Is it time for Chris Hughton to leave Brighton?

Andy Dillon by Andy Dillon / 03 May 2019, 14:49

After more than four years and a historic promotion, there is a growing feeling that Chris Hughton’s time has passed at Brighton.

Climate Change is not the exclusive preserve of local Green MP Caroline Lucas in our most liberal of towns.

The overwhelming likelihood is that Hughton will keep Albion in the Premier League this season at the expense of Cardiff City.

Yet once the dust has settled and the mild celebrations have faded there will come a period of pragmatic reflection when Hughton’s achievements and those of his team will be assessed in a cold, hard light.

Survival won’t be enough to keep the fans happy anymore. Robust defending, solid organisation no longer able to satisfy supporters who go home and watch freestyling Manchester City on their TVs.

Hughton’s problem is that his team reflects his character. Brighton are likeable, inoffensive, diligent and intelligent.

Necessary ingredients of course for a successful football team at any level but what punters want is stardust. And that’s not Hughton’s way.

When he was sacked by Newcastle United having won them promotion, the regime at St.James’ Park were happy to point out that Hughton’s shopping list of transfer targets was way too modest - and that’s coming from Mike Ashley!

His dealings in the transfer market with Brighton have been mixed: Pascal Gross a superb acquisition, £17million record signing Alireza Jahanbakhsh yet to score.

A friend who lives and breathes The Seagulls tells me that if Brighton stay up it won’t be down to them, it’ll be down to three worse teams.

There is fondness for Hughton at the Amex Stadium. He is recognised for bringing the club up from the depths of the Championship into the Premier League for the first time.

But there is also a reluctant admission that maybe it’s time for someone to carry the team on from a plain-talking, honest, working class Londoner.

It’s an increasingly tough fit when teams like Manchester City, Liverpool and Hughton’s old club Spurs are playing Xbox soccer every week. Even Wolves have embraced modern showbiz football more comfortably than dear old Brighton.

Results and performances have tailed off towards the end of a wearying campaign, as if to signify that the energy once running through the club is on the wane.

Not even a day out at Wembley and the formality of losing to Man City in the FA Cup semi final has covered up the cracks.

 

When you look through who is available to take over there is a list of candidates, some of which unfairly fill fans’ heads with dread.

David Moyes would be considered a like-for-like with Hughton. But this is a guy who brings dockyard energy to clubs. He got more out of Marko Arnautovic in his short time at West Ham than any other manager before or since.

West Ham were dying on their feet when he took over and rounded off his time as manager with a thumping 3-0 win over Everton.

Alan Pardew offers a bit more glitz. From dad dancing at Wembley in the FA Cup final to leading West Ham out in 2006 for a 3-3 draw with Liverpool. The game has been hailed as that which saved the FA Cup final for its drama and entertainment.

The big snag of course is his background at Crystal Palace. Hostilities between them and Brighton are more fever pitched than ever in this tribal age.

Michael O’Neill of Northern Ireland? Again, famous for well-organised defences and playing to physical strengths. Sam Allardyce ditto.

Hughton’s team started the season too well. Four defeats in the opening ten Premier League games built a head of steam. Three wins on the spin in October was impossible to maintain through to May and now they are paying the price with creeping fatigue.

Honest Hughton wanted the points on board quickly - another ethic from his upbringing in Hackney where in his generation it was all about getting your work done first then enjoying what time there was left.

Brighton need to think long and hard about where they go this summer. It’s unlikely to be the Championship but then the Champions League is even more fanciful.

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