Albion Chairman Tony Bloom knows all too well the risks and rewards involved in gambling and following Brighton and Hove Albion’s 3-2 comeback victory over Charlton Athletic last weekend, the renowned poker player’s adventurous ways may have rubbed off on his managerial employee, Chris Hughton.
After conceding two goals inside the opening five minutes, Albion found themselves in a daunting situation that they hadn’t come up against during their unbeaten start to the league campaign. Fortunately, the home side fought back to grab all three points, raising the roof at the Amex Stadium on route to maintaining their high stake charge towards the Premier League.
Looking back at the same fixture from last season, Albion relied upon central defender Lewis Dunk’s brace to rescue a point deep into stoppage time. Indeed, both games saw Albion acquire points from negative positions but there are mammoth differences between Sami Hyypia’s struggle to save a draw and most recently, Chris Hughton’s monumental effort to achieve success.
Four Albion players survived to feature in this season’s corresponding fixture, quite noticeably in defence for the league leaders, who conceded two goals on both occasions. Elsewhere, a distinct difference is obvious and thanks to a balanced injection of youth and experience, Hughton was able to find a solution that bettered last season’s narrow escape from defeat.
The difference in mentality Hughton has managed to instil in the current squad of players is impressive in comparison to last season’s lack of confidence throughout the side. The Albion of last season would have sat on a point in fear of losing it, however their most recent success displayed a perfect example of Hughton’s desire for more.
In such a dramatic turnaround, the goalscorers will always attract the main headlines but without Hughton’s positivity from the sideline, it’s doubtful Albion’s comeback would have reached completion come the final whistle.
Beginning with a 4-4-2 formation, Hughton introduced Tomer Hemed shortly after James Wilson gave Albion a foothold in the game, leaving three strikers on the pitch as Jamie Murphy made way for Albion’s Israeli top goalscorer, who had recently struggled in front of goal.
By that stage, Charlton were already down to ten men and putting the majority of their players behind the ball in defence of their lead. Rajiv van La Parra began warming up on the sideline in the 83rd minute and instead of sending him on as a like-for-like replacement, Hughton showed overwhelming confidence as Inigo Calderon was taken off, dangerously changing to a 3-4-3 formation as Albion pushed for an equaliser.
Hughton’s bold gamble paid off instantly, as Bobby Zamora tucked the ball away from close range. Equalising from 2-0 down, you’d expect jubilant celebrations from the players but Zamora’s straight-faced journey back to the half way line summed up the mentality of Albion’s current squad, anything less than victory is simply not enough.
Hughton’s encouraging work from the touchline had an impact on the game and to round off a stunning example of managerial influence, his two substitutes combined for the winning goal as La Parra’s perfectly weighted cross was met by the head of Hemed, to create magical scenes inside the Amex Stadium.
Do not confuse Hughton’s tactical input with an urgent panic triggered by worry, Albion’s patient philosophy both on the field and inside Hughton’s technical area remained intact throughout their fight to get in front.
Hughton’s decision to go for broke was well thought out and structured. The door gradually opened for the Albion and due to their attacking optimism that was methodically inspired from the dugout, a glorious comeback was possible and Albion’s fighting spirit was there for the whole league to see.
In comparison to last season, Brighton have discovered brawn as well as belief, failing to give in when the going gets tough and rising to stand tall when it’s easier to stay down. No team is complete without a leader and with Hughton’s profitable guidance at the front of Albion’s promotion challenge, the dream of Premier League football is moving closer towards reality.