In the final quarter of the 2018/19 Premier League season, Brighton failed to win a single fixture. Although their record of three draws and six defeats was enough to keep the East Sussex outfit in the division, it was a run that ultimately cost manager Chris Hughton his job.
Some quarters felt that it was a harsh decision, especially as Brighton’s primary objective of survival had been reached. However, the Premier League is a results business and Brighton’s owner Tony Bloom had seen enough bad ones, to know that change was required.
Change came in the form of Graham Potter’s arrival from Swansea and although his one season in charge at the Liberty Stadium pulled up few trees, he was certainly held in high regard after his impressive tenure at Swedish club Ostersund.
The highlight of his eight year-stint in Scandinavia was undoubtedly leading his side to the last 32 of the Europa League two years ago. Even though they would eventually be knocked out by Arsenal, Potter had definitely started to register on the radar of English football’s employers.
With the former Stoke City defender taking the Brighton reigns over the course of last Summer, it was time for a new chapter in the club’s history and one that would also undertake a change of playing style.
It change that looked like it had been implemented rather quickly but after an impressive 3-0 win at Watford on the opening weekend of the season, there was a sense that the managerial grass was most definitely greener on the other side.
Unfortunately, Brighton have since regressed to the mean of the previous campaign. They subsequently failed to win any of their next six league outings and although there was little to celebrate on the pitch, confidence was still high in the boardroom, as far as the appointment of Potter was concerned. So much so that, just three months into the season, Brighton displayed the ultimate show of faith in their manager. It was one that saw the current managerial incumbent handed a two-year contract extension after just four months in charge.
It was a message that said the 44-year-old was being backed to the hilt and, on the evidence of the Seagulls’ form since the turn of the year, backing is exactly what is needed for a man who is starting to show a rather forlorn figure in the technical area.
Defeat to bitter rivals Crystal Palace last weekend meant an eighth league outing without a win. It is arguably that result which has thrust the Potter project into the spotlight, one which suggests the club and manager alike are now at a real crossroads.
With that contract extension being awarded so early in one’s tenure, the question is now being asked is whether Tony Bloom jumped the gun, especially with so much football of the current campaign then still to be played.
On one hand, it is a refreshing stance and one that suggests that, should the worst happen, the owner is prepared to stand by his man. However, if the fear of relegation comes to fruition, it means that a manager who has overseen demotion will still be pulling the strings next season.
In some cases, that continuity has paid dividends and maybe the example of Sean Dyche and Burnley is where The Amex outfit have drawn their inspiration from, as the Clarets have certainly bounced back stronger after a recent stint in the Championship.
That said, it comes with a huge caveat, Brighton would have to regain their Premier League status in the shortest possible time and if they fail to do so, the project may then have to be considered a huge bust.
Obviously, this is not a team that is in immediate danger of finishing in the bottom three, although the way results have gone against them since the start of 2020, there is a worrying mirror image to twelve months ago.
This now will be a real test of the new philosophy that has been installed throughout Brighton and the discussion that Graham Potter must have with both owner and backroom staff alike, is whether to change trajectory, in an attempt to move away from the dangerous path they find themselves on.
If Brighton can keep their heads above water, then the decision to remove Chris Hughton will be one that is validated. However, should they finally succumb to the tide of relegation, fans will wonder if the upheaval was worth it in the long run. The next few weeks will certainly provide the answer.
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