15:00 GMT, Saturday 3rd February, Amex Stadium (Brighton, England)
Trapped in a state of slow decline, Brighton’s lack of goals has them currently tied with Swansea as the league’s lowest (18) scorers.
With seven points and four goals taken from their previous 10 matches, Chris Hughton’s problems are growing the closer they fall to the relegation zone.
To break this chain they will once again turn to their home form where they are unbeaten against every team outside of the top four.
West Ham have seemingly turned the corner from their troubles with David Moyes’ team beginning to build some momentum.
Only a single defeat blemishes their league record from the last 10 games, helping them climb into 12th from a place deep inside the relegation zone. However, a defeat this weekend would see Brighton draw level on points and undo much of the promise they’ve started to show.
Last Time Out
Southampton 1-1 Brighton (Premier League)
The Seagulls were made to pay for a lack of adventure as they were unable to hold onto a lead created by their first away goal in six games.
The goal itself came from a 14th-minute penalty when Wesley Hoedt was correctly penalised for bringing down a surging Solly March.
After taking the lead, Brighton defended well but showed little ambition to bring the ball forward quickly which effectively invited more pressure on their defence.
Much of Brighton’s failure to capitalise on their opponents poor first half stemmed from a lack of control in midfield. Dale Stephens was below his usual standards in retaining possession while Glenn Murray was left isolated in the Southampton half for much of the match.
Relying on a clean sheet was always going to be a risky ploy for the Seagulls and it proved unrewarding when Jack Stephens tucked an inviting free-kick into the goal from close range.
West Ham United 1-1 Crystal Palace (Premier League)
West Ham clipped the Eagles wings as they fought their way back from a goal down to take a point with a heavily-weakened side.
Moyes’ patchwork team included Cheikhou Kouyaté in an attacking position and Declan Rice playing on the left side of defence while Pablo Zabaleta was used in the middle of the pitch as a central defensive midfielder. While the players coped admirably, they were more functional than exceptional which gave Palace the early initiative.
It was looking ominous for the hosts when Christian Benteke nodded Palace ahead mid-way through the first half. However, a penalty just before the break restored hope and parity when ex-Hammer James Tomkins felled a sprightly Javier Hernández.
West Ham gained more control after the interval but neither team could work any clear-cut chances and the match withered towards the final whistle.
Izzy Brown (knee) and Steve Sidwell (back) are both still unfit to start this weekend while new signing Jürgen Locadia (hamstring) also waits on the sidelines to make his Premier League debut.
With few changes expected from his previous starting eleven, the fresh legs of Leonardo Ulloa may be one temptation Hughton opts for after the on-loan striker impressed after coming off the bench on Tuesday evening.
West Ham Lineup
David Moyes has no new injury concerns and should have Jose Fonte and Michail Antonio available for selection.
However, he still has an extensive injury list which means Winston Reid (groin), Marko Arnautovic (hamstring), Manuel Lanzini (hamstring), Pedro Obiang (knee), Edimilson Fernandes (ankle) and Andy Carroll (ankle) are all still missing as is Arthur Masuaku who is still suspended for spitting.
Jordan Hugill will be in the squad after joining the club from Preston North End on Wednesday but Moyes may ease him into the first-team and stick with Hernández in attack following a good game against Palace.
Key Battle: Pascal Groß (Brighton) vs João Mário (West Ham)
It’s hard to recall the form that Groß was enjoying during the first four months of the season, such has been the dramatic drop in productivity from the German.
Having been involved in eight goals from his first 12 games (four goals, four assists) he’s added a single goal more during the following 12 league fixtures.
The club’s own decline can also be mapped to this timeline and Brighton will need him to find a way to supply the ammunition needed to fire their way back into mid-table.
Following an impressive debut against Palace, Mário will need to follow up that display with another if his new team are to take anything from a relegation rival.
He offered more support to lone-striker Hernández than anyone else on the pitch which helped to bring the Mexican into the game more than any other match he’s played this season. In addition, Mário’s defensive qualities came to the fore during the second half when he swapped wings and dropped back to help out Sam Byram.
Having not played too regularly for Inter before moving to London, the real test could be in maintaining his high energy levels after only three full days of recovery-time
Killed by caution
While Brighton have several attack-minded players within their squad, the overly cautious approach often taken by Hughton is beginning to strangle their Premier League hopes.
After taking the lead against Southampton, they chose to protect their lead for 76 minutes rather than exploit the space caused by the Saints needing to push forward in search of an equaliser.
With the scores level, it was Brighton who looked the most likely to score during the final 10 minutes despite Southampton having the advantage of momentum.
What further stifles his team is a reluctance to pro-actively change his gameplan, with the majority of substitutions being made like-for-like.
Under the stewardship of Aitor Karanka, Middlesbrough employed a similar approach to this last season. Hughton should use this as a warning of what potentially lies down this path whilst the club’s fate is still.
Having invested in two new centre-forwards during the recent transfer window, perhaps he’s already learned what history has to offer.
My way or the highway
Having promised to bring organisation and discipline back to West Ham’s performances, David Moyes has been proving himself quite the disciplinarian in recent weeks.
Having ensured the club took a hard-line response to Masuaku’s spitting incident during last weekend’s FA Cup defeat, he followed that this week by excluding one of his star players from the match-day squad.
When fit, Michail Antonio has consistently been one of the Hammers best players over the last two seasons, yet his late arrival to a team meeting was not met kindly by Moyes.
Despite Antonio’s form this season being heavily hampered by injury problems, the shortage of fit and available players in the squad made this action all the more poignant.
If West Ham are to pull themselves out of danger anytime soon, they will need to work together as a team. By taking this no-nonsense approach with his players, Moyes is ensuring they’re all pulling in the right direction rather than losing his nose to spite his face.
Prediction: Brighton & Hove Albion 1-1 West Ham United
Both teams will look at this fixture as a game they expect to take all three points and if Brighton show some of the adventure which grew into their game during November, they could do well this weekend.
Meanwhile, the Hammers will be looking for revenge after losing heavily in the reverse fixture back in October, however, a low-scoring draw is the most probable result from this match.