Scott McCarthy: Long live the greatest “reserve” team in Albion history

Sam Baldock. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)
Sam Baldock. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)

There were plenty of talking points from Brighton’s 3-1 FA Cup fifth round win over Coventry City on Saturday.

Jurgen Locadia, great finish for an encouraging debut goal but what about the chances he missed?

What a moment for Connor Goldson, not only scoring for the first time after life-changing heart surgery but also becoming the first Albion player to net from a set piece in 28 games so far this season. Take note Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy.

And how good did Tim Krul and Niki Maenpaa look wearing all orange in goal? Someone have a word with Maty Ryan and get him to ditch his black shorts in favour of orange every week in the Premier League.

The biggest thing that this routine victory highlighted however was just how strong this group of players actually is. The frenetic pace of football now means that gone are the days where you’d have your strongest one to 11 and a few reserves who came in when injuries or suspension would kick in.

As a result, 21st century football is very much a squad game but, even so, nine changes from the starting line-up in the last league game against Stoke City means you can make a case that Chris Hughton fielded his “reserves” versus Coventry.

That would be a “reserves” featuring a Dutch international goalkeeper, an England under-21 international down one flank, the best player in the second tier last season down the other and a strike force who have moved for a combined total of more than £20m in their careers.

Not even good enough to get into our “reserves” starting line-up were Sam Baldock and Tomer Hemed, the two strikers who started on the bench on Saturday; they hit 47 goals between them in the previous two seasons in the Championship.

In virtually any other season in the Albion’s history, this “reserve” side would be considered one of the strongest first choice XI’s the club have ever had. That is especially mad to think given that as recently as three years ago, our starting line-up amid the desperation of adhering to financial fair play featured Greg Halford, Gary Gardner and Leon Best.

The most encouraging thing about this is that in the event we do end up facing that dreaded ‘r’ word at the end of the season and the likes of Ryan, Dunk, Duffy, Jose Izquierdo, Dale Stephens and Pascal Gross end up staying in the Premier League with new employers, we’ve already got in our “reserves” a set of players good enough to challenge for an immediate return to the top flight.

Their cup exploits have proven that this season. Long live the greatest “reserve” team in Albion history.

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