Twelve months ago Chris Hughton’s Brighton were in the early stages of an unbeaten Championship run that would ultimately stretch to 21 games.
They would lose just five times during the regular season, agonisingly missing out on automatic promotion due to goal difference before falling to Sheffield Wednesday in the play-off semi-finals. Such heartache can break a team and Hughton’s men started this season sluggishly. However, in recent weeks they seem to have rediscovered their mojo, winning three league games on the trot without conceding a goal.
Their most recent success, a 2-0 win over Barnsley on Saturday, lifted Brighton to third, three points behind leaders Norwich.
“We had that difficult period where we lost two games, one at Newcastle, and the Brentford game, which was the disappointing one,” Hughton said of his side’s start. “But since then, our league form has been good.”
As a manager who prides himself on his capacity to organise a defence, Hughton was thrilled with the solidity of his team. “We had to defend well at times; they were a threat and will certainly score goals in many of their games this season, so I’m really pleased with the clean sheet.”
Barnsley’s side included Conor Hourihane, who figured 24 hours after his inclusion in the squad for the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Moldova. “It’s nice,” Hourihane said of his call-up. “It means that I have been doing something right. I feel like I have been holding my own in the league this season. Hopefully I can keep doing that and get a chance to show what I can do.”
While Hughton’s Brighton are on upward curve, Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich have yet to find any consistency. A 1-0 defeat at Leeds on Saturday saw the Tractor Boys drop to 14th. Admittedly, it’s still early days and they are only four points off a play-off spot but McCarthy will still be a worried man.
He didn’t make any excuses after Saturday’s reversal. “Leeds deserved the win, no doubt,” he said. “Sometimes you have to give the opposition credit and they played very well. They were better than us all over the pitch.” In League One, John-Joe O’Toole opening the scoring as Northampton hammered Southend 4-0 while Aiden O’Brien netted in Millwall’s 3-2 defeat to Rochdale. And in League Two, James Collins grabbed a goal as Crawley Town won 3-2 at Morecambe.
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