AFC Bournemouth will be hoping to end a run of two successive defeats in the Premier League when they meet Brighton & Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium tomorrow.
Ahead of the game, afcb.co.uk caught up with Andy Naylor, chief football writer for the Brighton Argus.
afcb.co.uk: Has the FA Cup run been a help or a hindrance to Brighton’s attempts to preserve their Premier League status?
Andy: I don’t think it’s been a hindrance. I don’t think you can look at it and say the league form has deteriorated as a result of the cup run. I think it would be a convenient excuse to explain their current league position.
It was only really from the quarter-final onwards that Chris Hughton started using what you might term his Premier League team in the cup. He made 10 changes for the third round against Bournemouth and very much utilised the squad in the earlier rounds.
They regarded it as a pleasant diversion which was never going to detract from what has always been the main goal which is trying to stay in the Premier League.
afcb.co.uk: Brighton were tenth in early December and have only managed one league win in 12 games since. What do you think has been behind the downturn in fortunes?
Andy: A couple of things have happened this season and certainly in terms of that timescale.
Generally speaking and certainly last season, the go-to formation was always 4-4-1-1. They played 4-4-2 when they went up from the Championship.
The number ten, the link man between midfield and striker, was Pascal Gross (pictured above) who they signed in the summer of 2017 for £3million from Ingolstadt in the Bundesliga.
He had a phenomenal debut season. He scored seven goals, eight assists and was player of the season.
He injured his ankle ligaments in September and was out for a number of weeks. He eventually came back but has now been out since late-February with a hamstring injury.
He hasn’t looked the same player this season and the injuries haven’t helped. Also, maybe he has been worked out more as he was a bit of an unknown quantity in his first season.
Since about December, Chris Hughton has changed the system to 4-3-3. The idea was to have a bit more control in games, more possession and create more chances.
This has happened in a lot of games. The problem is it has sometimes been at the expense of their solidity at the back. They were 2-0 up at Fulham and lost 4-2 after conceding four goals in 30 minutes which was unheard of under Hughton. They have also been missing chances.
They have also missed José Izquierdo for most of the season. He injured his knee at the World Cup and then suffered a different injury to the same knee.
They have effectively lost two players who contributed 12 goals and 12 assists last season. When you consider they scored 34 goals last season, that’s had a very significant impact.
afcb.co.uk: How has Glenn Murray performed this season?
Andy: Without Glenn’s goals, they would be in all sorts of trouble. That’s the reality. He’s scored 12 of their 32 in the Premier League and has done phenomenally well to get that tally.
It’s a big responsibility for a 35-year-old to lead the line for a club which is only in its second season in the Premier League.
There have been occasions in games when I have felt for him. He’s been up there more or less on his own against a couple of quality centre-halves, probably lacking a bit of support.
afcb.co.uk: At the start of the season, would supporters have settled for staying up and reaching the semi-final of the FA Cup?
Andy: They certainly should have and I think the vast majority would, if it were to happen.
But, as with most clubs, there is a vocal minority who have unrealistic expectations for a club which is in its second season in the top flight.
afcb.co.uk: Who is their dangerman?
Andy: The dangerman on current form would be Anthony Knockaert (pictured above).
He was a little up and down in the earlier part of the season but he is running into his best spell.
He scored a spectacular winner against their big rivals Crystal Palace last month and was man of the match in the FA Cup against Manchester City at Wembley.
He has rediscovered his effervescent energy.
afcb.co.uk. Who has been their surprise package?
Andy: Bernardo, a young Brazilian left-back who they signed in the summer.
He had a horror debut at Watford on the opening day and then lost his place and didn’t regain it until October.
You never know what to expect with signings from overseas but he looks a really good acquisition.
He is the archetypal modern day full-back. He’s got a bit of everything – a good athlete, defends well, good in the air and decent going forward when he gets the opportunity. He’s really come on.
afcb.co.uk: What’s your score prediction?
Andy: 2-1 to Brighton.
You can follow Andy on Twitter at @AndyNaylorArgus