Chris Hughton takes his struggling Brighton side to St Mary’s on Wednesday for a south coast derby with added spice and needle. With both sides embroiled in the thick of a relegation scrap, this is a six-pointer that looks to have hugely important implications for both the Saints and the Seagulls.
Mauricio Pellegrino’s men are on a run of eleven league games without success and Brighton are also in poor form having only won twice in 13 Premier League matches, with their last victory on the road a 1-0 win at Swansea in early November. Both sides had the fillip of narrow FA Cup success at the weekend, however, and beat Watford and Middlesbrough respectively – both by a solitary goal – to progress into the fifth round. Under-fire manager Pellegrino has not had the impact he would have hoped for at St Mary’s having replaced predecessor Claude Puel in the summer.
Brighton were sat in the heady heights of eighth merely two months ago, but now find themselves in 16th place – two places and a single point above their hosts. Saints have slipped into the relegation zone but picked up a creditable 1-1 draw with high-flying Spurs last time out.
That was also the outcome when these sides met 67 miles up the coast at The Amex at the end of October when top scorer Glenn Murray’s header cancelled out Saints skipper Steven Davis’ early opener.
This is the second meeting of the two sides since 2012, when both were in the Championship, in a season that saw Saints promoted and Brighton, in their first campaign back in the second tier, secure a creditable 10th placed finish under Gus Poyet. Rickie Lambert’s hat-trick gave Southampton a 3-0 win at St Mary’s but the Seagulls exacted revenge by the same scoreline in the return meeting at Falmer.
Not only are both sides in similarly torrid runs of form, but they have been active in the January window, breaking their transfer records to sign strikers. Southampton secured the acquisition of Guido Carrillo from Monaco for £19m and he made his debut as a brief substitute appearance in that win over Watford. Brighton, meanwhile, have brought in Jurgen Locadia from PSV for a record fee of £15m, but Seagulls fans will have to wait to see their new Dutch centre-forward in action, as he continues to recover from a hamstring problem. Leonardo Ulloa, who returned to the Albion on loan from Leicester on Monday, could go straight into the squad for the trip to St Mary’s. Ryan Bertrand looks a doubt for Southampton after he picked up an injury at the weekend.
The two clubs are each other’s closest Premier League rivals geographically, but strangely – given their relatively close proximity, similar stature and history – the two sets of fans do not consider this to be neither a fierce local rivalry nor a derby. Saints hatred with Portsmouth – 22 miles away – is understandable and is top of any Southampton fan’s list of teams they most want to get one over on. Brighton’s long-running enmity with Crystal Palace, almost 50 miles away up the M23, is harder to fathom but invokes similar feelings of hatred.
This is a battle not just to decide south coast bragging rights but given the perilous positions of both, it will be an intense and probably tightly-contested encounter that will go a long way to determine the respective fates of Saints and the Albion. A match report will follow on these pages after Wednesday night’s tie.
Prediction: Southampton 1-1 Brighton&Hove Albion