Brighton can ease nerves with Derby win
Seagulls soaring towards promotion
Sky Bet Championship
Sky Sports 1, 7.45pm Friday
Brighton gave the Sky Bet Championship promotion-chasing pack some encouragement when losing at home to Newcastle (2-1) and away to Nottingham Forest (3-0) last week but they won 2-0 at Rotherham on Tuesday and can follow up by defeating Derby in front of the Sky cameras.
Only twice this season have Brighton lost two league games in a row and both sequences started with defeats to Newcastle – they lost 3-1 to the Magpies in August.
Losing twice to their main rivals has made it much harder for Brighton to win the title but three points against Derby would take them level on points with Rafa Benitez's side, who have a tough game at home to Fulham on Saturday.
However, a top-two finish will be the main aim for Seagulls boss Chris Hughton, whose team are nine points better off than they were at the same stage of last season.
For the most part they have responded superbly to the agonising finish to last term when they missed out on second place on goal difference and were beaten in the playoff semi-finals.
They have got the best home record in the division and are taking on Derby at a good time.
The Rams had high hopes of a promotion challenge but got off to a dreadful start under Nigel Pearson and their revival under Steve McClaren has run out of steam.
Derby have won just one of nine matches since the end of January and receding hopes of reaching the top six suffered another major blow when they conceded a late injury-time goal in a 1-1 draw at home to Preston on Tuesday.
McClaren has talked about freshening up his team and may be reluctant to use key midfielder Bradley Johnson, who is one yellow card away from a two-match ban and needs to get past the weekend before the amnesty comes in effect.
The Rams have a massive match at rivals Nottingham Forest to consider next Saturday and McClaren will want to have as many options as possible for the derby, which will have a greater bearing on his future relationship with the supporters.
McClaren would prefer to head to the City Ground with a positive result under his belt but Derby have lost their last three away league games – two of them against bottom-half teams – and seem to be going through a transitional period with the manager unsure of his best side.
Midfield mainstay Will Hughes has been out of favour recently and there is an enforced weakness at the back with defensive kingpin Richard Keogh missing the last three games due to injury.
Derby have not kept a clean sheet in any of those matches and do not look settled or talented enough to put a spoke in the wheels of Brighton's promotion bandwagon.
1pt 10-11 Betway
Shane Duffy is in the early stages of an anticipated six-week absence after breaking a metatarsal last weekend. Gaeten Bong (knee) and Sebastien Pocognoli (groin) are out but Chuba Akpom (knee) is available.
Steve McClaren has talked about making changes but has doubts over Richard Keogh (calf) and Bradley Johnson (shin).
Brighton have lost just two of their last 28 home league games.