Chris Hughton's Brighton sacking harsh, but affable Irishman remains very employable
A run of just three wins in 23 games has signaled the end of Hughton's reign at Brighton, but he leaves them in a much healthier position than when he took over
It is 118 years since Brighton & Hove Albion was formed. In that time, there has been a solitary season when they have both stayed in the top flight and reached a cup semi-final: this one. It is a reason why the sacking of Chris Hughton, announced a mere 16 hours after the campaign’s conclusion, seems so harsh.
There are others. Hughton joined a club 21st in the Championship and left it 17th in the Premier League. He was a transformative presence, but in an understated way which engendered respect. There are times when, in the best possible way, he can look an anachronism: measured, reliable, respectable, he can feel old-fashioned, a throwback to calmer times. He is a byword for quiet civility. Many of those who have encountered a man apparently without artifice or ego can testify to his fundamental decency and dignity. One example – and there are many others – came when Brighton lost at Goodison Park in November. Everton, as part of a sponsorship deal, had invited a group of Kenyans to Merseyside. Hughton went over to introduce himself and had a chat.
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A small detail, perhaps, but a reason why many would want someone like Hughton in their company. Just not, Brighton have decided, as a Premier League manager. His last two seasons have shown certain similarities with his spell at Norwich City; the first was better than the second, the goals dried up despite spending on attackers and a team running out of ideas displayed relegation form. The Canaries sacked Hughton before their fate was sealed, Albion after they limped over the line. But Brighton bore the look of early favourites for the drop next season. Owner Tony Bloom cited a run of just three wins in their final 23 league games as justification.
Their last 10 matches in all competitions brought no wins and a mere three goals. Two of those were scored by Glenn Murray, who turns 36 in September. The only other player with more than three league goals all season was centre-back Shane Duffy. At Norwich and Brighton alike, there has been a lack of creativity, with safety-first instincts compounded by transfer-market difficulties. The Iranian Alireza Jahanbakhsh was a £17 million (Dh81m) club-record buy but failed to score. The £15 million Jurgen Locadia got two league goals this season, the former club record signing Jose Izquierdo none. Albion were reliant on a veteran.
Brighton’s background as a friendly lower-league club can disguise the ambition and the investment. They had the Premier League’s eighth biggest net spend last summer but, apart from Yves Bissouma, Davy Propper and Mat Ryan, looked dependent on a core of their Championship stalwarts. September’s appointment of the highly-rated FA technical director Dan Ashworth was a coup and a sign of intent. Ashworth took up his post in February, saying he would take three months “to find some areas where we can tweak a few things.” Including, it transpired, at the top.
It is both intriguing and logical that Swansea City manager Graham Potter is the early favourite to succeed Hughton. A progressive coach with a passing ethos, his sides can be more inventive where Hughton’s feel predictable. Choosing Potter would be an attempt to extricate themselves from grim battles for survival. Should he, or someone else, fail, however, and Brighton would be afforded less sympathy because of the ruthless axing of Hughton.
It may be scant consolation to a man who has taken Albion to a level where his skills are perhaps less suitable, but he should remain very employable. Championship sides potentially looking for a manager, such as West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough, ought to put him at the top of their shortlists. His time at Brighton shows why.
* This article was updated at 8pm on Monday, May 13. The original headline stated Hughton was an Englishman. Although born in England, Hughton represented Republic of Ireland at international level as a player. We hare happy to make this correction.
Updated: May 13, 2019 08:42 PM