Reflections, speculation and next season

Still hurting from the injustice of the narrowest of margins preventing Brighton from gaining automatic promotion, I have nonetheless decided to put a very practical head on.

There were so many ‘what ifs’ to look back on over the season and while tempting to dwell on the final agonising three games (Boro away and the Wednesday play off games), there can be little doubt that Brighton could – and should – have been in an unassailable lead at the top of the division before it came to all of that.

For sure there were some narrow scrapes when Brighton managed to salvage draws when defeat seemed inevitable (home to Derby especially springs to mind) but the reality is that over the course of the season there were too many draws.

And, as we now know, if just one of those draws had been converted into a win, we would be looking forward to competing amongst the elite.

Go back as far as the end of September and hapless Bolton forced an equaliser in the fourth minute of added on time at the end of the game at the Macron Stadium.

Charlie Austin for QPR and Chris Martin for Derby both scored 88th minute equalisers to deny Albion all three points in those away games.

Six points snatched from the jaws of victory – what a different ending there could have been to the season.

Of course either one of the five defeats, especially the unjust home slip-ups to Ipswich and Wolves, would have made a palpable difference too. But it’s almost unheard of to be invincible through 46 games so there’s no point dwelling on those.

My fervent hope now is that the hurt of coming so agonisingly close and yet missing out will give Albion the steely edge to make absolutely certain next season.

It has already been said that it’s not going to be easy, with Newcastle, Villa and Norwich having plump coffers to reward good players. Brighton must defy the odds once again through shrewd dealings in the transfer market.

Chris Hughton has declared there won’t be as large a turnaround in playing personnel as in the summer of 2015, but it looks to me like at least 12 players could be on their way.

The release of Greer, Calderon, Zamora, Crofts and Chicksen has already been announced, together with Wilson and Sidwell returning to their parent clubs. Ince, Forster-Caskey, Holla, Manu and O’Grady would appear to be surplus to requirements so season-long loans away from the club for them would create more space for better replacements.

Even if they aren’t all replaced, or moves don’t happen, there is going to be a significant freeing up of funds that presumably will be reinvested in the squad.

While Sidwell in for Crofts looks a distinct possibility, it has to be hoped that two of those departing strikers will be replaced with better and more reliable options.

The surprise last summer was that it took so long to get Zamora’s signature on the dotted line: wouldn’t it be great this time round if we could land a similar marquee signing earlier to give a proper signal of intent?

I make no apologies for advocating the return of Glenn Murray. I am convinced Brighton would already be looking forward to the Premiership if his services had been secured earlier this year. However, if it is not to be, how about Rickie Lambert or Peter Crouch?

The Zamora gamble in 2015-16 was well worth taking and it came off to a degree with some important contributions. The shame was that injury deprived us of that missing spark of genius at a time we needed it most.

I truly hope James Wilson goes on to do great things, be it for Man Utd or someone else, just like Jesse Lingard did in netting a Cup Final winner, but I would rather Brighton brought through one of their own talented youngsters than nurtured the fledging skills of another club’s prospects.

Maybe the time is right for one or two of our under 21 players to make that big step up and seize the opportunity. Will we hear more of Vahid Hambo, Jack Harper, Jonah Ayunga, James Tilley, Jordan Maguire-Drew, Henrik Bjordal or Jason Molumby in 2016-17?

The final Championship table has shown exactly how good the Albion squad has been in the 2015-16 season so, although there is no need for wholesale changes to the core team – other than up front – the departures mentioned above would indicate the squad can be bolstered significantly.

The hope, of course, is that the club can resist any predators who may come calling for some of the stand-out players. Keeping Stephens and Kayal together as the heartbeat of the side could be the toughest task.

However, if that can be done and quality additions are made to the strikeforce, I see no reason why Brighton can’t go one step better next season. Bring it on!

 

 

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