Brighton & Hove Albion vs Watford Preview: Crucial basement battle awaits
Photo by Getty Images/Warren Little

Crunch time is upon us, that period of the season from which teams, more so at either end of the standings, start striving for near-perfection in order to shed as positive a light on themselves as possible come the close of the campaign in May. This is where fate begins to be dictated — and for these two, Premier League status could be at stake.

For Brighton & Hove Albion, 2019/20 has been something of a mixed bag. There have been impressive victories over Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, and indeed over their opponents here, contrasted to damaging defeats to relegation rivals Aston Villa and more recently AFC Bournemouth.

Their last league encounter was yet another vital fixture at the foot of the table as the Seagulls travelled to the capital to take on West Ham United. The Hammers were 3-1 up inside an hour, but a quick-fire double from Pascal Groß and Glenn Murray rescued a point for the visitors. The result saw Brighton stay in 15th.

Suffice to say the situation is more desperate at Watford in 19th, where an upturn in form around the turn of the year has been followed by a succession of detrimental losses, both points-wise and, perhaps, psychologically.

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Take the defeat to Everton last weekend. The Hornets were two goals to the good through Adam Masina and Roberto Pereyra but the Toffees responded to even the scores before half time, and Theo Walcott clinched the win for the visitors with the last kick of the game, completing a sensational smash-and-grab.

The hearts and minds of all at Watford will be intent on setting the record straight here, but make no mistake as to the fact that this game is equally important for Brighton. With just three points separating the two, this could be the difference between top flight and second tier football next season.

Previous meetings

The two last met on the first day of the campaign in August, when an expectant crowd at Vicarage Road was soon shocked into reticence as Brighton prevailed 3-0. It set the precedent for the adversity that would go on to permeate Watford's season until now.

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Those three goals for the Seagulls were more than they had scored in total in the previous seven league meetings with the Hornets, and victory here would mark their first league double over this opposition since 1990/91.

Watford have only lost once in their last seven visits to the AmEx Stadium, winning and drawing three apiece of the others.

View from the dugout

Brighton manager Graham Potter is interested solely on making sure his side ascend the table, but defends their somewhat precarious position with the fact that results have been significantly difficult to obtain in this Premier League season.

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"We need to improve our points tally, and obviously we're focusing on that for the weekend," he said. "It's not going to give me any comfort looking at the league table — we just have to focus on ourselves. I think Arsenal have won the same number of games as us, so it just shows you that wins in the Premier League are hard to come by for everybody."

Meanwhile, Nigel Pearson is keen to ensure victory on Saturday, one which would be a double-edged sword — both improving Watford's own predicament and harming that of a relegation rival.

"We have an opportunity at the weekend to get back to winning ways and that is what we will try to do," said the 56-year old. "It is important we put pressure on teams around us, and we do that by getting our own results right. The realism of being in a relegation battle is that you have to get over setbacks pretty quickly."

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Team news

Brighton will welcome back defender Shane Duffy after surgery, and Dan Burn could also be involved.

There may be a place too for new signing Tariq Lamptey, but returning loanee Alexis Mac Allister will not be considered just yet.

Defensive trio Craig Dawson, Daryl Janmaat and Kiko Femenía all remain sidelined for Watford, but long-term absentee Tom Cleverley is set to return to the matchday squad.

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Nathaniel Chalobah will be assessed for the back spasm he sustained last weekend, as will Ismaïla Sarr who has missed the last two matches for the Hornets.

Predicted XIs

Brighton & Hove Albion — Ryan; Montoya, Dunk, Webster, Bernardo; Mooy, Pröpper, Stephens, Trossard; Maupay, Murray.

Watford — Foster; Mariappa, Kabasele, Cathcart, Masina; Chalobah, Capoue; Welbeck, Doucouré, Deulofeu; Deeney.