Seagulls hoping for a flying start against Owls

Kazenga Lua Lua enjoyed a good pre-season in his new central role (Photograph: Paul Hazlewood)
Kazenga Lua Lua enjoyed a good pre-season in his new central role (Photograph: Paul Hazlewood)

Anxious Albion fans will get their first glimpse of life under new manager Sami Hyypiä.

Anxious Albion fans will get their first glimpse of life under new manager Sami Hyypiä tomorrow (Saturday) when the Seagulls meet Sheffield Wednesday in their season-opener.

Some sections of the Seagulls support have begun grumbling about the club’s summer recruitment, miffed at losing out to rumoured target Adam Clayton, who looks likely to sign for Middlesbrough.

But while Hyypiä would no doubt rather have seen all the club’s transfer business done and dusted in time for the season’s start, it is far from rare for Championship clubs to still have fine-tuning to do by mid-August.

Last season, for example, Brighton did not secure Stephen Ward until the third week in August, while Keith Andrews, another season long loan, did not arrive in Sussex until a few days before Ward.

The message to fans, therefore, has been: don’t panic.

Addressing upwards of 200 supporters at a fans forum event earlier this week, Tony Bloom, Brighton chairman, reassured the Amex faithful that Hyypiä would have a competitive squad with which to launch an assault on the Championship table.

Bloom said the Seagulls had secured their main targets and while missing out on some potential signings was disappointing for all concerned, it was certainly not the death knell to the Albion’s season.

The club have also spent upwards of £30 million on their new training complex, which was recently ranked the best facility of its type in the country. Long- term, the Albion hope it will act as a conveyor belt of new talent, but for now it remains a sizeable feather in the Albion’s cap - and one which ultimately should prove more rewarding than any summer signing.

A left back remains high on Hyypiä’s list of priorities, with supporters hoping the Albion’s recruitment team can still thrash out a permanent deal for Ward, who is surplus to requirements at Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Chris O’Grady looks a smart piece of business by the Albion and should prove an able replacement for Ashley Barnes, but Brighton will surely look to add at least one more attacker before the window slams shut.

In terms of tomorrow’s game, Kazenga Lua Lua could prove key to the Albion’s attacking approach, with Hyypiä placing more emphasis on a speedier transition from defence to attack. Lua Lua has been operating in a more central position during pre-season, while Kemy Agustien could get a chance to impress in an advanced midfield role.

Sheffield Wednesday are far from the finished article themselves. The Yorkshire outfit sold Michail Antonio, one of their most creative outlets, to Nottingham Forest earlier this week for a cut-price £1.5 million and have been relatively limited in terms of wholesale changes to their squad.

Slovenian defender Dejan Kelhar was given a short-term deal this week after a successful trial following his release from Red Star Belgrade and the Owls were expected to finalise an £800,000 deal for St Johnstone forward Stevie May in time for tomorrow’s game despite interest from a host of other English clubs.

They have also added goalkeeper and reported one-time Albion target Kieran Westwood on a free transfer; Tom Lees, a former England Under 21 international; and ex-Chelsea defender Sam Hutchinson.

Wednesday, who finished 16th last season, led the lower half of the Championship in terms of goals, plundering 63 from their 46 games - a total which was eight more than sixth place Albion managed. They were stopped from posting a loftier finish by a defensive record which saw them ship 65 goals - 25 more than Brighton.

Giant Austrian striker Atdhe Nuhiu, who stands a towering 6ft 6ins tall, will likely be the focal point for the Wednesday attack tomorrow. The 25-year-old former Rapid Wien has a relatively modest goal return for the Owls (eight in 38 league games) but often proves a handful for opposition defences.

Their pre-season has been a mixed bag of results, with draws against local rivals Doncaster Rovers and Barnsley, wins over York and Bury and narrow defeats to Newcastle United and Russian side Arsenal Tula.

Likely line-up: (4231) Stockdale, Bruno, Greer, Hughes, Chicksen, Crofts, Ince, Agustien, Lua Lua, Buckley, Mackail-Smith

Likely subs: Ankergren, Dunk, Calderon, Toko, March, Forster- Caskey, O’Grady