Brighton & Hove Albion manager Chris Hughton is ready for a potentially pivotal week in the season, as his side face the prospect of three games against potential promotion rivals in the space of eight days.
Albion travel to Derby this afternoon, in what is a third-versus-first clash at the iPro Stadium, ahead of a trip to QPR on Tuesday and a home match against second-placed Middlesbrough at the Amex on 19th December.
Hughton believes the trio of fixtures will be the hardest sequence of games that his side have faced this season, but feels the squad well equipped to deal with the challenges ahead.
He said, “The three games are certainly the toughest we’ve had consecutively this season. I don’t know how much that will contribute towards what we achieve at the end of the season, because there are so many games still to play.
“There are so many ups and downs. Last week we saw two of the top teams lose games which you wouldn’t have expected and that can happen.
“This division is so long and tough. A team can lose a game that you didn’t see them losing, then they win two on the spin and it all changes again.
“We’ll need to show a mental and physical toughness in these series of games to get the results we would like to get.”
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The Albion boss assessed the progress which Derby have made this season and feels the Rams are motivated as they somehow missed out on a place in the top six in the last campaign.
"They have been very close [to promotion], particularly last season when for a good period I thought they were exceptional.
"They have got strength in depth. Darren Bent is a quality striker to have coming off from the bench. Johnny Russell and Thomas Ince are really good quality, offensive players.
"They have a midfield player in Bradley Johnson who I know very well, that contributed 14 or 15 goals for Norwich last season, so they are a very strong unit.
"We are very conscious of the qualities they've got, but we have got some qualities ourselves."
Hughton is delighted that his forward line has been strengthened with the recent loan acquisition of James Wilson, giving him four viable options upfront.
“We’ve got Tomer Hemed, Bobby Zamora and James Wilson, who is a very young exciting prospect that has come in and scores goals. With Elvis Manu included, we have got four strikers there.
“Sam Baldock is making good progress at the moment. With him being out for a period of time, it was an area that we needed to strengthen. It was good to see James get on the score sheet. He brings a freshness to the team.”