15:00 KO (BST); Saturday 9th September; American Express Community Stadium (Brighton, England)
After a promising opening day performance against Manchester City, Brighton looked well-equipped for this season’s campaign. A lack of goals during August has provided a different perspective to their initial hopes, the reality of which shedding a bleak light on any pre-season optimism.
Unlucky not to win last year’s Championship title and unlucky to suffer such a crazy transfer window which surely tempered Chris Hughton’s plans, the Brighton manager will know he can’t rely on luck and yet he needs to ensure his caution does not lead to a fate similar which befell the previous Championship runners-up, Middlesbrough.
As an experienced manager fighting against the odds in the Premier League, Tony Pulis has again shown his ability, with two wins and a draw seeing West Brom race out of the blocks this season.
With commitment, a collective effort and consistency being the key to his success, Pulis has a proven winning formula in place. With a solitary goal in each game, they’ve been consistent this season, and it’s a cautious approach which has often paid dividends for the Welsh manager.
Last Time Out
Watford 0 – 0 BRIGHTON
While Brighton started the game promisingly, a deserved red card for Miguel Britos saw Watford change their gameplan to adjust to the fact they were a man short.
With a defensive outlook for the majority of the game, Brighton continued to attack but rarely threatened to break the Hornets stiff resistance.
In the opportunities they forged, Brighton twice hit the post, first through Anthony Knockaert in the 16th minute then with a 52nd-minute effort from Tomer Hemed.
While Hemed failed to make much more of an impact on the game for the Seagulls, Knockaert was a constant source of menace despite producing any clinical end product to his game.
His four attempted crosses all failed to find their target and two of his three take-ons were unsuccessful, however, he will have more productive days if he continues to apply as much energy as he did in this performance.
WEST BROM 1 – 1 Stoke City
A goal on the hour mark looked to have given West Brom control of this match, however, it was an uncharacteristic defensive error which saw victory snatched away from the Baggies.
While Ahmed Hegazi has been so dependable since his summer arrival, it was the Egyptian defender’s mistake which directly led to Stoke’s equaliser.
While Darren Fletcher caught the eye for Stoke on his first return to the Hawthorns, his replacement, the ever-green Gareth Barry, who stood out for the home team. Winning 80% of his duels in the centre of the pitch, Barry proved effective at disrupting Stoke’s attacks.
While Pulis has always shown faith in the experience which older players can bring to his side, Barry looks to have proved his new manager right again with a string of impressive games so far this season.
Izzy Brown (hamstring), Beram Kayal (leg) and Sam Baldock (calf) have all been ruled out, with Tomer Hemed (thigh) and Glenn Murray (ankle) both racing against time to be fit to start for the Seagulls, leaving Chris Hughton with a serious dilemma regarding his attacking options for this match.
West Brom Lineup
Gareth McAuley (fitness) remains unlikely to play following his long recovery from injury while Hal Robson-Kanu serves the second of his three-game suspension following a red card against Burnley which should leave the way open for Salomón Rondón to continue up front for the Baggies.
Kieran Gibbs and Grzegorz Krychowiak will both be hoping to make an instant impact at their new club after joining late in the transfer window, however, only Krychowiak is expected to go straight into the starting lineup.
Key Battle: Anthony Knockaert vs Jay Rodriguez
With a cluttered midfield likely to dominate the proceedings in this fixture, it will be talented wingers who their team’s look towards in fashioning a breakthrough. For Brighton, this role will be filled by last season’s Championship player of the year.
Knockaert has featured in all three games so far for Brighton, however, the previous game was his first Premier League start after injury waylaid his fitness programme leading into the season. His presence was immediately felt and it will be hoped that the talismanic forward can inspire his side up the league in a similar way to his heroics last year.
While Jay Rodriguez may be the main striker if Pulis opts to rest Salomón Rondón after his trip home to South America for the World Cup Qualifiers, he is expected to start along the left wing for the Baggies.
Wherever he plays, Rodriguez will pose a danger to the Seagulls. The former Southampton striker has brought with him a new dimension of play for West Brom and can again provide the cutting edge which can make a positive difference in the result for his new team.
A battle for the number one spot
After several deals for strikers fell flat at the end of the transfer window, Brighton have been left with limited attacking options until at least January.
To compensate for this, they will need to concentrate their gameplan around the strengths which they possess and with a possibility they’ll be without a recognised striker on the pitch this weekend, that means keeping a clean sheet.
After conceding four goals from their opening two games despite looking relatively solid, Hughton has opted to bring in another goalkeeper in the form of Tim Krul, the Newcastle stopper who played under Hughton at Newcastle in the 2010/11 season.
With Mathew Ryan only joining Brighton in June, it will be healthy competition for the Australian who now knows he has a real fight on his hands to maintain his place as the first choice between the posts.
For Krul, it might be a final chance to overcome his recent injury nightmare and prove he can still play at a top level after failing to impress on loan at Ajax.
A summer of success
Despite losing their captain early in the summer, Tony Pulis has enjoyed what looks, on the surface, to be one of the most successful transfer windows of all Premier League sides this summer.
The late signings of Kieran Gibbs and most notably Grzegorz Krychowiak from Paris Saint-Germain, add to the four new faces who started the Baggies previous match against Stoke.
The signing of Krychowiak exemplifies Pulis’ strategy in the market, having tracked the midfield enforcer for around two years before finally getting his signature committed to paper.
That Krychowiak has also recently been omitted from the Poland squad will see a determined player join the West Brom dressing room as he looks to not only make himself a permanent fixture in Pulis’ team but also re-establish himself in his national side with either England’s Jake Livermore or Scotland’s James Morrison being the players in direct competition for the starting berth.
PREDICTION: Brighton 0 – 2 West Bromwich Albion
Brighton’s lack of fire-power and West Brom’s discipline, physical presence and undiluted confidence going into this game are likely to mean there’s only one expected outcome.
While West Brom are the masters of the 1-0 win, I think they may shock the Premier League by winning this game more comfortably.
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