Here’s a statistic to give hope to all Brighton fans.
37% of all third place teams in the Championship go on to gain promotion. West Ham, Swansea and Norwich City all came up via the prestigious play-off final, the game that’s now dubbed the £200m match.
Albion go into the play-offs for the third time in four seasons. They lost to Crystal Palace in the semi-finals in 2012/13 and then to Derby County in 2013/14.
The Seagulls will travel to Sheffield Wednesday in the first leg on Friday and then host the second leg on Monday evening at the Amex. The winners will meet either Hull or Derby in the final at Wembley on May 28. But, whatever happens in the play-offs, the faithful Brighton fans will look back on this season with a great deal of pride.
After a relegation scrap last season, when they finished 20th, Albion manager Chris Hughton recruited well in the summer and Brighton started the season with a 21-game unbeaten run. To follow that, they have ended the season 14 matches unbeaten after the tense draw with Middlesbrough.
There have been some sparkling performances in that time and also some which showed real grit and resolve to grind out a result. There is no doubt that with the character and team spirit in the Albion squad they will be ready for the next two matches, a final and the buzz of the Premier League next season.
The Seagulls were early pace-setters in the Championship, but mid-term nerves led to them fighting their way back into contention for an automatic promotion spot and then the knowledge of a confirmed play-off place.
When you look at the club as a whole, the superb new stadium and the magnificent training ground, you get the feeling that this is a club going somewhere and one that won’t settle for mediocrity.
When asked about whether The Seagulls would survive in the Premier league, Hughton was honest in his assessment. “The answer to that is simply I don’t know,” he said. “We have seen teams getting promoted doing very well. Bournemouth and Watford have had a very good season. What I do know is, the club that wants to be in the Premier League has to get promotion first. And I am sure we have enough to get out of this division.”
It is hard to imagine that 19 years ago at this very point of the season, Brighton & Hove Albion had no home and had a very real threat of relegation to the Conference hanging over them.
And Hughton has done an excellent job in keeping focus as his club steer close to the financial rewards of the footballing holy grail. He took over from Sami Hyypia in December 2014 when the team were going nowhere. He refreshed the squad last summer, adding players of experience such as Bobby Zamora, Steve Sidwell and Liam Rosenior, and began the season with a flurry. The mid-term wobble was overcome and, with the addition of new recruits such as the free-scoring Manchester United loanee James Wilson, he is neatly placed for the final run-in. And he has done it all without a sniff of the Premier league parachute payments which have distorted the Championship’s competitive processes.
Look no further for a team deserving this promotion and ready for the challenge. Others in the play-offs may have been there before, but don’t underestimate the club and its ambitions… and don’t underestimate a manager with something to prove.