It’s about this time of year that all the serious blogs start running their prediction series. These are written by writers who have spent part of their summer studying form, transfers and board room takeovers and watching friendlies, before contacting other serious bloggers for their opinions on them. I have spent the summer packing up our house for a move, picking up after two small children, eating barbecued sausages, drinking cider and watching The Ashes. I haven’t been to a pre-season game. I haven’t even been past The Amex on the train. I have spent a good deal of time on North Stand Chat however and I believe that’s what qualifies you as an expert these days.
Of course every fan keeps their finger on the pulse in one way or another as not knowing the ins and outs when you meet your mates for that first pre game drink is a bit like turning up for a Top Gear recording in a Peruda Kenari. The managerial changes are well documented here and everywhere else but there has also been a good deal of player movement. Of the players I was worried about losing there is mostly good news. Adam El-Abd has signed a new deal to the delight of any Championship centre forward who likes getting their head cheekily slapped (and beating cheeky centre backs for pace) and we have also signed Matt Upson who was outstanding in our very mean defence in the second half of last season. After a summer of ‘will he / won’t he’ suspense that initially ended in a goodbye, crowd favourite and utility player par excellence Moreno “Spanish Dave” David Lopez has signed for another year, bringing an absolute flood of tweeted pictures of THAT celebration after the Palace free kick. Kemy Agustien appears to have signed from Swansea to further strengthen the midfield, though the club seem to be reluctant to announce the signing despite Agustien playing for 45 minutes in the friendly against Norwich last night.
However, The Best Left Back In The Championship aka Wayne Bridge has left for Reading and been replaced by Adam Chicksen who may not even be the best left back at the club currently given that Calderon can play there and Maksimenko started against Norwich and played for all 90 minutes. The rumours on NSC are of a high quality left back signing with Chicksen being used as back up and the rumours want to be true as this is the last area in which we are significantly weaker than last season.
Of course with a new man in charge there will inevitably be changes in playing style. We’re certainly not about to adopt hoofball in the style of Wimbledon in the 80s but Oscar has promised that his version of quality, flair laced passing football will be faster and more attacking than Gus Poyet’s, something that should be making every Brighton fan lick their lips. It was, after all, fast paced attacking football that got Palace to the top of The Championship last season before Dougie Freedman jumped ship to Bolton and Holloway turned Palace from a league team in to a cup team.
But it is Bolton’s experience that should make Brighton fans wary. As Freedman arrived they initially struggled but, once settled in, they had a storming end to the season coming very close indeed to the playoffs. In the same way a group of players that is still largely last season’s need to be given time to adapt to Oscar’s way of doing things and patience in the stands will be crucial to success. It is stating the bleeding obvious to note that it is where we finish in May that is important and not where we are in September (Palace, remember had an awful first few games last season before going on that charge). Nevertheless it is September when I expect to see the first “Oscar Out” thread on NSC.
We will start the season undercooked if you ask me but I fully expect us to be challenging in or around the top half by the end of the season.
We do need to be though. It’s easy to do gambling mentaphors with a poker player running the club so naturally I’m going to do a gambling metaphor. This is a big hand in a big tournament that we’re playing and the first card wasn’t the best. Off the field there are changes that are causing a good deal of discussion and disgruntlement. The free special buses from areas outside of Brighton have stopped to be replaced by a pay service (albeit with guaranteed seats) which might be seen as reasonable if season ticket holders weren’t already paying travel costs as part of their season ticket package. New caterers have been brought on to the concourse and reports of their first efforts at the Villareal friendly were less than complimentary. New membership schemes are in place while the cashback on buying items on your smartcard has turned from a simple 10% to something that requires a stopwatch and a mobile version of Microsoft Excel to work out.
All this is fine (it’s not but that’s a whole other article) so long as the team is doing well but not so acceptable if you’re starting February in 16th place. Expect our fantastic attendances to be somewhat less than fantastic if the goods aren’t being delivered on the pitch.
So who do I expect to do well? With three relatively strong teams coming down from the Premier League (and three very weak ones having gone up) it’s hard to see beyond QPR, Reading and Wigan. However, should QPR have a poor start there is just the outside possibility of them becoming the next Pompey. Leicester should be there or thereabouts which probably means they’ll underachieve again. ‘Boro and Birmingham have mid table written all over them which will come as a disappointment to their shirt sponsors and everyone expects Yeovil to struggle. Our own experience of the Championship at Withdean would seem to confirm this.
So – predictions:
Automatic – QPR & Reading
Playoffs – Bolton, Wigan Leicester and one other !!!
Us – top ten – possibly the one other in the playoffs if everything goes to plan
Down – Barnsley, Yeovil, Millwall