelevant to me. Dan just gives his best every day.”

Many of his critics will reference his performances against Leicester away in late December and Wolves at home in early January, which drew much criticism. TalkSPORT described his performance in the draw with Wolves as “a night to forget” whilst the Guardian described him as “helpless”.

However, it’s hard to find an Albion player who hasn’t had a few bad games this season. Even my pick for player of the season Lewis Dunk has had his moments, including that recent red card which ultimately cost Albion all three points in Albion’s return match with Wolves.

Nonetheless, so bad were a couple of Burn’s performances that many questioned his suitability on the left or even in the topflight entirely. Whilst his selection in the Albion team continues to draw a huge amount of confusion and contention despite his consistent dependability in numerous positions.

But he’s been hugely important for Albion throughout the season, which is a testament to him and his mental resilience. His importance to the team, despite not being in many Albion fans first eleven, is demonstrated by the fact that he has still been involved in 27 of Albion’s Premier League games this season and 10 of Albion’s 12 victories in all competitions, only Pascal Gross with 11 has played in more.

The Mark McCammon Award for most cringeworthy moment of the season – Albion fans booing Man City onto the pitch for their guard of honour.

We’ve been here before, back in 2019 Kyle Walker was booed whilst receiving his Premier League winners medal, so we shouldn’t be surprised that Albion have their fair share of petty supporters willing to spoil another teams moment of joy.

The irony that after a season which saw the near crumbling of the competitive structures of the game as we know it, and with it the integrity of the competition, that the team who won the league fair and square were then booed during a guard of honour held to congratulate them on their victory, shouldn’t be lost on us.

Evidence of petty and pathetic behaviour like this is racking up from the AMEX faithful and it isn’t a good look.

The Award for the most irritating and most repeated line of Albion punditry – “Neal Maupay embodies Brighton problems in front of goal”

Some will be surprised by this one, but I’m a huge supporter of Maupay and think Albion are far worse off without him.

Anyone who has watched Albion without Maupay this season should recognise that the team has struggled offensively without him. The bluntness of the attack on the final day defeat to Arsenal was telling of how he offers so much more than just scoring goals.

Albion’s recent win over Man City is the exception to this, but City were down to 10 men for most of the game, which makes it difficult to draw definitive conclusions from. The other four games that Albion played without Maupay this season (Fulham away, Spurs away, West Ham home & Arsenal away) saw the team struggle going forward. In all those 4 games the team created less shots (average across those 4 games was 7.5 shots pg) than the season average shots per game (12.8), scoring just twice (half their average goals per game rate).

As a part of their end of season reviews the Guardian were quite typical in the national press’ distain towards Albion’s top scorer. Going in hard on Neal Maupay by naming him as one of the “Flops of the season”.

Yes, he has missed big chances and should have scored more goals. But it is worth noting that he’s scored 22% (18) of Albion’s goals over the past 2 seasons, whilst taking 18% of their shots. Maupay isn’t blameless, but Albion’s problems in front of goal don’t just lie with him.

In fact, it doesn’t make sense to blame a teams lack of goals on the player actually scoring a significant proportion of its goals. Instead we should look at others. For example the likes of Gross, Lallana, Jahanbakhsh and Trossard who should all have scored more this season too, between them have only matched Maupay’s 8 goals.

The idea of Albion needing to sign a 20-goal a season striker is a huge red herring, the only two who actually scored that many in the Premier League this season were Harry Kane and Mohammed Salah, players unattainable for the Albion. If we look at two teams Albion have been competing with in previous seasons that managed to lift themselves up the division this season, Aston Villa and West Ham, neither had one player on 15 goals, let’s alone 20.

Instead, both teams had a number of players with multiple goals. West Ham’s top scorer was Antonio on 10, but they had three other players on 8 goals or more. Admittedly Villa’s top scorer was Watkins 14, but they also had El Ghazi on 10 and Traore on 7. In contrast, aside from Neil Maupay, over the past two season no Albion player has matched Danny Welbeck’s 6 goals in the a single season.

The only player to do that in their four Premier League seasons is Pascal Gross in 2017/18 with 8. But his more recent goalscoring form in particular is a concern. Since moving into a slightly deeper role he has scored just 8 across the next three season, only 2 of which from open play. Whilst still crucial to Albion’s play, he’s become far less effective in front of goal under Potter.

I don’t think anyone in the squad this season, maybe Connolly aside, shows the same kind of instinct to get in the box like Maupay does. So in that sense, compared to the too often goalshy likes of Trossard, Gross, Lallana and Jahanbakhsh, he’s the antithesis of Albion’s problems in front of goal. If Albion had more players with his mindset to get in the six yard box and take a risk then Albion would have turned far more of those many draws into wins.

At the start of the season I said an improvement from Albion would be partly contingent on Maupay showing the kind of second season improvement in his goal tally as he did at Brentford in the Championship, but that hasn’t happened. In fact he’s scored 2 less than last season’s tally of 10. So just as his goalscoring rate has largely stood still, so have Albion finishing 16th compared to last season’s 15th placed finish.

Much like at Brentford he’s been asked to play a role that is the focal point of the attack, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the team always plays to his strengths. At Brentford you’d often see him getting on the end of crosses or picking up second balls, but he doesn’t really get much of that kind of delivery at Albion and is often expected to deal with short sharp balls to feat, which has often seen him get his feet in a muddle and miss the chance.

I think to get the best out of Maupay next season Albion need to add a bit more variety to the balls going into the box. They need to be a little more direct from wide areas, and/or find a taller striker for Maupay to play off and pick up the scraps from. But whether Graham Potter would want to forgo an element of the teams slick and sharp forward play that has drawn so much admiration from pundits and caused opposition defences such concern but not yet seen the deserved improvement in the goals and points tally to go with it, is yet to be seen

The Billy Sharp Award for best opposition player performance at the AMEX – Reece James

Reece James progression as one of the most exciting young players in Europe continues somewhat under the radar because of the prominence of so many other top class English right-backs. But in his first full season as an established first team player at Chelsea, he started as he meant to go on with a match-winning performance for Chelsea in their 3-1 win over Albion at the AMEX.

Even on this night, he was somewhat overshadowed by his former Chelsea teammate Tariq Lamptey’s impressive performance at right back for Albion that actually earned Albion’s right back the BBC’s man of the match award.

But given it was James who with the game tied at 1-1 grabbed it by the throat and won it for the visitors, he should ultimately take the plaudits. Firstly he was given a bit of space on the edge of the box and took no hesitation in rifling the ball home into the top corner of the net. Chelsea’s third then came from his attack down the right hand side winning a corner off Solly March, whom he had tormented all night, then sending in the corner towards Zouma, who turned it home to make it 3-1 and put Chelsea out of sight.

Whilst in the second half of the season his success was somewhat curtailed by injury and a change of management, his impressive first half of the season shows the potential and ability that he has. So good was he that he was named by Alan Shearer in his Premier League half-way team of the season and was involved in two of England’s qualifiers back in March including the crucial 2-1 win at home to Poland.

That night at the AMEX the Guardian’s Barney Ronay described Brighton’s performance as “impressively slick and a little unlucky”. Start as you mean to go on as they say. However unlike on many occasions this season where it has been Albion’s poor finishing or sloppy defending when ahead that has cost them points, on this occasions it was largely down to an impressive performance from arguably England’s best right back.

The Scott McGleish villain of the season – Maty Ryan

What a difference a year makes. This time last year Maty Ryan was Albion’s number one and considered pretty untouchable in that position. A year later he has lost his place, been loaned out and found himself as the unfortunate figure of hate from a significant portion of Albion’s social media supporters.

In Albion’s second Premier League season Ryan was deemed so important to Albion that his absence for a short period to appear in the Asia cup for his native Australia was one of that season’s regular narratives of concern. As it turned out Albion would manage ok without him, but he was still instantly reinstated on his return.

However the improvement of the young Robert Sanchez, who started the season as Albion’s 4th choice goalkeeper after returning from loan at League One Rochdale and ended it by being named in his national team Span’s European Championships squad, alongside a run of bad form for Ryan that stretched back to the end of the previous season, saw Ryan quickly replaced as Albion’s number one.

Maybe links last summer between Albion and Emiliano Martínez, who would ultimately sign and star for Aston Villa, should have given a hint that Ryan’s days at Albion were numbered. But when he was initially dropped away to Spurs and then again for Albion’s trip to relegation rivals Fulham, there was a great deal of shock, but Sanchez has quickly proved his worth and no one has looked back since.

Ryan was completely isolated from Albion’s Matchday squads and loaned to Arsenal after becoming a figure of blame for Albion’s woes from some on social media. But his subsequently interview with Australian broadcaster Optus Sport only served to increase the animosity.

In that interview Ryan went into detail about his private conversations with Albion manager Graham Potter about being dropped, before going onto describe his move to Arsenal as a step up and revealing that he viewed Brighton as a stepping stone to a bigger club. Comments that I think just described the situation honestly and frankly, but that appear to have upset the more sensitive and insecure members of Albion’s support.

Furthermore, Albion’s current transfer model is just that, to become a stepping stone to bigger clubs for young and talented players like the often praised Yves Bissouma. Maty Ryan’s comments show a level of ambition the club should expect of its players and is an attitude the supporters are going to have to accept as the new normal, even from players they don’t rate as highly as Bissouma.

Despite this and Albion’s Chief Executive Paul Barber defended Maty Ryan, saying he felt his comments had been misinterpreted, but some Albion fans still seem keen to stick the knife into Maty Ryan at every opportunity.

But he is person who represented the club with such distinction for three and a bit years both on and off the pitch. Yes, substandard performance meant he was ultimately deemed surplus to requirements and he was possibly naive and tasteless in the honesty of his comments in this now infamous interview, but that doesn’t diminish his previous three seasons of commendable service to the club, a period where he was a hero to many.

And yet because some have taken exception to something he said in an interview they will continue to abuse him at every opportunity. Franky, they need to grow up.

Dunk out and White in as Gareth Southgate names his provisional 33-man England squad

Poor old Lewis Dunk, he has the season of his life and whilst many have called for his inclusion in this summer’s England squad for the European Championships, he has instead been usurped by his rookie teammate Ben White.

It’s a game of opinions I guess. And given Gareth Southgate does have a pretty decent record as England manager, you will have to excuse me for trusting his judgement.

Good record you ask? Yes, Gareth Southgate in fact has the second best win percentage of all England managers. Add to that getting to the semi-finals of both the World Cup and Nations League, as well as two comfortable qualification campaigns all to his name in just four years, I believe his record looks rather impressive. Especially whilst also managing a huge turnover in players.

Many Brighton fans (along with a few others) have said that based on form Lewis Dunk should be in the England squad, and even if we accept this as true, I don’t think you can base an international squad selection purely on form or that he’s been at the heart of Albion’s impressive defensive record.

Many talk about Dunk’s form in reference to an interview Southgate did in 2017 with the Daily Telegraph where he talked about selecting players based on form rather than reputation. But this is taking what he said out of context. There are many other factors which also need to be considered than simply form, no international manager picks a squad purely based on form. This isn’t Garth Crooks selecting his team of the week after all.

Here’s the full quote from that interview: “I’m very conscious I’ve got to get the balance right because ultimately my responsibility is to produce a winning England team. I never pick on reputation — form has to come into it. You have to look at the opposition and the type of game you’re expecting and select the players best suited to that.”

Going onto say: “We’ve got to be better, everything we do has got to be better. Even being second in the world isn’t good enough, we have to be the best we can be, and that’s the best.”

Building a squad of players, as Albion have found in the Premier League, is hard. Most importantly you need to have depth, experience, a range of characteristics and versatility in terms of position. Unfortunately for Dunk, he appears to have fallen just short in Southgate’s eyes compared to his other defensive options.

Southgate did reference Dunk’s impressive season and how important he is to Brighton in his press conference. But in reasoning Ben White’s selection (along with the also uncapped Ben Godfrey) over Dunk he referenced both White’s potential to improve and his versatility, both areas that Dunk does fall down on compared to other options available to England.

Dunk has had his chance with England too and clearly failed to sufficiently impress. In The Athletic earlier this season Andy Naylor reported that Lewis Dunk fell well below the training levels expected during his only England call up and that Dunk’s training was also an issue at Brighton earlier in his career under Guy Poyet. It may sound like a harsh and rash judgement, but these things do matter in terms of setting the type of winning mentality and attitude that Southgate referenced back in 2017.

This of course won’t be the only factor in Southgate’s thinking. If we look back at Southgate’s 2017 interview he talks about the balance of the team as well as the opposition they face as factors in his mind when selecting a team. Some have said Southgate has an anti-Dunk agenda or even an anti-Brighton agenda. I think his agenda is simply that he prefers Mings, Coady, Maguire and Stones to Dunk in terms of what he wants from his squad. That’s his job to make that call after all.

Many say Dunk deserves to be in the England squad and I don’t dispute that he is more than good enough. But so are many others. For example, Aston Villa’s Ezri Konsa and AC Milan loanee Fikayo Tomori were also specifically mentioned by Southgate in his press conference, whilst James Tarkowski and Michael Keane have both been in England squads more recently than Dunk, all of whom miss out too. We are lucky to have such competition for places.

Some have suggested Dunk’s omission is because of a smaller club bias, but that Ben White has also been included is a huge contradiction to this. And that nine of the fourteen non-“Super Six” Premier League Clubs are represented in the provisional squad also massively contradicts this notion.

Gareth Southgate has consistently been willing to pick players from a wide variety of clubs, even those overseas most of us don’t see as much or those like Brighton not competing in a European club competition.

Much like many of those clubs represented, for Brighton, Ben White’s selection is a feather in the cap for the growing reputation of its academy. It’s one that they will hope to be the first of many and not simply for the odd one cap that Lewis Dunk is currently stuck on.

White’s talent, potential and versatility appears to be what saw him saw him beat others into the provisional squad, but getting into the final 26 is likely to be a much tougher task. As Southgate yesterday suggested, he’s there more as one for the future than for these Euros.

However, I wouldn’t be too despondent. The last and only time a Brighton player was picked by England at a major tournament, Steve Foster in 1982, Albion were relegated from the topflight the following season. So if White is overlooked like his Albion teammate Dunk, then maybe we should all be grateful.

Finding a purpose

It’s been an odd season and one where the very purpose of football has been questioned in the light of the restrictions that have been placed on all of our liberties in order to protect public health.

As the Pandemic surged over the winter, football persevered, despite many, including the manager of the ultimately relegated West Bromwich Albion – Sam Allardyce, calling for the season to be halted.

But the season continued, initially amongst a succession of postponements due to Covid outbreaks at various clubs, and this Sunday we now find ourselves at the final round of matches after a season like no other. One that many of us will be glad to see the back of.

For Brighton it’s been an odd season on the pitch too, one that has constantly promised so much improvement, but one that as we go into the final day will most likely be delivering another 15th-17th league position finish.

Let’s not pretend survival is anything other than a success for Albion. But for the first time there is genuine reason to believe, barring a disaster of a summer transfer window, that this Albion team can push on next season. It has so much potential.

For all teams outside the established seven topflight clubs, at the beginning of a new season relegation is a very realistic possibility. But for Albion it feels like loftier ambitions than just surviving are now too a very realistic possibility.

Over the last two seasons, Graham Potter’s management has improved performances at the Albion markedly, but it is yet to achieve a consistent improvement in results and lift the team up the table towards its long term goal of established top half status.

But, whereas in previous seasons we’ve just been grateful to not be in the bottom three, this season that feeling is mixed with an increased frustration not to be higher up the league table.

Most prominently this season leaves me with a feeling of what if and not just because of all the missed goalscoring opportunities that we’ve all ranted and raved about throughout the season, but also because of Albion’s inability to hold onto a lead.

In fact Albion have led in 19 of their 37 games so far this season, but won just 9 times (as many as they won in each of their last three Premier League seasons) and dropped 25 points from winning positions, the most in the Premier League this season. And those matches don’t include a further 9 draws, many of which could have been turned into victories with better finishing. And you can add to that a fair few additional hard luck stories like the last minute winner conceded at home to Palace or the two penalties missed in the 1-0 away defeat to West Brom. I could go on…

And yet amongst the difficulties, Albion are clearly making progress. They currently hold the longest run of any team in the top two divisions without losing a game by more than one goal (28 matches). Manchester City (17) and West Ham (17) are the next nearest Premier League sides to that current streak. Chris Hughton always used to say that at 2-0 down you are still in the game, but at 1-0 you are just a moment of magic away from improving your outcomes and with it your league position.

Yes there are big issues to resolve, but there are far more positives than negatives to take from this season. In particular having a manager in charge of the club of such increasing renown as Graham Potter.

He said recently of Albion’s difficulties in front of goal. “As a coach, my number one business is to try to help the players that we’ve got to improve and that’s always where I’ll look to start. Then, as with everything, we want to try and get better, so we have to think about what we need to do to get better, but firstly it’s about improving the players we have here.”

It’s encouraging to have a manager who puts such faith in his players. This is in contrast to many other Premier League managers who are quick to talk down and criticise their players in search for an excuse to hide behind when things go wrong. This includes Scott Parker of Fulham, who has regularly publicly criticised his players this season. So it should come as no surprise that by the end of it many of them looked like they had completely lost all confidence. In contrast Graham Potter has shown great leadership this season and this has no doubt played a huge part in Albion’s survival.

Pablo Picasso once said “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” Football is often an industry focused purely on results rather than the bigger picture. But listening to Graham Potter this season gives me belief that at Albion there is a bigger goal than that, creating a football team that we all can be proud of.

In a year where mental health discussions and awareness have become more prominent. I’ve had my own struggles due to personal problems and for me football has often offered a salvation from the difficulties of everyday life. Something positive to focus on and to help punctuate the gloom.

Life throws up obstacles and challenges, it rarely goes as planned and most of us go out of our way to ensure no one knows we are struggling. Empathy and thoughtfulness for others are priceless qualities that can go a long way. Graham Potter has shown in the way he has carefully and consistently defended his player that he has this in bucketloads.

In football, as in life, when someone wins someone else has to lose. So creating an identity purely around winning is always likely to lead to an identity crisis, as the recent history of clubs like Arsenal show us. An identity crisis heightened by the recent bid to join a breakaway European Super League.

In a society that feels ever more fractured and divided, the global pandemic came at a difficult time and heightened those feelings. And as our communities were closed down we became more isolated and as a society we became increasingly divided. So moments like the return of supporters to the AMEX this week for the game against Man City are so important in rebuilding those communities in a (hopefully) post-pandemic society.

In the days leading up the game I thought it would feel poignant to be at the AMEX again after over a year away, but it was in fact more like pulling on a comfy pair of slippers you’d had stuck at the back of the cupboard over the summer. Throughout the evening I felt a heightened sense of excitement and joy. Even when Albion went 2-0 down and looked to be heading towards certain defeat I couldn’t help but continue to smile.

Being part of a community of fans that brings such joy for something that is in reality quite trivial, is a reminder that together we are all stronger.

Many will depict this season as one of missed opportunities. Both on the pitch for Albion and off the pitch for us supporters who have gone so long without our matchdays. But it has also been an opportunity to assess, and if the match against Man City is anything to go by, I think we will be making the most of things from now on.