Seagulls looking for back-to-back wins to boost league position

Gary Gardner scored the winner against Wigan but may fall foul of the five loan player rule (Photograph: Paul Hazlewood)
Gary Gardner scored the winner against Wigan but may fall foul of the five loan player rule (Photograph: Paul Hazlewood)

The Albion could make it two wins in a row tomorrow.

Sami Hyypiä faces two very different dilemmas ahead of the match with Blackburn Rovers today (Saturday).

The Brighton and Hove Albion manager, who celebrated his side’s first league win since August against Wigan Athletic on Tuesday, will have to decide whether to recall loan signing Ali Al-Habsi or stick with Christian Walton in goal.

The 18-year-old kept a clean sheet and was named man of the match on what was his first league appearance for the Seagulls, having previously impressed on his debut away to Spurs in the Capital One Cup.

Al-Habsi, however, is the more experienced goalkeeper and was put straight into the team following his arrival from Wigan - despite Walton’s encouraging performance at White Hart Lane.

Who Hyypiä picks will have a knock-on effect on the rest of his selection. League rules state Championship clubs can select only five loan players in their match-day squads. If Al-Habsi is selected, it leaves room for four more - meaning one of the Albion’s loan signings will be forced to miss out.

Should Walton start, then Al-Habsi could perhaps not even make the bench, with Casper Ankergren used as back-up. That would allow all of Gary Gardner, Greg Halford, Joao Teixeira, Elliott Bennett, and Joe Bennett to be included in the 18.

Who to leave out if Al-Habsi does make the squad will be a difficult decision for Hyypiä. Joe Bennett is an almost guaranteed starter, while Elliott Bennett should start. Halford, who was signed on a short-term deal earlier this week from Nottingham Forest, should make the bench as versatile cover meaning it would be a straight choice between Teixeira and Gardner.

Both performed well against Wigan, with Gardner scoring the winner and Teixeira looking more comfortable in the space afforded by Hyypiä’s slightly-changed formation.

Hyypiä appeared to adjust his favoured 4-2-3-1 to a more rigid 4-4-1-1, with Sam Baldock looking far happier in a central striking role and the width coming from Kazenga Lua Lua and Elliott Bennett rather than the full-backs.

Second-guessing Hyypiä’s selection remains a difficult task, but the manager must be tempted to retain at least the formation from the victory over Wigan, if not the exact personnel.

ACTIONMANBlackburn travel south on a strong run of form, with three wins and a draw from their last four games, including victories over Nottingham Forest and Reading.

Their chief goal threat will surely come from Rudy Gestede who, with nine league goals to his name already this campaign, is one of the division’s in-form goal-getters.

Former Brighton loan player Craig Conway may have to make do with a place on the bench, with Ben Marshall - who has six goals and three assists to his name - likely to be fit to face the Seagulls.