As we finally approach the end of a some what, surprising and entertaining first half of the season, there has been plenty for us to ponder over. Brighton are currently still the only English team to remain undefeated in league football, and are only one of 5 European teams with the same achievement (FC Porto, SP Sporting, Olympiakos and PSG). Given that the Seagulls had an abysmal season last year, and were second-favourites for relegation with some high-street bookies this season, its been a very surprising 21 games thus far. They have picked up valuable points away from home, which they would of lost quite comfortably last season; Burnley, Derby and QPR are just a few names to mention, while making The AMEX back to the fortress it once was under Gus Poyet. After 2 tough away games, Brighton will be looking forward to get back home to continue their excellent run; they ply host to the new Championship leaders Middlesbrough live in front of the Sky cameras.
Middlesbrough have won 7 of their last 9 games, losing only away to Hull back at the start of November. While they have been dominant at home, they have struggled away from the Riverside, they have only won half their away games (5) and have lost 3 without scoring in any of those games. However, Boro will take great pleasure in that they have kept 5 clean sheets in a row including tough away trips to Ipswich and Huddersfield. David Nugent will not be avaliable for the game due to picking up a red card last Saturday, this will be his 2nd game in his 3 game ban. Rhys Williams (Achilles), Damia Abella (cruciate) and Alex Baptiste (leg) still all remain sidelined. The coup of Stewart Downing at the start of the season was a surprise, but he has impressed on his return to Teeside. Adam Clayton and Grant Leadbitter will be the rocks in the centre of the midfield, they have played in every game so far this season. On-loan Diego Fabrinni and Cristian Stuani have 4 goals each, and will be looking to add to that tally with Nugent suspended.
Brighton have only won 4 of their last 10 games, however they have won their last 3 home games, 8 overall this season. They haven’t kept a clean sheet in their last 6 games, which will be a concern of Chris Hughton. Lewis Dunk is unavailable after being sent off on Tuesday against QPR, so Uwe Hunemeier is set to rekindle his partnership with Gordon Greer. Sam Baldock and Kazenga LuaLua returned to training this week which is good news.; they might feature next week in the Boxing Day fixture against Brentford. James Wilson, Tomer Hemed and Booby Zamora will all be looking to get on the score sheet once again; they have 13 goals between them.
In the 8 games played by these 2 teams, Middlesbrough come out on top with 4 wins compared to Brighton’s 2, with 2 draws. Brighton haven’t won against Boro in the last 3 games after winning back-to-back games before. Their current 22 game unbeaten league run did start away to Boro at the end of last season. Brighton have also not won at home against Boro, losing 3 times and drawing once. All the cards seem to be in the hands of the visitors, but as we know The Championship loves to throw up surprises; expect a hard-fought game battled to the end.
Bruno, Greer, Hunemeier, Calderon;
La Parra, Kayal, Stephens, Murphy;
Brighton 1-1 Middlesbrough