|Brighton and Hove Albion 3 v 0 Ipswich Town|
Saturday, 25th February 2012 Kick-off 15:00
Town Likely to Be Unchanged for First Visit to Brighton's Amex
Friday, 24th Feb 2012 12:58
Boss Paul Jewell seems likely to stick with the same starting XI that beat Portsmouth and Cardiff when the Blues are at Brighton’s new Amex Stadium for the first time on Saturday. Around 2,400 Town fans are making the trip to Sussex for the sell-out clash.
Central defender Ibrahima Sonko is fit again after dislocating his rib in the abandoned game with Middlesbrough but after two clean sheets on the trot, the Town boss is likely to stick with the central defensive pairing of Tommy Smith and Damien Delaney with the Senegalese international set to replace Jack Ainsley on the bench.
Arran Lee-Barrett will probably continue in goal despite a shakier performance last week, loanee Alex McCarthy having played for the reserves in the friendly against Crystal Palace on Tuesday.
Aaron Cresswell and Carlos Edwards, who appears to be relishing wearing the captain’s armband, will be the full-backs.
In central midfield, Luke Hyam and Andy Drury continue to keep Jimmy Bullard and Grant Leadbitter on the bench, while Lee Bowyer is fit again after his groin problem but probably won’t be included in the final 16.
January signing Ryan Stevenson, who like Bowyer played for the reserves on Tuesday, is still to feature in a matchday squad and seems unlikely to be involved this weekend with his wife imminently giving birth to their first child back in Scotland.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas will again be on the right with Daryl Murphy on the left, while Lee Martin will continue in his role behind Michael Chopra, who will be looking to add to his five goals in the last four games having netted twice against the Seagulls earlier in the campaign.
Town will be out to win five league games in a row since October 2003 when they defeated Rotherham, Bradford, Burnley (6-1), Stoke and Crystal Palace (the famous last minute 4-3 at Selhurst Park).
There was a subsequent run of five in all competitions in August and September 2004 including a Carling Cup victory over Brentford.
Town’s decent run of form has led to talk of a late play-off push but manager Jewell isn’t thinking further than the next match: “We’re just looking at Brighton. I know that’s pretty boring and it’s not a headline comment. We take every game on its merits and they are the next one.
“A month ago people were saying we were in a relegation fight and we needed to win the next game or it was curtains but we’re trying to keep it on a level.
“We know if we win the next five games things will look brighter and if we lose the next five, we’re back in the mire. You can’t look too far ahead in this game.”
He says Brighton’s FA Cup hammering at Liverpool last week, in which they scored three own goals, won’t be a factor: “I don’t think that will matter because anyone can go to Liverpool and get beaten and at 1-1 you would never have called that game 6-1. Brighton were unlucky with the goals they conceded.
“They’ve done terrifically well, both last season and this, and they’ve followed up a bad result on paper against Liverpool with a really good result the other night [a 0-0 draw at Hull] and the most important thing for Brighton is the league.”
Seagulls boss Gus Poyet has played down his side’s play-off chances and says they’re still trying to get to grips with the division, having been promoted from League One last summer, but Jewell feels the Uruguayan is underplaying his side’s achievements: “They’ve done very well. I think they’ve done better than finding their feet, I think he’s doing terrifically well, as are Southampton.
“That shows you the momentum that has built up [during their promotion season], as Norwich showed the year before. They’ve got a new stadium, they’ve a terrific way of playing the game and we know it’s going to be a tough match.”
Brighton, undefeated in eight in the league and in ninth place, 10 points and seven places above the Blues, will be without full-back Marcos Painter, who is not yet ready to return after a hamstring problem. Another defender Tommy Elphick (Achilles) and midfielder Gary Dicker (broken leg) are also out.
After their games at Liverpool last Sunday and Hull on Wednesday, it wouldn’t be a surprise if manager Gus Poyet looked to make a few changes.
Historically, Town have the upper hand, having won 27 games (24 in the league) between the sides, Brighton 20 (18) and with 12 (11) ending in draws. Town last won away at Brighton at the Goldstone Ground in May 1989 when Mich D'Avray netted the only goal of the game.
At Portman Road in October, Michael Chopra hit two stunning goals, his first at home for the Blues, and Ibrahima Sonko opened his Town account as Paul Jewell’s men came from behind to beat the Seagulls 3-1.
The Blues should have been in front at the break but it was Brighton who scored the game’s first goal via Vicente Rodriguez, before Sonko’s header sandwiched Chopra’s brilliant right-foot strikes.
The last time the Blues were in Brighton Sam Parkin's fifth and final away goal of the season (and of his Town career) took Joe Royle's men to a 1-1 draw at the Withdean Stadium. Parkin struck on 39, Dean Hammond having put the Seagulls in front earlier in the half.
Both assistant managers have represented the club they face on Saturday as full-backs. Town’s Chris Hutchings was with the Seagulls between 1983 and 1987, while Albion’s assistant Mauricio Taricco is the only man in either current playing squad – he most recently came out of retirement again last month - to have played for the opposition.
The 38-year-old was with the Blues between September 1994 and November 1998, scoring seven goals in 169 starts and three sub appearances before leaving for Spurs for £1.775 million.
Saturday’s referee is Colin Webster from Tyne and Wear, who has shown 62 yellow cards and five red in 26 games so far this season. Webster’s most recent Town game was the 2-0 defeat at Blackpool in September when he booked one player from each team.
Squad from: Lee-Barrett, McCarthy, Edwards, Cresswell, Smith, Delaney, Sonko, Drury, Hyam, Bullard, Leadbitter, Bowyer, Emmanuel-Thomas, Murphy, Carson, Martin, Chopra, Scotland, Ellington.
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