Steve Bailey: Albion player of the season? It's Knockaert for me
There's no doubt Albion's success so far this season boils down to the quality and options throughout the squad.
Star performers, experienced heads leading the way, unsung heroes and promising youngsters have all played their part.
Speaking to Gaetan Bong after the win against Birmingham on Tuesday, he felt the one big difference compared to last season is the extra strength in depth.
Just look at the options in the squad. Bong, who played for the first time since early January, was one of four changes from the 1-0 victory against Blackburn Rovers on Saturday.
Out went Liam Rosenior, Sebastien Pocognoli, Jiri Skalak and Chuba Akpom and in came Bruno, Bong, Solly March and Tomer Hemed. Weakening the squad? Not at all. With games coming thick and fast, these options are vital for Seagulls boss Chris Hughton.
When Albion have had injury problems this season, they’ve had the squad to cope. Last year, the squad was stretched over Christmas and new year when a number of players were unavailable. That resulted in a run of one point from five games and Brighton missed out on promotion only on goal difference.
There’s no doubt the squad have come back stronger and better for their experience of going so close last year. There’s a real desire to reach the Premier League and it will no doubt have been a tricky choice for fans to choose their player of the season.
The voting closed yesterday and there are several players in with a shout of winning the award, which Beram Kayal collected last year. David Stockdale, Lewis Dunk, Anthony Knockaert and Glenn Murray have all been named in the EFL Championship team of the year and Knockaert is also in the running, with Dwight Gayle and Chris Wood, for the Championship player of the season.
You can’t forget about the performances of Bruno and Shane Duffy and then there’s players who are maybe more unsung heroes. Dale Stephens has a no-nonsense approach and is key in central midfield, while Kayal is back to his best after missing three months through injury.
Then you have Uwe Hunemeier, who has been tremendous for the last five games. With Duffy and Connor Goldson ruled out, Hunemeier has calmed any nerves Albion fans had with some excellent performances alongside Dunk and has helped the team keep three clean sheets in five matches.
There’s also Solly March, who has been fantastic after returning from his long-term injury and was rewarded with an England under-21 call-up. I won’t go through every member of the squad but, at some stage this season, everyone has played their part.
So, who’s going to be crowned Albion’s player of the season? You can make an argument for several players but, for me, it’s got to be Knockaert.
It’s been a difficult time for him personally but he has been brilliant on the pitch, with goals and assists and is a joy to watch. His passion is infectious and he’s clearly a popular member of the squad.
Hopefully, he’ll be able to showcase his ability once more in the Premier League come August!
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