Can Seagulls soar?
Chris Burton reflects on how Brighton made the Championship play-offs and profiles one of those hoping to spearhead the Seagulls' promotion push.
By Chris Burton
Last Updated: 08/05/13 4:39pm
Brighton would appear to have gone about things in the right way over the last few years, with steady progress having been made on the South Coast.
Promoted to the Championship in 2010/11, the Seagulls moved into a new home - the AMEX Stadium - for the start of the following campaign. They flirted with the play-offs upon their return to the second tier, but ended the season in 10th place. Gus Poyet has been able to kick the club on again this term and offer them a shot at a return to the top flight after a 31-year absence.
Consistency is key in the Football League, especially in a hugely competitive Championship, and Brighton have been able to add that useful weapon to their arsenal. They suffered just nine defeats during the 46-game regular season - a record which can only be matched by title-winning Cardiff City. It has to be noted that 18 draws have held them back somewhat, but being hard to beat should stand them in good stead heading forward.
They wrapped up a play-off spot with room to spare and ended the campaign with three straight wins and unbeaten in their final nine fixtures. Confidence would appear to be soaring at the AMEX and the Seagulls will be a tough nut to crack. They will face Crystal Palace at the semi-final stage, with the rivalry which exists between the two clubs set to add to the sense of occasion.
Speculation has already linked Poyet with a number of other managerial posts - including the Reading job back in March - and Brighton may have to win promotion in order to keep the highly-rated Uruguayan tactician in their dugout for the foreseeable future.
Danger man - Leonardo Ulloa
Poyet's knowledge of Spanish football has served Brighton well when it comes to transfer dealings, and he appears to have unearthed another hidden gem in the form Ulloa. The Argentine frontman is 26 years of age, but has slipped under the radar of English clubs up until this point.
He had spent two-and-a-half years turning out for Almeria before Brighton swooped for his services in January. He arrived having graced the Primera Liga, and with a goal against Real Madrid on his CV. He was, however, something of an unknown quantity and question marks are always raised when overseas stars are drafted in mid-season - especially into a division as difficult to get to grips with as the Championship.
UIloa has, however, made an immediate impression at Brighton. He netted on his debut for the club in an FA Cup tie with Arsenal and embarked on a remarkable scoring streak in March. He made history by becoming the first player to score a hat-trick at the AMEX Stadium when he claimed the match ball in a meeting with Huddersfield Town. He then bagged a brace against Crystal Palace and took his tally to nine in 12 with another effort against Nottingham Forest.
Ulloa nodded home the goal which secured Brighton a place in the play-offs with a 2-1 victory over Leeds United on 27th April. He will be hoping his fine form continues for a few weeks yet, with Brighton looking to their South American forward for attacking inspiration in the continued absence of Craig Mackail-Smith through injury.
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Manager view - Gus Poyet
"We need to make it about being a football game, only thinking about football and nothing silly. Over the two matches it could be two magnificent games of football.
"Let's not do anything silly because it's not worth it. Let's remember it's about who plays better on the day and nothing else - and accept that."
Fancy a flutter?
The Seagulls are 2/1 favourites for promotion to the Premier League after ending the season on a nine-match unbeaten run. Gus Poyet's men are 4/7 for a Wembley appearance later this month as they prepare to face Crystal Palace in the semi-finals.
Leonardo Ulloa was a revelation following his January move from Almeria, with nine goals in 16 starts, and is 11/8 to score against Crystal Palace. The Argentinian is 5/1 second-favourite to score first on Friday night.
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