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Preview: Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Birmingham City

Sports Mole previews Saturday afternoon's Championship clash between promotion rivals Brighton & Hove Albion and Birmingham City at the Amex Stadium.

Brighton & Hove Albion have the chance to move another step closer to setting a Championship record for the longest unbeaten start to a campaign when they play host to Birmingham City.

The visitors may have endured a sticky spell of form in recent weeks, but they travel to the Amex Stadium boasting the best away record in the entire division.

Brighton & Hove Albion

Brighton manager Chris Hughton looks on ahead of the Pre Season Friendly between Crawley Town and Brighton & Hove Albion at the Stadium on July 22, 2015© Getty Images

If Brighton's intentions this season had not already been made clear by their impressive results to date, then Thursday's transfer business went a long way to sending out a message.

The Seagulls bolstered their ranks with the addition of Rajiv van La Parra from Wolverhampton Wanderers, but there was a bigger transfer to come shortly after the emergency window shut as James Wilson also put pen to paper.

Arriving fresh from being a part of Manchester United's Champions League squad the night before, Wilson will no doubt get supporters even more excited while at the same time making boss Chris Hughton's task of playing down promotion even tougher.

Albion's unbeaten start to the campaign now stands at 17 games thanks to a battling 1-1 draw away at fellow top-two hopefuls Burnley last weekend - a result Hughton described as being "fair", even if opposite number Sean Dyche felt otherwise.

That run puts Brighton behind only Queens Park Rangers in terms of the longest-ever unbeaten start to a Championship campaign since the league was re-branded in 2004, with the Hoops going 19 matches before their first loss in 2010-11.

Hughton will have his eyes on a piece of history over the next couple of games, then, but it is also important that the Seagulls turn draws into wins if they are not to fall from the lofty height of second place.

Having already been usurped at the top by Hull City already due to four draws in their last five, there is a risk that Brighton could become a little distracted by keeping this unbeaten streak intact.

The gap between themselves and third-placed Middlesbrough now stands at just two points, while Derby County and Burnley also find themselves on the same number of points in a congested-looking Championship.

Recent form in Championship: WDDDWD

Birmingham City

Gary Rowett of Birmingham City looks on during the pre season friendly match between Nuneaton Town and Birmingham City at the James Parnell Stadium on July 14, 2015© Getty Images

While Brighton were busy bringing in new recruits on Thursday evening, Birmingham boss Gary Rowett was looking to push through some last-minute deals of his own.

The impressive Brum boss was successful in his attempts to strengthen his side, too, having brought in two new faces in the shape Greg Halford and James Vaughan.

Vaughan in particular could now play a big part at St Andrew's, even if he had fallen down the pecking order at parent club Huddersfield Town, as he could potentially replace the goals of Clayton Donaldson up top.

City were unhappy with the way Jamaica treated the striker while away on international duty earlier this week, sending one of their key players back to the West Midlands nursing a groin strain that will rule him out for the next six weeks.

The playoff challengers may have more pressing concerns to deal with, though, as manager Rowett - who has well and truly turned around the Blues' fortunes since taking over 13 months ago - is thought to be on Fulham's managerial shortlist.

It remains to be seen whether the pull of the Cottagers is enough to tempt Rowett away from his comfortable job at Birmingham - just ask Steve Clarke at Reading - and it is likely that the 41-year-old will want to see out the task that he has started.

Birmingham have been one of the surprise packages of the season, much like their opponents this weekend, after building on last season's strong finish to climb into the top six with a third of this current campaign played.

There is still plenty of football to be played between now and next May, however, and after seeing his side pick up just one win from their last five - including a 1-0 home loss to strugglers Charlton Athletic - it is important that City do not let the wheels completely fall off.

Recent form in Championship: WLLDWL

Team News

Manchester United's young striker James Wilson celebrates a goal against Cambridge United on February 3, 2015© Getty Images

Birmingham have used fewer players than any other Championship side this term, but Rowett may be tempted to give both of his new men a run-out on the South Coast.

Donaldson can hold claim to having the most assists in the division, laying on six goals for his teammates so far, though his absence provides a chance for Vaughan to come straight in.

Nicolai Brock-Madsen is the other option in attack, which could mean Rowett delving into the transfer market in a little over a month's time for a permanent addition after making clear that funds will be available to him in the New Year.

As far as the hosts are concerned, Hughton must decide whether to stick with Bobby Zamora following his early goal against Burnley last time out, with fellow attacker Sam Baldock still a doubt.

Van La Parra could be used out wide in the absence of both Baldock and Kazenga LuaLua, though it may be left to Solly March and Jamie Murphy to continue in the wide positions on Saturday afternoon.

Brighton & Hove Albion possible starting lineup:
Stockdale; Bruno, Dunk, Greer, Rosenior; March, Stephens, Kayal, Murphy; Zamora, Hemed

Birmingham City possible starting lineup:
Kuszczak; Caddis, Spector, Morrison, Grounds; Davis, Gleeson; Maghoma, Toral, Gray; Vaughan

Head To Head

Albion have won three of their last four games against the Blues, with the other fixture in that sequence ending in a defeat.

Birmingham have only ever won twice on their visits to Brighton in the league, the last of which came in 2012 - 18 years after their only other previous away triumph.

This match last season provided a memorable occasion, as Joao Teixeira and Inigo Calderon both struck twice in a dramatic 4-3 victory for the Seagulls.

Sports Mole Logo

We say: Brighton & Hove Albion 2-1 Birmingham City

The omens certainly do not look great for the visitors, but their away form this campaign is second to none which stands them in good stead for their trip South. Brighton have also looked strong at The Amex this term, though, and having won all six of their home games in which they have taken the lead this season, they will be confident of extending their unbeaten run by a further game.

Who will win Saturday afternoon's clash at the Amex Stadium?

Brighton & Hove Albion
Birmingham City
Brighton & Hove Albion
Birmingham City
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Rajiv van La Parra in action for Wolves on August 10, 2013
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