Following their performances last season, it stood to reason that both of these teams would be tipped for success this term. The fact that they met in the playoff semi-finals in May confirms this, although that now appears a distant memory for Brighton who are currently languishing in the bottom three. Opponents Derby have continued to go from strength to strength though and will be full of confidence as they lead the Championship.
Steve McClaren might have something of a wretched reputation in England following his dismal spell in charge of the national team, but nobody can doubt his work since leaving that post. At Derby, he has transformed a side who were used to competing to the bottom half, to one that now looks set to make a long-awaited return to the top flight. Admittedly, their lead at the top is slender and they are only ahead of 3rd place by one point, but the fact that they are one of the few sides to remain up there from the very start of the season suggests that they are in it for the long-haul. Their promotion push was dealt a blow after a defeat to Leeds in their last game, yet prior to that they had won three games on the spin. Having also won their last two games at home, fans will have every reason to be confident as they host a team who have really struggled to respond following their playoff setback just a few months ago.
After such a campaign of promise last year, 22nd position is the last thing that most Brighton fans will have been expecting at this point in the year. However, the Seagulls just haven’t been able to adapt and despite the optimism when Sami Hyypia took over at the start of the season, he has also struggled to adapt to management in English football. The fact that just one point separates them from safety means that their season certainly isn’t a write-off just yet, but recent form makes for bleak reading. They’ve won just one of their last twelve games in all competitions and bearing this in mind, one has to wonder just how much time Hyypia will be given to turn things around.
If we turn to team news, Derby could have two problems at the back with Richard Keogh and Zak Whitbread struggling for fitness. The former is rated as touch-and-go following a hamstring complaint, but there is no place for Whitbread who is struggling with back and hamstring issues. Brighton also have a problem at the back, with Gordon Greer pencilled in for a late fitness test. Unfortunately, the problems don’t stop there for the Seagulls, with suspension preventing Adrian Colungia from featuring while Andrew Crofts, Dale Stephens and Kazenga LuaLua are all long-term absentees.
As for a prediction, there’s only one way we see this clash going. Derby have experienced a fantastic start to the season following their loss in last season’s playoff final, whereas Brighton still seem to be suffering from a hangover. With the Rams also holding the home advantage, our tip will be a 3-1 victory for Steve McClaren’s side.