Sat in the pub on Sunday night digesting the end of another Premier League season, one of my friends pointed out something strange that was going on in the world of betting – Graham Potter had been backed into 1/6 to be the next Brighton & Hove Albion manager.
These markets are notoriously easy to move – a group of 10 of us once heard that Bojan was going to move from Stoke City to West Ham United and our subsequent cheeky fivers on it resulted in the Hammers becoming the 5/2 favourites to snap him up – so we dismissed Potter to Brighton as somebody just having a laugh. Maybe JK Rowling.
The Albion surely wouldn’t get rid of Chris Hughton after delivering Premier League survival and a run to the last four of the FA Cup, would they? Sure, there were plenty of gripes with form, signings and the style of football, but Hughton had delivered the season’s target with a day out at Wembley thrown in for good measure.
Yet just over 12 hours later, the news broke that Hughton had been sacked. One of Brighton’s best ever managers was gone before they’d probably even finished clearing the ticker tape from Manchester City’s title celebrations off the Amex pitch. It’s a ruthless way to get rid of the man who has let us live the dream in the Premier League.
But two wins from 18 league games, just 18 goals scored and 33 conceded isn’t just relegation form – it’s bottom-of-the-table form. Replicate that record over the whole of the 2019-20 season with Hughton at the helm and we’re going to finish in 20th place with four wins, 36 goals and a meagre 22 points.
That is ultimately why his time was up. Tony Bloom has gambled on a new manager who will presumably be well backed over the summer being able to arrest that worrying decline. Only time will tell if Mr Bloom is correct but given that he’s made millions being a professional gambler and has got virtually every big decision right since taking over as chairman a decade ago, you have to suspect he knows what he is doing.
There are plenty of Albion fans who say Hughton deserves the chance to turn it around based on his past achievements, but it’s the here and now which counts. Otherwise, Micky Adams would still be in the job and we’d probably be playing in the Bostik League.
The past five months have been dire, as bad as anything that the likes of Adams, Sami Hyypia or Martin Hinshelwood served up and it’s largely been a mess of Hughton’s own making; the switch from 4-4-1-1 to 4-3-3 and subsequently sticking stubbornly to it for four months was the moment our form fell off a cliff.
Had he not persisted with a shape that everybody who watched the Albion from February to April could see wasn’t working, he might have been able to arrest the slump and keep his job. Indeed, since changing back we’ve picked up points against Newcastle and Arsenal and even gave City a game in the first half.
That has proven to be too little too late; maybe if we’d delivered performances like those against Cardiff, Bournemouth and Southampton we’d have nine more points and wouldn’t have had to rely on Crystal Palace beating Cardiff to keep us up.
That’s why Hughton’s sacking is sadly a necessary decision. Nobody can ever take away the brilliance of his four-and-a-half years at the helm, from saving the club from relegation out of the Championship to taking us to the Premier League.
22 games undefeated at the start of the 2015-16 season. Hammering promotion favourites Norwich City 5-0. That day we won promotion against Wigan Athletic. Beating Manchester United twice at the Amex. A trip to Wembley in the FA Cup.
Hughton is responsible for all those great memories that will stay with Albion fans forever. He’ll rightly go down as one of the best managers the club has ever had and one who achieved things that only Alan Mullery before him has done.
But sadly, all good things come to an end at some point. Every great story will eventually run its course and reach a conclusion. Hughton’s with the Albion has now done that.
Thanks for the memories Chris and you’ll forever be a hero at the Amex. The best boss that Brighton have had in my lifetime. Let’s hope Albion manager number 37 proves to be as good.
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