End-of-season report: Brighton & Hove Albion

Sports Mole looks back on a Championship season of disappointment in 2014-15 for Brighton & Hove Albion, who had made the playoffs the previous two campaigns.

After two consecutive years of playoff semi-final heartbreak in the Championship, plenty was again expected of Brighton & Hove Albion going into the 2014-15 campaign.

Oscar Garcia resigned as manager after last year's playoff defeat to Derby County and he was replaced by former Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia, who had only previously been in charge of German top-tier side Bayer Leverkusen.

Despite his experience of managing in the Champions League, Hyypia found life in the Championship difficult and only managed four league wins in four months before quitting shortly before Christmas.

Brighton & Hove Albion manager Chris Hughton prior to the FA Cup Third Round match between Brentford v Brighton & Hove Albion at Griffin Park on January 3, 2015© Getty Images

He was soon replaced by Chris Hughton and although the former Norwich City boss kept the Seagulls up, a run of no wins and just one goal in seven games to end the season saw Brighton finish just two places above the bottom three.

The dire end to the season highlighted where the South Coast club badly need to improve this summer - going forward - if they are to stand any chance of getting back into playoff contention.

Five key results

Norwich City 3-3 Brighton, November 22, 2014: Heading into this match at Carrow Road, Hyypia's side had won just one of their last 13 games to lie a point above the bottom three. Norwich weren't in much better form themselves under Neil Adams, but the Canaries were still favourites before kickoff. Brighton took the lead through Bruno, but the advantage lasted just five minutes as the hosts equalised before the break.

Shortly after half time Canaries captain Russell Martin scored one of the goals of the season to put the yellows in command, but this time it was Brighton who scored two unanswered goals through Kazenga LuaLua and Adrian Colunga to restore their lead. In the end, the Seagulls would have to settle for a point as Norwich equalised late on. An encouraging display, and the only time Brighton scored three away from home in the league all season, but it did little to help the Seagulls' form as they lost the next three in a row to drop into the relegation zone.

Brighton 3-2 Ipswich Town, January 21, 2015: Hughton had arrived and guided Brighton to two wins from three games, but next was a visit from high-flying Ipswich, just a point off the summit and on a run of four wins in five games. The Tractor Boys were supposed to be hard to break down having only conceded more than two in one game going into this contest. Brighton became the second team to score three past Ipswich and they did so in just one half with a trio of fine strikes. It was perhaps their best display of the season as Sam Baldock opened the scoring with a blistering drive before Joao Teixeira added two more before the break to leave the visitors stunned.

Brighton 2-3 Arsenal, January 25, 2015:

Theo Walcott of Arsenal celebrates with team-mates Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini after scoring the opening goal during the FA Cup Fourth Round match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Arsenal at Amex Stadium on January 25, 2015© Getty Images

Four days later, FA Cup champions Arsenal were next to visit The Amex in the fourth round of the competition. The Premier League outfit were two to the good and cruising at half time thanks to Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil, but Brighton fought back impressively after the break. Chris O'Grady and Baldock scored either side of a Tomas Rosicky rocket and the Seagulls almost forced a replay when a late handball shout was waved away by referee Michael Oliver.

Brighton 4-3 Birmingham City, February 21, 2015: So, impressive displays against both Ipswich and Arsenal, but it wouldn't cause an upturn in Brighton's league form as they went scoreless in three of their next four games and managed just two points out of a possible 12. That left them only a point above the drop zone ahead of the visit from Birmingham. Fortunately, things were about to improve.

Brighton's Inigo Calderon celebrates after he scores the teams second goal of the game during the Sky Bet Championship match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Birmingham City at The Amex Stadium on February 21, 2015© Getty Images

Three of their next four games were at home and Hughton's men won all three, starting with a hugely entertaining seven-goal game with Birmingham. Braces for Teixeira and Inigo Calderon led the hosts to a much-needed victory over what was a struggling Birmingham at the time.

Wigan Athletic 2-1 Brighton, April 18, 2015: A defeat, yes, but this result is key as it shows just how far off the pace Brighton were in 2014-15. Not only were Wigan one of the four sides to finish below the Seagulls, they also hadn't won at home since August before this game at the tail-end of the campaign - a run of 18 games at the DW Stadium without a victory. Oddly enough, it might have been the worst result of Brighton's winless seven-game run-in, but at least they scored in it - something they didn't manage in the other six.

Best Player - Inigo Calderon

Inigo Calderon of Brighton & Hove celebrates after scoring a goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Leeds United at Amex Stadium on February 24, 2015 © Getty Images

A real fan favourite at The Amex, right-sider Calderon once again had a good campaign in blue and white.

Calderon is usually a right-back, but he found a new role this season further forward down the wing and scored four goals - more than he has ever managed in a Championship season - as well as three assists.

At 33, the Spaniard is now approaching the twilight of his career and recently earned a new one-year deal at The Amex. If he puts in another season like last next time around, Seagulls fans will hope he is offered a longer stay on the South Coast.

Most Improved Player - Lewis Dunk

Only five teams let in fewer goals than the Seagulls and their strong defensive campaign coincided with Dunk's return after two seasons in the shadows.

Lewis Dunk of Brighton during the pre season friendly match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Norwich City at The Amex Stadium on July 30, 2013© Getty Images

The Englishman is still just 23 and now starting to develop into an excellent defender. Astonishingly, he was the club's highest scorer this season in all competitions with seven goals, highlighting further the struggles Brighton had in attack.

If he can stay fit next season, Hughton will be hoping that his partnership with Gordon Greer can help keep more than the 14 clean sheets they managed this term.

Best Signing - Beram Kayal

Liverpool loanee Teixeira ended as the club's top league scorer with six, but he was too hot and cold to come out on top here.

Kayal joined from Celtic on a two-and-a-half year contract in January and made an instant impact with a goal just five minutes after coming on as a substitute in the 3-2 defeat to Nottingham Forest.

It would be his one and only goal for the Seagulls, but Kayal has never been about finding the net. He is a cool presence who sits in the middle and dictates play with his excellent technique and range of passing.

After a full pre-season under his belt with his new teammates, expect the Israeli to be even better in 2015-16.

Best Goal - Rohan Ince vs. Swindon Town

A clear winner, this stunning first-time volley from Ince in the League Cup second round was one of three goals the midfielder scored this season. He started a sweeping counter-attack by clearing from defence before rounding off the break with an unstoppable hammer of a shot.

Must Do Better - Sam Baldock

Brighton parted with around £2m to sign the striker from Bristol City last summer after he netted 24 goals in League One for the Robins.

He was expected to shoulder the goalscoring load after Leicester City poached Leonardo Ulloa, but it didn't work out this season for the former England youth international as he managed just four goals in 22 appearances.

The January strike against Ipswich was a stunner and he showed how cool he can be under pressure with a tidy finish against Arsenal, but these moments were far too fleeting and must become a more regular occurrence in 2015-16.

End-of-season grade: D-

The Seagulls saw two of their best players from 2013-14 leave last year in Ulloa and Matthew Upson and they didn't adequately replace the former, especially. Goals were a real problem all season and the fact that Dunk, a defender, ended the campaign as top marksman speaks volumes.

Hughton either needs to get Baldock firing or find someone better to lead the line if the South Coast club are to have any hope of making it three playoff finishes in four seasons next term.

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