Brighton were the opponents of choice for clubs in search of a home win last season. Albion’s defeat at St Andrews was Birmingham City’s first victory there for 10 months. Their loss at Wigan Athletic later in the year was Wigan’s first in fully nine.
Leeds United are stuck in a shorter drought but Uwe Rosler’s task in the past week-and-a-half has been to find a way of bringing down Brighton in similar fashion. His players have picked a tricky moment to host the Championship’s leaders and the only unbeaten side in the whole of the Football League.
The Championship tends to throw up unexpected stories and Brighton at present are one. A tame and inoffensive team last season – rescued in the end by the decision to sack Sami Hyypia and appoint Chris Hughton as manager – they were not expected to make the running at the top of the table but 10 games without defeat have allowed them to set the pace. The feeling Brighton’s camp is that in recent weeks they have actually been guilty of throwing points away.
Rosler would be preparing to mix up his tactics up regardless of Saturday’s opposition, compelled to change tack by a 2-0 defeat to Birmingham before the international break.
He talked about altering “our approach and simplifying things” at the end of that game and in Brighton he will encounter a side with a very definite identity.
Hughton’s line-up this season has revolved around a midfield pair of Dale Stephens and Baram Kayal, a stable enough partnership to allow for wingers either side of them and two out-and-out strikers up front. Kazenga LuaLua – the scorer of Brighton’s second goal in a 2-0 win at Elland Road last term –could return from a groin injury in time to play.
Rosler has the obvious option of matching his players up identically on Saturday, well aware that Brighton have been shading fixtures rather than running riot in them. The German indicated at the start of the international break that he would sacrifice parts of his philosophy in the short term in the interests of getting “points on the table” with Leeds three above the relegations places and further away from the top six than Rosler intended.
United’s head coach has few fitness issues to deal with among his outfield players. Right-back Gaetano Berardi limped off towards the end of the Birmingham match, replaced late on by Sam Byram, but Berardi resumed training at Thorp Arch last week and is expected to be available for the clash with Brighton.
Rosler’s key changes are likely to come further up the pitch as he tries to alter the balance of a performance against Birmingham in which Leeds monopolised possession but created few chances and were picked off twice. Mirco Antenucci is in line to start having given City problems late in the second half and Jordan Botaka has returned from a goalscoring performance for Congo against Gabon on Monday with the hope of making a first home start.
The winger was named on the bench two weeks ago as Will Buckley, United’s loan signing from Sunderland, made his full debut. Buckley, who had not played a competitive game since April, struggled to find a way into the match or to attack Birmingham left-back Jonathan Grounds, a defender seen by Rosler as a potentially weak link.
Buckley – a player who spent three seasons with Brighton –is on loan at Leeds until January with a view to a permanent move and Rosler backed the 25-year-old to settle quickly.
“Will will come good, there is no problem,” Rosler said. “He has experience and he’s a proven player in the Championship. I’m very happy to have him.”
Rosler has another winger, Stuart Dallas, back at Thorp Arch and playing with his tail up after helping Northern Ireland to qualifying for Euro 2016 last week. Lewis Cook also travelled away with England’s Under-19s after the Birmingham defeat but is likely to train with Leeds tomorrow after helping England progress to the elite qualifying round of the European Under-19 Championship.
Cook started in a 1-0 win over Finland on Saturday having sat as an unused substitute in a previous match against Macedonia. Coach Aidy Boothroyd named him in his line-up again for yesterday’s meeting with Italy.
Cook helped England to a 0-0 draw
The midfielder’s international commitments caused angst at Elland Road last season when the 18-year-old suffered a campaign-ending ankle injury while away with England’s Under-19s.
Rosler, however, thanked Boothroyd for limiting Cook’s involvement during the last international break, saying: “I’d like to praise Aidy Boothroyd for using the player in a very responsible way. I’d thank him on our behalf for that.”