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Wolves v Brighton: Inside track on the struggling Seagulls

By Luke Hatfield | Wolves | Published:

Wolves host Brighton this weekend hoping to turn around their recent run of defeats.

Brighton are in a perilous position.

With that in mind, we called in the expertise from Andy Naylor, Brighton reporter for the Brighton Argus, and Scott McCarthy, from WeAreBrighton.com, to get a proper take on Chris Hughton's side.

See what they had to say here...

We're coming to the end of the season now, how would you rate the Seagulls' campaign?

AN: Well, they're in relegation trouble in what amounts to a straight fight with Cardiff for the one remaining place in the bottom three.

I think what's happened is that because they were pretty well placed around Christmas, it's created a false sense of security.

If you look back to the start of the season, I'm looking at Cardiff and Huddersfield, then you're thinking that Brighton are going to be in that mix, with Southampton and those kind of clubs.

I think they were always going to be in this mix, but they'd looked pretty comfortably placed until what has been a pretty horrible 2019.

When they came up, they stayed up with two games to spare, finished 15th with 40 points and it just felt like triumph the whole season.

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This season, though in reality it's quite similar, it feels like total doom and gloom and a disaster which I think is just the way it's panned out.

I think if it was the other way around, with things being terrible up to Christmas and then going well I don't think it would have quite the same feel.

'Second season syndrome' has been visible at the Amex.

SM: The first half was fine. At Christmas, we were 12 points clear of relegation and had genuine designs on a top 10 finish.

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In order to try and push us into that top half, Chris Hughton changed the formation from 4-4-1-1 to 4-3-3 in an attempt to make us more attacking. The result has been a complete disaster and since New Year's Day we've picked up just eight points out of a possible 39.

We're scoring less and conceding more and despite it being obvious to everyone since the start of February the new formation doesn't work, Hughton has stuck with it right up until Tuesday's loss to Cardiff.

He's apparently lost the dressing room as a result and remarkably a majority of the crowd have turned on him now as well.

To fall so drastically in the space of four months is quite the achievement, even by Brighton's high standards of messing things up.

Brighton are still in a bit of trouble when looking at the league table, do you think they have what it takes to avoid relegation?

AN: The Cardiff result was, there's no getting away from it, a huge blow. If you looked at that game it was effectively a must-win for Cardiff and a must not lose for Brighton - and they've lost it.

They've still got five games to go, they're two points above Cardiff. They've got a game in hand too, though in fairness I don't think that game will count for much because it's at Spurs. You'd expect them to lose there, and they've got a better goal difference in their favour.

But they've probably got the slightly tougher run-in. You'd have to say the momentum at the moment is with Cardiff.

But Brighton are on the back of five straight defeats in all competitions, they haven't scored a goal in any of them you would hope that their terrible run is bottoming out.

SM: No. Losing to Cardiff was the final nail in the coffin.

After our trip to Molineux, we've got Spurs, in form Newcastle, Arsenal and Manchester City as our last four games.

The players look like they've effectively downed tools and with Cardiff just two points behind, with momentum from winning at the Amex and winnable games against Fulham and Crystal Palace to come, I think we're done for.

Hughton may have guided his side to Wembley, but their league showings since Christmas have not been good.

What sort of football can Wolves expect from Chris Hughton's side this weekend?

AN: On the basis of what Hughton's said after the Cardiff defeat, I think it's that need to get back to getting clean sheets.

They've really struggled to do that compared to last season, that has always been their strength. They've struggled for goals, they weren't great goalscorers last season when they stayed up.

I think in their current predicament and current form, confidence is bound to be a bit fragile.

The first goal is absolutely key. Against Cardiff they actually started well, for twenty minutes they were on the front foot, created more than they had in their previous home games, but as soon as Cardiff scored you just felt the confidence ebbing away.

SM: Boring, predictable and one paced.

Hughton has said we need to be solid and grind out results to survive, which effectively means 11 men behind the ball and try and sneak a goal from a set piece.

Are there any injury worries at the Amex, What's your predicted XI for the clash?

AN: They've actually got a clean bill of health injury-wise. They've just got Pascal Gross back, he was out for seven weeks with a hamstring problem.

Solly March came back on Tuesday night, he'd missed the previous two games with a calf injury.

The one missing player is Antony Knockaert, who's serving the second game of a three-match ban for a horror tackle against Bournemouth last Saturday.

He'll be a miss, he scored both goals the last time Brighton visited Molineux.

Glenn Murray is a threat, but isn't the youngest prospect.

SM: If I were Hughton, I'd drop at least eight of the team from Tuesday night.

He won't do that though, so we'll probably be looking at 4-4-1-1 of Matty Ryan in goal, Bruno right back, Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy centre backs, Bernardo left back. Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Solly March out wide, Dale Stephens, Davy Propper and Pascal Gross in the middle and Glenn Murray up top.

I've just realised that is in fact the exact same team that started against Cardiff, which probably says everything about how predictable we are.

Who will be the biggest threats for Wolves to look out for this weekend and why?

AN: I think they're clinging onto the hope that the return of Pascal Gross will provide a spark. He was such a key player for them last season in the number ten role.

He provided seven goals and eight assists, he's had two long spells out this season first with an ankle problem then the hamstring.

In fairness he hasn't look the same influence in the games he has played. He's sometimes been used as an orthodox midfielder instead of the ten role.

But he was back on Tuesday in that advanced role, he was never going to last, but he played for about 55 minutes. I think he's their best hope of igniting some sort of attacking spark.

SM: March has probably been our most consistent winger and only one man is likely to score for us and that's Murray.

That our main source of goals remains a 35-year-old we initially signed 11 years ago from Rochdale is also an indication of why we are where we are in the table.

Bernardo

Wolves are obviously in the middle of a bit of a blip following losses to Southampton and Watford in the FA Cup, do you think there's a sense of belief that they can get the better of Wolves this weekend?

AN: Well, funnily enough, there's no real logic to this, but I had a gut feeling Cardiff was not going to turn out well. I have a strangely optimistic feeling about them going to Wolves.

Like I said, there's no real logic to it when you look at the two teams in the table, I'm clinging to the fact Brighton have a good record at Wolves. They've only lost there once in the last nine meetings.

Clearly Wolves have got the incentive of finishing seventh, which is very much on. It's going to be their first home game since Wembley and the Southampton 'hangover'.

Certainly on paper it looks very much like a home win, but also Wolves haven't done that well against struggling teams this season, so that's another straw to clutch on to.

SM: Only the most blinkered of Albion fans will be expecting us to get anything from Molineux.

We do have an outrageously good record against Wolves over the years, but even so, I'd be shocked if this is anything other than a routine home win.

Only the brilliance of Ryan in goal meant we won the game at the Amex and we're a shadow of the side we were that day and are generally dire away from home.

All those factors point to three points for Wolves.

Brighton have struggled to get going following the start of 2019.

What have you made of Wolves from afar? Do you think they have what it takes to finish 'best of the rest'?

AN: I would say be careful what you wish for.

It might sound absolutely fantastic, and we all know Wolves' history. But I think they might be better off not finishing seventh.

The problem for Wolves as it is for all these clubs is over-expectation and what happens when you've done so well.

That, for me, is the danger for Wolves, they've done incredibly well this season, can they do as well again? Then you've got European football on top of that?

As much as I can understand why people think it would be fantastic and a great adventure, if I was looking at it, i'd say where they are now would be absolutely fine.

SM: Wolves were always going to have an advantage because of the players available to them through the link with Jorge Mendes.

Having said that, everybody said Fulham did brilliant business in the summer, which proves that you still need a class manager to knit it all together.

Nuno has done that and Wolves certainly have what it takes to finish 7th.

The second season - as we're finding out - is usually tougher so it will be interesting to see how they get on next year.

Your match prediction?

AN: I'm going for a battling 1-1 draw for Brighton.

SM: 2-0 to Wolves. We'll muster one shot on goal, probably a header, in the 89th minute.

You can follow Andy by searching for @AndyNaylorArgus on Twitter, whilst you can read Scott's work by following @wearebrighton.

Luke Hatfield

By Luke Hatfield
@LHatfield_Star

Digital Sports Journalist with the Express & Star and Shropshire Star.

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