PREMIER LEAGUE BOUND
For the first time since 1983, Brighton will be playing top-flight football, after a 2-1 victory over Wigan confirmed their promotion last month. Since their rise to the Championship in 2011, the Seagulls have made the Play-offs three out of five years, but currently occupy the top spot with just one game remaining.
Newcastle are one point behind, and could leapfrog them to the title with a home win against Barnsley. Though not crucial, Brighton will want to finish with a statement addressed to the Premier League, and finishing Champions on the final day would certainly suffice.
THE FORM GUIDE
Since confirming their automatic promotion, Brighton have lost both games without scoring a goal. The celebrations now have lasted long enough for manager Chris Hughton, who believes that Brighton must beat Villa, to avoid losing out on the title lift at the expense of Newcastle.
Hughton knows what it takes to win this division. He did it with Newcastle back in 2010, and even took Birmingham City to the fringes of Play-off football, before being denied on the final day of the season.
On the final day of a 46-game calendar, with Villa safe, the fans in fancy dress and Jonathan Kodjia missing due to injury, the form guide isn’t much to go on. Winning the Championship would be the South Coast club’s greatest achievement to date, and Hughton will have drilled the importance of this game into his players.
LAST TIME OUT
Villa were unlucky not to take all three points against a Brighton side who had to hang on, in order to preserve their 11-game unbeaten run.
Nathan Baker scored his first goal for the club, a well-placed header from Albert Adomah’s free kick 20 minutes in. Glenn Murray levelled for the home side just before half time, with some nice link up play before finding the bottom corner from the edge of the box.
Though it was Villa who looked more likely to grab the winner, Brighton goalkeeper David Stockdale kept his team in it with two reaction saves to preserve a point.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Anthony Knockaert has been a stand out performer for Brighton this year, scoring 15 goals and adding 13 assists from the wing.
Having been named 2017’s EFL Championship Player of the Year, Knockaert is looking for his second division title, after going up with Leicester City in 2014 and winning Young Player of the Year in the process.
Now 25, Knockaert appears ready for another run at the Premier League, but will first do his utmost to breakdown Villa’s stingy defence.
THE DANGER MAN
Murray notched his 10th goal of the season against Villa back in November, and has continued to provide throughout the campaign. He initially rejoined Brighton on loan, but made the move permanent in the January transfer window, and has contributed 22 goals so far this year.
Strong in the air and tough to control, the 33-year old is an archetypal centre forward, who will pounce on any given opportunity, should Baker or James Chester hesitate. Having helped Brighton to league one victory in 2011, the top-scorer promptly left to join rivals Crystal Palace when his contract ran out.
However, firing the team to the Premier League for the first time in its history would hopefully win over even the most stubborn of fans.
Dan Bardell: Brighton are going to come at us and attack which could lead to another negative performance from Villa. I’d expect Newcastle to win their game so Brighton will need to win at Villa Park to claim the Championship trophy. Had we not won the Birmingham game I think Steve Bruce would be under a lot more pressure than he is currently.
I’m ultimately going to predict a loss for us, I don’t like doing it but I think that’s the way it’ll go. I think Brighton will be too good for us so I’m going for a 1-2 win for Brighton, Knockaert double.