From relegation candidates to promotion favourites, Chris Hughton has transformed Brighton and Hove Albion into a formidable Championship side in just 24 months.
Following two Play-off semi-final defeats to Crystal Palace and Derby County respectively, the 2014-15 season was beginning to look like a disastrous campaign for Brighton.
Manager Sami Hyypia, who had replaced Oscar Garcia at the start of that season, resigned after registering just one win in 18 league games, leaving the club in the bottom three with half the season to go.
On New Year’s Eve 2014, club chairman Tony Bloom unveiled Hughton as the new Seagulls boss on a three-and-a-half year contract.
Having previously taken Newcastle United up and guided Birmingham City to the Play-Offs, Hughton had the vital experience of the league, but more importantly, he had the man-management skills needed to help rejuvenate a squad lacking belief.
Two players to have benefited massively from Hughton’s man-management are goalkeeper David Stockdale and striker Sam Baldock. They were signed for the club when Hyypia came in, and both endured poor starts to their Albion careers.
Since Hughton’s come in, both have grown in ability and confidence, which has lead to them both becoming two of the first names on the team sheet.
Another quality Hughton has brought to the south coast is an improved recruitment team.
An early sign of this was the signing of Beram Kayal from Celtic in January 2015.
The Israel international midfielder was influential in the middle of the park for the Seagulls, helping them to survive in England’s second tier.
The Sussex side ended the season in 20th position, six points clear of relegation.
The summer of 2015 saw major changes at the Albion, with Gaetan Bong, Liam Rosenior, Tomer Hemed, Niki Maenpaa, Conor Goldson, Uwe Hunemeier, Jamie Murphy all joining the club- along with the returning Bobby Zamora.
Although the fans, players and the manager didn’t expect Brighton to struggle again in 2015-16, no-one would have expected what was to come.
The Seagulls went 21 games unbeaten- a club record- spanning from August to December.
Hughton’s simple use of 4-4-2 was proving effective, with the two central midfielders holding and breaking up play, they were able to set up counter-attacks for the two wingers and strikers. The tiki-taka style Poyet and Garcia implemented at the club had now finally evolved into the attacking style fans had been hoping for since the club moved to the Amex five years ago- and that is thanks to Hughton.
The quality continued to come through the doors, with Anthony Knockaert and Jiri Skalek signing in January of this year.
But more importantly, the belief and character within the dressing room was unlike any seen at the club before. Fans began to believe that promotion was very much possible, and that had an effect on the players.
The only thing lacking was a goalscorer. Hemed was the team’s top-scorer with 17 goals, but Zamora was second with just seven. In this division it’s not just about winning, but winning convincingly.
Michael Keane’s equaliser in stoppage time for promotion rivals Burnley at the Amex in April was an agonising blow, and a home draw to Derby County in the penultimate game of the season left the Seagulls on the verge of missing out on automatic promotion by the faintest of margins.
A final day showdown with Middlesbrough up at the Riverside was always going to be a tough match, and although the game ended a draw, Boro went up automatically by a single goal.
The players were on burnout after a long 46-game campaign, and were undone by Sheffield Wednesday in the Play-offs.
Worries of a Play-off hangover were squandered by Hughton, claiming the club would come back stronger both mentally and physically.
His wisdom, calmness and genuinely nice personality instantly reassured fans. They knew with Hughton in charge they could compete with the likes of Newcastle, Aston Villa, Norwich and Sheffield Wednesday.
The signing of Glenn Murray on a season-long loan from Bournemouth has another fantastic piece of business from Hughton, as well as the record £4.5m deal for the services of Ireland international Shane Duffy and the capture of Northern Ireland midfielder Oliver Norwood.
Hughton has proved his worth by keeping the same belief in the squad since he came in and that has reflected in Brighton’s results this season.
Having lost just twice all campaign, the club are currently on a 17 games unbeaten since September.
The difference this season is the jump in quality on the pitch. The team is now able to keep up wins without playing well- which is always a sign of a good side.
Duffy and Lewis Dunk have formed a rock-solid partnership, meaning that Brighton have the best defensive record in the league.
Murray, Baldock and Knockaert has also formed a fearsome partnership up top, with the three contributing to a majority of the Seagulls goals this season.
Under Hughton, Brighton have picked up 96 points in the calendar year, the most out of any side in the top four divisions.
Going into 2017 and Hughton’s third year in charge, the Seagulls are second in the Championship. They are just one point behind leaders Newcastle but more importantly they are eight clear of third placed Reading, with a much healthier goal difference.
Promotion to the Premier League with this team would be his most memorable achievement, and it would make 30,000 fans dreams come true.