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Monday, November 30, 2009

Brighton Preview

A week away when you've got problems always seems to work wonders and on returning from my 10 days spent on the east coast its back to civilisation and it seems the sea air, at least for me, has worked wonders and the idea that there was a death in the family seems to have been a little premature.
Ten goals and 7 points in three games after three straight defeats couldn't have come at a better time in the season. So, a look at the table. 36 points from 18 games. So five more - Brighton (a) (20th), Southend (h)(11th), Stockport (a) (23rd), Millwall (h) (10th), Swindon (h) (7th) - before we reach halfway on Boxing Day and if we win all 5 we'll equal Leicester's halfway total of 51 points last season.
But what of the chasing pack? Two teams stand out in 3rd and 4th places as the ones to beat. Norwich, in 4th, are now just 4 points behind and have only a single defeat ( at Leeds) in their last 14 games, scoring 34 times ( seven in the FA Cup against non-league opposition), while our nemesis Colchester, 3 points back in 3rd, have only 1 defeat ( at Millwall) in their last 15 games. We've played them both away so crunch time comes in a critical 5 day period next April when we face them both at the Valley, Colchester on Tuesday 13th and Norwich the following Saturday.
And both have had good winning runs this season. Both have won 3 in a row twice this season whilst the Addicks, after our 6 match winning start ended on 5th September, haven't managed even two wins on the trot. Its time to put that right, Parky and this week seems the right time to do it.

Its our first visit to the Withdean stadium tomorrow night where Brighton have been based since the summer of 1999. Previously a zoo and an athletics stadium it has been voted the fourth worst stadium in the UK back in 2004 by the Observer, (it was kept out of the top three by Priestfield, Kenilworth Road and Millmoor, Rotherham) and houses, if that's the correct word, 8850 fans.
The season started badly for Brighton with only 2 points from the first 5 games and they were bottom of the table for two weeks in August before recovering with wins over Wycombe and away to Carlisle. But after a run of only one win in 8 games which saw them slide into the relegation places again, manager Russell Slade, only in the job since March, was summarily sacked. So we have yet another game against a man in his first manager job, Uruguayan Gus Poyet, more recently assistant manager at Swindon, Leeds and Spurs.
The arrival of a new manager usually has some effect and Brighton are no different. Away to Pardews lot in a south coast derby was his first game and they dispatched the in-form Saints 3-1 after the home team had won 13 points out of the last 15. Unfortunately for Poyet his first home game the following week was against rampant Leeds and the fun couldn't last, the game ending in a 0-3 home defeat followed last Tuesday with another hammering 1-4 at Norwich. But beware Parky, they are still in the Cup with a late winner over Rushden & Diamonds on Saturday.
Brighton finished 16th last season, three points away from the R zone but nobody conceded more at home than their 40 goals. And this season looks like continuing in the same vein with only Stockport County, with 20, conceding more than their 17 goals let in. Their home record is 2 wins, 1 draw and 6 defeats.
OK, wins first. They've beaten Wycombe and the Gills at the Withdean, drawn with Hartlepool and lost to Walsall, Stockport, Southend, MK, Oldham and finally Leeds. So the Seagulls are currently in 20th with the second worse defence in League One with 35 goals conceded.

The Opposition

There's five grounds in League One with less than a 10000 capacity and we've already done Hartlepool, Orient and Yeovil, which just leaves just Brighton and Exeter.

The Dangerman
Back in October, club captain and number nine Nicky Forster was awarded the Football League One Player of the Month Award, for his impressive start to the season, netting 7 goals in the first 8 games. He's slowed up since then, he is 36 but only a couple of months older than Christian Dailly, with only another four in his next 11 games. There's also number 10, Liam Dickinson, on 6 goals who we have meet before. He it was who upset Parky in his third Addicks game in charge last December when he scored twice for Blackpool in a 2-0 win at Bloomfield Rd and he got himself ready for the Addicks with another two in the Cup at the weekend.

Whats Their Secret?
Whilst the Addicks have improved to have now to have the second best record against the top half of the table (with an average of 2 points a game from 4 wins, 2 draws and a single defeat), Brighton have the third worst with no wins and only 3 draws to show in their 8 games against the cream.
And they tend to relax towards the end of each half with their worst 5 minute spell being the last 5 minutes of each half, conceding 6 in both.
And while everyone likes to get the first goal, its a moral-raising fightback that we all love. Three teams in League One have gone on to win three times after going behind - Bristol, Walsall and Huddersfield while the Addicks lead the rest with 2 winning fightbacks - Brighton on the other hand haven't done it at all.

Over the years Colchester and Exeter are the only grounds in this league where we've got less than half a point a game - and not improved this season - and are even worse than our records at Millwall and Leeds. But you may be surprised to learn that our record at Brighton, after 23 years together, is not so bright either. We've managed less than a point a game there with only 5 wins and 6 draws in the 23 games. We first went there in 1921 and played them throughout the 20's and Brighton were obviously a force to be reckoned with back then because it took us 8 years before we managed a win, 3-2, in 1928. And it then took us another 32 years before we managed a second win in 1960.

In recent history, in the last 36 years say, we've been there 11 times, including two cup visits, and won 4 of them, lost 6 and drawn once and the last game was a 2-1 win for us back in February 1992.

Doing A Leicester?
After 18 games they had 38 points (from 11 wins and 2 defeats) and something to aim for is their total at the halfway mark on 23 games of 51 points (15 wins and still only 2 defeats). And a timely warning that second after 23 games last season were MK Dons on 49 points and they still missed out on promotion.

What Are They Saying?
Akpo Sodje, on staying with the Addicks after December, "If it happens I'll be very, very happy, but if it doesn't happen then I'll just keep on playing for Sheffield Wednesday. My contract is up at the end of the season, so I need to play more games wherever I'm going to be. We're just all happy - the whole team, the manager and everyone - that we've got a point and we had a few more chances as well. It just tells you that we're not just a passing side, we can grind out results as well, and we're very unlucky that we didn't win. Hopefully it continues in the next game and we get a result."
As for the opposition, Gus had this to say on taking over the reins at Brighton, "This is another challenge for me to take the club where everybody in Brighton wants to be and that's in the Championship. Being realistic I think 18 months is possible. If that is the goal of the club it's no problem."

Tell Me Some Good Stuff, Nels
OK, good stuff time. There's eight teams now that have scored first in their League One encounters more than ten times this season and only three of them remain unbeaten on scoring first - Leeds, of course, Swindon (?) and the Addicks (ten times scored first).
And on the other hand when the other lot score first, a fighting spirit is vital for a team looking to gain promotion and the Addicks stand in 2nd behind Leeds in the average points gained in the games where the opposition have scored first. Six times our opponents have scored first and of those six we have won 2, drawn 2 and lost two while Norwich, who have also gone behind six times, have lost three and drawn three with no wins coming after conceding first.
The Team
Parky celebrated his year in charge on the 22nd November and has now got 16 wins in 53 games. Its's his 42th birthday tomorrow and what a birthday treat he'll have with win number 17th.
So what of the team then? With 10 goals in the last three games after three successive defeats with one goal scored a remarkable turnaround appears to have occurred. Key to the success appears to be the change to 4-4-2 and twenty-five year old Dave Mooney is a key component. Bought by Steve Coppell from Cork City in August 2008 he has never settled at the Madejski and has only played in the League Cup for Reading. Two games in 2008-09 ( and no goals) were followed by loan spells at Stockport and Norwich and it was the same this season when he had another two League Cup games, both during August ( scoring twice in his 180 minutes) and was loaned out again. So naturally, with seven Charlton games under his belt, he's clearly keen to stay at the Valley.

Meanwhile, 28 year old Akpo Sodje, youngest of the 10 Sodje offspring, is another one keen to stay. He made his debut at Sheffield Wednesday in September 2007 and has played 30 games for them scoring nine times. This season he's played 9 times for the owls but all without scoring and has dropped down the strikers pecking order, behind Tudgay and Johnson and even falling behind Derby loanee Luke Varney who's scored three times.
Who's in goal tomorrow is the first riddle with Wolves goalie Ikeme now at the Blades. I can't see Randolph getting picked as he's only played one of the six games that Elliot has been out so the return of Ikeme suggests that Elliot is fit again. There's no news either about the injuries to Richardson ( who's only played an hour in the last six games) or Youga, who went off after 23 minutes against Bristol with a twisted knee but with the accumulation of yellows threatening four players ( Youga and Daily in defence) perhaps it would be best to hope that Frazer is ready and can be paired with Basey at full-back because loanee Omozusi doesn't seem to inspire anyone. Dailly needs just one yellow to miss a game which seems odd as he played the first 14 games without getting a single one and has stacked up 4 in the last 7. But he mustn't allow a possible suspension to worry him with two tricky forwards like Forster and Dickinson around.
Sam, Semedo (also on 4 cards) and Bailey are certain to start but the left wing remains a bit of a problem area. It'll be Shelvey or Racon but neither have looked good there in the last three games since Bailey has moved inside.
Up front Mooney and Burton with Akpo in reserve looks right.
Elliot; Richardson, Dailly, Sodje, Basey; Sam, Semedo, Bailey, Shelvey; Mooney, Burton.

Direct opponents Norwich scored four against Brighton in their last League game and tomorrow it's Parky's birthday. A bigger challenge couldn't be found so after 10 goals in our last 3 and fresh after a weekend off while our opponents had a cup game should be enough. Brighton's record against the top half is also pretty bad with the third worst record in League One so its the Addicks to win 2-0.


Dave said...

Interesting analysis, as always Nelson. The target of 51 points to match Leicester's half-season tally last year, also matches what we achieved in the 80-81 season at that stage on the basis of three points for a win.

nelson said...

How right you are Dave and Bailey's men also created a new record ( at the time) of 7 straight wins on their way to an automatic third place.