‘However big we thought Cardiff was, it’s become bigger’: Chris Hughton admits Bluebirds clash is critical after humiliating home loss to Bournemouth
In their bid to stave off the unthinkable, Brighton can no longer afford to bottle it.
They host Cardiff on Tuesday night knowing that victory should all but secure their top-flight status, but it was never supposed to come to this.
After a 2-2 draw at West Ham on January 2, they were 10 points clear of the drop and sat comfortably in mid-table. Now, following a devastating 5-0 defeat at home to Bournemouth — their heaviest at The Amex since moving in — Chris Hughton’s side sit just one place and five points above the third and final relegation spot.
Brighton suffered a humiliating 5-0 defeat to Bournemouth on Saturday at the Amex Stadium
Chris Hughton admitted that their clash with Cardiff has become more important after the loss
Only Fulham and Huddersfield, the two clubs to have already waved goodbye to their Premier League status this season, have collected fewer points than Brighton’s eight in 2019. The Seagulls are no longer soaring.
‘We were obviously in a good place,’ said Hughton. ‘But you always know it’s going to be difficult, particularly because of the league we are playing in.
‘This is still a level of club that needs to be fighting in every game. What I was hoping, and didn’t think, was that we would be was scrapping as much as we are having to scrap now. And what I certainly didn’t see was the performance today.’
Saturday’s hammering was not the way Hughton would have envisaged kicking off a hectic schedule that sees his side play five matches in the space of a fortnight.
It also brought up consecutive home defeats for the first time in the Premier League. Throw in the fact they have scored just twice in their last six home games and you get a sense of just how daunting this relegation showdown feels.
‘However big we thought Cardiff was, it’s become bigger,’ admitted the Brighton boss.
‘We approach it by trying to win it. The best result for us is to make sure we end up being eight points clear rather than a draw or a defeat.
‘So as regards the players, they have no choice, we have a game in three day’s time and they have to lift themselves up. I will have to pick a team that I think can get a result.’ That preparation won’t involve Anthony Knockaert. The winger will be suspended after receiving a red card for a rash lunge on Adam Smith midway through the second-half on Saturday. Bournemouth defender Steve Cook insists the Frenchman was lucky that was the only ill consequence of his mindless moment.
Brighton have scored twice in their last six home games which will need to change on Tuesday
Anthony Knockaert will not be involved after his dangerous red-card lunge on Adam Smith
‘It was nasty,’ said the 27-year-old, who started his career at Brighton. ‘I know the guy quite well and it’s not like him, but I can’t really defend him.
‘Smudger I think was lucky to come out and continue the game. I don’t know what was going through his head.’ Cook can also count himself a little lucky.
It was the defender’s first run out for the Cherries side after being struck down by a virus that left him unable to stand on his own two feet.
The impact of his return, manager Eddie Howe says, was there for all to see.
‘Cook returning was huge for us,’ said the Bournemouth boss. ‘His leadership, his mentality, his experience was just what we needed.
‘It was a really nasty infection for him. Speaking to him at the time and afterwards it was a really low point for him.
‘From being a professional footballer one minute to not being able to walk and climb your stairs the next, can be quite destabilising.
‘But I think he is an unbelievable character when the chips are down. Him coming back was a big boost for the lads this week.’
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