Chris Hughton: I have no clue how we would do in the top flight
Brighton boss insists focus is simply on promotion ahead of crucial Burnley clash
Chris Hughton says he does not yet know whether his Brighton and Hove Albion team have what it takes to thrive in the Premier League.
Everything else about the club - the smart new stadium and the magnificent training ground - insist this is an outfit on the upward march. But, as they prepare to face the Championship leaders Burnley tomorrow, their manager insisted he had no idea how his side would fare if they were to be promoted.
"The answer to that is simply I don't know," he said. "We have seen teams getting promoted doing very well: Bournemouth and Watford have had a very good season. What I do know is, the club that wants to be in the Premier League has to get promotion first. And I am sure we have enough to get out of this division."
This weekend will be a telling moment in that ambition. Burnley arrive on the south coast for their engagement with Brighton four points clear at the top of the table. The match will attract the first 30,000-plus crowd to the Amex since the FA Cup tie with Arsenal last year.
Enthused as the locals may be, they will be aware that any slip by the home side and Middlesbrough, just a point behind and with a game in hand, could skip past them into an automatic promotion spot. These are tense times at the club who, 19 years ago at this very point of the season, were homeless and facing a real threat of relegation to the Conference. Now they are poised to hit the Premier League at the very moment the rewards for admission hit the stratosphere with the new television deal. Not that Hughton is allowing the prospect of rolling in financial clover to impinge on his thinking.
"Anything to do with the Premier League cannot affect you," he said. "There's only a percentage chance that we'll get there. Our concentration has to be on the eight games left and getting into a position to give ourselves a chance. My responsibility is in the here and now, solely on the process of getting up there. If we start thinking too far ahead, then there's a danger of not concentrating on what really matters, which is this game."
And Hughton has done an excellent job in keeping focus as his club steer close to the financial uplands. He took over from Sami Hyypia in December 2014 when the team were mired in Championship inertia.
He refreshed the squad last summer, adding players of considerable experience such as Bobby Zamora, Steve Sidwell and Liam Rosenior, and began the season with a flurry. A mid-term wobble was overcome and, with the addition of new recruits such as the free-scoring Manchester United loanee James Wilson, he is neatly placed for the final run-in. And he has done it all without a sniff of the Premier league parachute payments which have distorted the Championship's competitive processes.
"There are big spenders in this division," he said. "What we have done has been sensible. There has been a massive outlay in the stadium and training ground. But there has to be a balance. Whatever we achieve this season has been done on a sound financial basis."
The gap between the division's haves and have-nots is marked out in the fact that Burnley will arrive having just announced a £30 million profit for their one Premier League season. Though Hughton was quick to point out that his opponents have not bought their way to prominence this term.
"I don't think they've spent like some have in this division," he said. "They could have been far more extravagant. Burnley are top for a reason. They are a very well-drilled side. They do what they do very well. They score goals. You have to be at the top of your game to stop that." Plus, in Sean Dyche, he reckoned the Lancastrians have the ideal boss.
"He's a very talented manager," Hughton said. "They were very close to staying up last year. To get them back in contention so quickly is a big achievement." It is one Hughton, a veteran of two-and-a-half seasons as a Premier League manager, would clearly love to emulate.
"They are strong," he said of Burnley. "So we'll have to have a strong mentality to match that. That said, you can't be in the top six for most of the season like we've been without having shown quality." Then he paused. "Mind, all that counts for nothing unless you're getting results." Starting tomorrow. (© Daily Telegraph, London)