Steve Bailey: Is the dream becoming a reality?

Tomer Hemed hits Albions winner against Cardiff
Tomer Hemed hits Albions winner against Cardiff

Is the dream quickly becoming a reality? It’s nowhere near job done yet but promotion to the Premier League is firmly in Albion’s grasp.

Back-to-back home wins have seen the Seagulls move back to the top of the Championship and, more importantly, sit nine points ahead of third place.

The desire, character, resilience and quality of the squad has been spoken about time and time again and every game a different player stands up to be counted and produces that little bit of extra quality.

Against Sheffield Wednesday, Anthony Knockaert scored a superb opener, David Stockdale kept Albion in it with a outstanding double save from a penalty 
and Sebastien Pocognoli then delivered a Premier League-quality cross for Knockaert’s winner.

Make no mistake, it was a huge three points and arguably a season-defining game. With just under half-an-hour to go and Albion down to ten – with a Wednesday penalty to come – the visitors had a great opportunity to move to within six points of the Seagulls. As it turned out, defeat for the Owls has all but ruled them out of the race for automatic promotion.

Tuesday’s match with Cardiff was a hard-fought affair. The visitors set up for a point but a stunning individual goal from Tomer Hemed, who has been frustrated sitting on the bench for much of the season, took Albion back to the top above Newcastle.

Cardiff boss Neil Warnock said afterwards that he could not see anyone catching Albion and Newcastle now, even if both were to lose another four or five games. He also said that although Newcastle had the best squad in the Championship, he felt Brighton had the best team.

Even Reading boss Jaap Stam, whose side are fourth but 11 points behind Albion, said his side were not thinking about catching the top two at the moment. Mind games? Maybe. But more likely, it’s just the reality that Albion or Newcastle will need to have an horrendous run to fail to get promoted.

With 19 games left, 30 more points will give Brighton 90 for the season. That’s pretty much mid-table form from now to May and it should still be enough to go up, unless Reading, Huddersfield or Leeds finish the campaign with an outstanding run.

Of course, it’s possible, Albion proved that with the run they finished last season on. However, there is something special about this Albion squad and manager Chris Hughton deserves a huge amount of credit for that. In 106 games in charge, Brighton have won 53 and lost only 23. He took over a club battling relegation in December, 2014, and could now be just the second-ever manager to take the Seagulls into the top flight.

While fans are beginning to dream of trips to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge next season, Hughton will make sure everyone stays grounded and focused on the job in hand. He was quick to say after the Cardiff win: “There’s so many good sides below us that are all capable of putting a good run together, so we just need to maintain what we’re doing and always make sure we go into every game knowing it’s one we could lose.”

An FA Cup trip to Lincoln is a nice break from league action on Saturday, before the transfer window closes next week. Even if Albion don’t add anyone else, they have more than enough to be celebrating come May.

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