In this week’s Opposition Focus, Matt Wiggins spoke to Scott from We Are Brighton to get a Seagulls perspective ahead of Wednesday night’s massive game at the Cottage…
Fulham vs Brighton, what comes to mind when you think of this fixture from years gone by?
Some incredible days out at Craven Cottage. It is one of the best away days in the country for me; we end up taking about 5,000 every time across the whole away and “neutral” section and in recent years, we have always got a result there. The one that sticks out is the 2-1 win in our Championship promotion season. We were terrible for 88 minutes that day and yet somehow managed to score twice in 90 seconds to win it. That was when a lot of people began to think this might be our year as we lived up that old adage about good sides winning even when they play badly. The less said about our last trip to the Cottage the better, however. Blowing a 2-0 lead against a relegation rival was inexcusable and I do not think the players ever really recovered from it mentally. It was the start of our terrible run of two wins in 18 which ultimately cost Chris Hughton his job.
Brighton have been in the Premier League for over three years now. Are you about where you expected to be?
I think so. We are a small club by Premier League standards and although chairman Tony Bloom is a very rich man, his investments tend to go on the infrastructure side of things rather than blowing hundreds of millions on players. There is a long term plan to establish the Albion as a top 10 club, but the emphasis is very much on the word long. As long as we see an improvement each season in terms of points won and our position in the table, then I think most Brighton fans would be relatively happy. Our 15th placed finish last season equalled the one Hughton achieved in 2017-18 and 41 points was a top flight record for the club. The challenge now is to build on that.
From the outside, it seemed as though Chris Hughton had built a strong and consistent Brighton team, but do you feel as though a change was necessary and was it the right one in Graham Potter?
Sadly, Hughton had to go at the end of the 2018-19 season. As I have already said, our form fell off a cliff in the second half of the campaign and had there been one or two more games left to play, Cardiff would have overhauled us and we would have gone down. He switched from his tried and tested 4-4-1-1 formation at the turn of the year to 4-3-3 to try and play more positive football, but it was obvious from early February onwards that it wasn’t working. Still, Hughton doggedly stuck with it until mid April when we lost 5-0 at home to Bournemouth and 2-0 at home to Cardiff in the space of three days, going back to 4-4-1-1 afterwards. The damage was done though, and I think if Hughton had stayed for 2019-20, we would have gone down. His departure is a bit of a rarity in English football in that he left a club after a terrible run of results with 80% of the fan base thinking it was time to sack him, but he remains the best manager many of us have ever seen.
As for Potter, the jury is still out. We play great football and on our day, can go toe-to-toe with some of the best sides in the league. The trouble is that those days happen one in five. If we could find some consistency then the sky would be the limit. We never learn from the same mistakes made every week and Potter is constantly changing his starting line up, playing people out of position, and making unnecessary adjustments in the middle of games. It is clear that he is very good at some aspects of the job but in others, he still has a lot to learn.
With Brighton just above Fulham, a win would see you gain a bit of breathing space from the bottom four, but a loss could see you dragged into it. Is this an early season six pointer?
For Brighton it is very much a six pointer. After playing you on Wednesday, we then face Sheffield United at the Amex on Saturday. Two wins out of two and suddenly we are a long way clear of the relegation zone. Lose both and the gap is cut and morale would take a very big hit. The worrying thing is that our two worst performances of the season have come against Burnley and West Bromwich Albion, the only other sides below us in the table. We tend to play better against the stronger teams.
Who’s one player that will pose as your biggest threat that Fulham need to keep an eye on?
Tariq Lamptey is an outstandingly talented footballer. He defends as well as he attacks and it is hard to believe that he is just 20 years old and has only been a first team regular for half a season. I would be shocked if he is a Brighton player next season. If any of the big six or leading clubs around Europe have any sense, they will be breaking the bank to sign him.
Are there any Fulham players you’re particularly worried about going into the game on Wednesday?
Last time Fulham were in the Premier League, Aleksandar Mitrović used to frighten the life out of Brighton. Even when we had two commanding centre backs in Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk we went to pieces against him. Potter now deploys a back three of Dunk, Adam Webster and either Ben White or Joel Veltman and none of those has ever looked comfortable coming up against a target man type striker. Six of the 18 goals we have conceded this season have come from corners and free kicks, which also gives you some indication at how poor we have been marking players and dealing with aerial balls into the box.
There are a number of players to have played for both. Who would you say is the best player to have played for both the Cottagers and the Seagulls?
Easy one – Anthony Knockaert. He was unplayable when he was with us in the Championship, the sort of electric talent who you would buy a ticket to watch and who could win games on his own. He found the step up to the Premier League harder than anyone could have envisioned, not helped by the pretty traumatic time he had of it off the pitch. Nothing can take away the amazing part he played in getting us promoted though. I’d give an honourable mention to Micky Adams bringing half of his promotion-winning Fulham squad to Brighton too. Paul Watson, Danny Cullip, Charlie Oatway, Darren Freeman, Paul Brooker, Richard Carpenter and the rest were the first half-decent Brighton side I saw as an Albion supporter when they won the old Third Division in 2000-01.
What are your Top 4 and Bottom 3 predictions?
The top four seems absolutely all over the place and lord knows what will happen by the end of the season when all this football catches up on the clubs with European commitments. Spurs could sneak the title if Jose Mourinho sacks off the Europa League with Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea completing the top four. As for relegation, Sheffield United look gone already (until they inevitably win at the Amex on Saturday) and then I think it will be West Brom and sadly Fulham who join then. The gap between Premier League and Championship gets bigger every year – and it is particularly difficult for newly promoted sides this season because of the shortened ‘summer’ meaning less rest and less preparation time.
Finally, how do you see the game panning out and what do you think the score will be?
There is a real concern that we don’t seem to perform at all when coming up against sides struggling in the table. I think it will finish 1-1, and whether that is a good result for Brighton will be determined by what happens against the Blades three days later.