Steve Bailey: No '˜what ifs' with the character in this Albion squad

Character. It was the one word emphasised time and time again by Albion's players and manager Chris Hughton after Monday's win at Fulham.

Friday, 6th January 2017, 10:00 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 4:39 am
Lewis Dunk celebrates his winner at Fulham. Picture by Angela Brinkhurst

It’s a special group of players currently at the Albion and the team spirit and bond between the group has probably rarely been seen at the club before.

After the huge disappointment of last season, some Brighton fans questioned whether the squad would be able to mount another promotion challenge.

Some doubted whether the Seagulls would even be in the mix for a play-off place, with the likes of Newcastle, Norwich and Aston Villa coming down from the Premier League, along with the quality of teams still in the Championship like Sheffield Wednesday, Derby, Fulham, Leeds, Birmingham and others.

A relatively-slow start to the season, with eight points from the opening six games, maybe added to the thinking that last season was Albion’s ‘big’ chance to reach the Premier League.

However, since the 2-0 home defeat to Brentford in early September, Brighton are unbeaten in 18 games, with 14 wins and four draws. They have moved to the top of the table, above ‘champions-elect’ Newcastle and are eight points ahead of third-placed Reading.

There is an inner belief in this squad that, even when they don’t play well, they can grind out results and they’ve done that in the past two away matches.

They failed to get going in the opening 45 minutes at both Birmingham and Fulham, conceded early in the second half of both games, but then showed the aforementioned character and fought back to win both matches.

There’s often ‘what if’ moments during a season where you look back on points you should have got. Last season, for example, what if Brighton had drawn at home to Ipswich or Wolves, instead of losing both 1-0; what if Dale Stephens hadn’t been sent off in the promotion-decider at Middlesbrough; what if Brighton hadn’t had four injuries in the play-off game at Sheffield Wednesday?

This season, there’s not been many. In the 2-0 defeat at Newcastle, I guess you’d wonder what would have happened had Anthony Knockaert’s shot gone in rather than hit the bar at 1-0. And if Sam Baldock hadn’t harshly been sent off, maybe Albion would have got something.

This season, Albion have arguably taken points they shouldn’t have. At home to Wolves, they withstood a late barrage of pressure to hold on to a 1-0 win, the games at Birmingham and Fulham could easily have been lost and, straight away, that’s the eight-point gap they have over Reading.

While promotion is the obvious target, there’s no doubt this Albion squad also has the character and belief to go up into the Premier League as champions.

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