At this time of the season, nothing can be won – but much can be lost. At the moment, everything is still open for City. Granted, the title looks a distant prospect, though odder things have happened. Automatic promotion must be the goal now, and that goal is one we must fancy ourselves for. The gritty victory at Millwall last week arrested the mini-slump that preceded it and reminded us that this is a side that isn’t going to fade from contention easily. With another testing away game being followed up by three successive home games, things are beginning to get serious. Emerge successfully through that benign sequence and it’s still on. Stumble, and there are plenty of sides poised to capitalise.
Brighton first. They were our opening day opponents, and were probably a little unlucky to leave the Circle without a point. Since then, Brighton have flirted with the play-offs and currently lie eighth, five points adrift of the top six and a hefty 11 behind the Tigers. That they’re not higher is mainly down to indifferent home form. Five wins from 14 at the Amex Stadium is comfortably the poorest return in the top half. Of course, City have the division’s best away points tally – but that’ll be tested by a trip to Brighton, where City have an unbelievably poor historical record. Just one win in Brighton (and Gillingham), and that was in the 1960s.
Brighton’s hopes of extending that dismal spell are hampered by the absence of club captain Gordon Greer and the probable unavailability of Will Buckley, who’s been enjoyed a fine season on the south coast. Ashley Barnes’ dismissal in their 3-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday last week mean he’s suspended. The news is better for City, for whom last week’s matchwinner David Meyler is fit despite his ugly-looking knock to the knee. Abdoulaye Faye’s calf strain rules him out, leaving Steve Bruce with the decision between restoring Jack Hobbs to the starting XI or dropping his son back from his unusual midfield deployment at the Den.
Not since November have the Tigers lost away from home, a run of eight games in the League and Cup – and that was to champions-elect Cardiff. There’s no reason to suppose this game can’t extend that healthy sequence, a prospect rated 2/1 by the bookmaking fraternity. A home win is a 6/4 shot, while a draw is 12/5. All outcomes are possible then – both tomorrow and this season.