Steve Bailey: Quick start needed after international break

Sam Baldock and Jiri Skalak celebrate a goal. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)

Sam Baldock and Jiri Skalak celebrate a goal. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)

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Here we go. It’s now the crunch period and the next five weeks will make or break Albion’s season.

It’s crucial the Seagulls make a positive start after the international break – something they haven’t done so far this season – when they host struggling Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, before Birmingham visit the Amex on Tuesday.

The latest international break was the fourth of the season and Brighton have failed to win a game immediately after the past three.

Brentford returned to Griffin Park with all three points from a 2-0 win in August, Preston North End snatched a late 2-2 draw at the Amex in October and Albion were held 1-1 by Aston Villa in November.

There’s no beating around the bush – both upcoming home matches are must-win for Albion. Neither will be easy as Blackburn are unbeaten in seven games since Tony Mowbray was appointed manager last month and Birmingham are now fighting to stay in the division after an horrendous run since appointing Gianfranco Zola in December.

The Seagulls are a point behind leaders Newcastle at the top of the Championship and six points ahead of third-placed Huddersfield, who have a game in hand.

Looking at the remaining games, I feel Albion will need five wins from their final eight games to finish in the top two.

Victories in the four remaining home games – all winnable on paper – will leave three points required from the four remaining away matches.

If Albion collect 15 points, that would leave Huddersfield needing 22 points from their last nine games to climb above the Seagulls – a tall order, especially with eight matches to play in April alone.

Newcastle have a tricky run-in but should have more than enough to fill one of the two promotion spots.

Following the back-to-back home games, Albion fans will get accustomed to life on the road, with three Friday night away matches in a row.

Trips to Queens Park Rangers, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Norwich are all on Sky. I understand Albion are an attractive proposition and it’s a sign of the times but to be selected for television coverage for three successive away matches, all on or moved to Friday evenings, is just ridiculous and unfair on supporters.

Fair play to Albion for providing free coach travel to fans going to Norwich, who will be unable to get home on public transport after the game.

The Seagulls’ final home league match of the season, against Bristol City on April 29, is also going to be shown on Sky and has thrown up a dilemma for some fans.

The kick-off has been put back to 5.30pm and Albion fans, who also have tickets for the fight between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley that evening, now have a choice to make – especially if it’s the day Albion could seal promotion.

For what it’s worth, my prediction is the Seagulls will be promoted on Tuesday, April 25, without even playing – as Huddersfield travel to Wolves for their game in hand that evening.

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