Pleased with Chris Hughton then?
Very. I'm well aware it's not a sexy appointment in some people's eyes and Norwich fans took to Twitter in droves to inform me that (adopts Sean Bean Game of Thrones winter-meme pose) "boredom is coming", but I'll take a bit of normal for a while. After experiencing the Poyet roller-coaster (huge high, soul crushing low), Oscar's generally good work cut short too soon, Paul Barber's cost-cutting and price-hiking and then the Hyypia House of Pain, a bit of middle of the road is just fine for a year or two. I liken it to listening to Death Metal persistently for three years not through choice, after that you quite fancy a Coldplay album.
How on earth did you manage to lose to Blackpool last time out?
Well, you can make excuses about the pitch and how that stopped us playing but in truth, it comes down to two things; 1) Hughton hasn't had enough time to rid some of the players of their Hyypia form and impose his own style, and b) the amount of first team players we've lost in the last 12 months and the holes they've left.
On January 1st, 2014 we drew 1-1 with Bournemouth, of the 13 players that featured that day 5 are now in the Premier League (Ward, Upson, Bridcutt, Ulloa and Barnes), 4 more have left the club for pastures new and two have been long-term injured. This is symptomatic of a squad in the midst of a sea-change and an iffy recruitment policy. Long story short, the words "transitional season" just about cover it and these things will happen as we try to settle down.
In no more than 10,000 words, what were the issues with Sami Hyypia?
I'll try to keep it short, but in my opinion:
1. He completely under-estimated the Championship at times, thought with a system and players who can roughly do what's asked that should be enough. It never is.
2. He wasn't helped by the turnover of players admittedly, but you got the feeling at times he was happy to have a ready-made excuse to fall back on rather than actually dealing with the issue.
3. He never really connected with the fans, he tried at first but then when things started going wrong quite quickly there never seemed to be any affection on either side. This makes things very difficult to turn around when you start losing home games.
4. After watching Gus link himself to job after job by "not wanting to talk about it" having not been asked to, we've become quite adept at spotting someone who sees us a short-term step to bigger things. This is only my impression but I got the feeling Sami felt he was better than the Championship without actually having to prove it.
5. Players played out of position and against their strengths. When it was clear they were struggling, they were kept there anyway. When it was clear you may as well waft a plastic bag about in their part of the pitch as it would be more effective than them actually playing, they were kept there anyway.
6. Bad luck. Despite it all, there's no denying with the way the squad needed refreshing and the circumstances around the club and behind the scenes, he had very little chance unless he completely changed his attitude and principles from his time in Germany. You can't expect a man to do that plus we'll never know what promises were made and not kept; wrong man, wrong place, wrong time.
For a while Brighton were seen as the blueprint for sustainable growth (Brentford now seem to have that tag). Is that true, or is there a sense that the club is plateauing?
Some would say that undeniably, but I see it a bit differently. As mentioned, the squad needed major surgery, note "the squad" and not "the team", if we only had to add a first team player or two this would be relatively straightforward, this was more break it down and start again. That's in the process of happening but it takes two seasons in my opinion, and it also takes the realisation that when you have to blood this number of players in a side at least a third will not work.
On top of this is the changing nature of the Championship. FFP is now shaping the landscape and at Brighton it's become a mantra. To try and comply and compete in a league that, to be frank, is financially doped by huge parachute payments awarded for failure in another division, is tough. We've not got the balance right, those in charge seem to think the answer always lies in a fan's pocket, but we're getting there. While you have so much to change on the pitch and so many levels to stay under off it, there's always going to be a feeling of plateau when in reality you've got the duck's feet paddling like mad underwater. Long term we're going the right way, short term it's all a bit painful. As mentioned I'm fine with a bit of Coldplay for a season or two but that's on the understanding that at some point I'll never have to listen to Viva la Vida ever again. Let's see where we are in 12 months or so.
Average attendances are down a couple of thousand on last season. Cause for concern?
A reflection of the rising prices imposed by Barbernomics, some people tired of some of club's policies and the less than attractive nature of Hyypia-ball. Give Hughton time and the crowds will go back up, but we can only hope people behind the scenes stop looking at cutting back on the fan experience whilst charging more for it and realise there are other ways that don't leave a bad taste in the mouth. No concern yet, again let's see where we are in 12 months time.
How wonderful is the Amex? Better than the Withdean or playing at Priestfield?
Amex is wonderful. Myself and Danny Last are constantly saying how we still pinch ourselves every time we see it. I did a school sports day at the Withdean, got a three-pack of Cadbury's Creme Eggs for finishing first in a 50-metre sprint - Hangleton Junior School represent! This alone gives you a window into the match going experience there. The Amex is a great experience for away fans too and don't be an idiot about going for the train, stay for a pint.
Annoyed at being the first club to face a Stuart Pearce-less Forest, or confident that we'll still find a way to dick things up?
Whether it's you or us, be sure someone will find a way to dick it up. We've got some good recent memories of games against Forest, one or two horror stories too; it could go either way, Clive. At the end of the day I just hope football is the winner. And us.
As an outsider I estimate Lewis Dunk to be your best player. How wrong am I?
Dunkers is a very good prospect for the long term but still has his moments. Adding the "er" to any player's name makes them feel more like your mate by the way. Uppers (Matthew Upson) was wonderful last year and we were gutted to lose him, head and shoulders the best player over the season. I love Rohan Ince (Incers? Doesn't sound right) and he suffered a lot under Sami, now looks like the weight's come off his shoulders with him gone. In terms of our single best player I'd say signing David Stockdale is by far the best bit of business we've done for years (besides getting nearly £10m for Leo in the summer, a huge profit) and Stockdalers has been brilliant at times, kept us in games.
Dunk is also your top league goalscorer, with four. Goals the big problem, then?
Without a shadow of a doubt yes. With a goalscorer it's not exaggeration to say we would have at least 10 to 12 more points than we currently do, which would put us just outside the play-offs. I would have loved to have kept Darren Bent but circum£tances dictated we couldn't, I'd love to see Sam Baldock given a proper run through the middle rather than wide, he might be the man, but Chris O'Grady's post-Sami form is promising. We'll survive this season with minimal fuss I think, but much of next year depends on getting 20 goals from a single player somewhere. Also next season, please can someone make sure CMS moves on (injury has robbed him of...well, everything) and is replaced by Bobby Zamora. He may not have the pace anymore but oh to see Zamorers in a Brighton shirt again...
As well as being a splendid human, Dave is one of the men behind In Bed With Maradona, a marvellous site which has recently undertaken a slight change in direction. Check it out.