Good times for Bees, Seagulls, Cottagers
published : 21 Jan 2023 at 04:00
newspaper section: Sports
writer: Nobby Piles
Few pundits would have predicted that at this stage of the Premier League season Fulham, Brighton and Brentford would be above the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea.
They are there on merit too, although there is a long way to go and it will be tough to maintain their lofty positions.
Of the three "upstarts," Fulham are the most experienced in the top flight and have become something of a yo-yo club regularly dropping down to the second-tier Championship.
But this season with Marco Silva at the helm, the Cottagers have shown a lot more resilience and are no longer the easy pickings of the past.
Their 31 points this season is already more than their final tally last time they were in the top flight.
Fulham's best finish in the Premier League was seventh place in the 2008-9 season.
Brentford and Brighton are a different story with both clubs having spent most of their time struggling in the lower divisions.
It is only Brentford's second season in the Premier League and they have performed remarkably well considering that they were hot tips for relegation last season.
As recently as 2009 the Bees were in the fourth-tier League Two when they won promotion to League One.
In 2014, they were promoted to the Championship and they won the Championship play-off in 2021 to reach the top flight for the first time since 1947.
Under Danish manager Thomas Frank, the Bees adapted very well to the top flight with strong all-round team performances.
There has also emerged an outstanding player in Ivan Toney who has led the line in impressive fashion, netting 14 times this season and a master from the penalty spot.
However, Toney is facing FA charges of illegal betting which could lead to a long suspension.
Even so, it has been a remarkable couple of years for a club jokingly called "a bus stop in Hounslow."
Brighton have perhaps accomplished the most of the three clubs.
Just like Brentford, when they won promotion to the Premier League in 2017 they were widely tipped to go straight back down but it didn't happen.
This season in particular, the Seagulls have played some sparkling football highlighted by last weekend's 3-0 defeat of Liverpool.
It was probably manager Roberto De Zerbi's finest moment after taking over the reins from Graham Potter in September.
De Zarbi could not hide his delight after the Liverpool result.
"I have a fantastic team and it is an honour to work for them," the Italian said.
One of the standouts in the current team has been Japanese winger Kaoru Mitoma who has put in some eye-catching performances, injecting much more punch up front.
Things have been complicated by the shock walkout of leading scorer Leandro Trossard following the Belgian striker falling out with the manager.
Premier League leaders Arsenal have reportedly agreed a deal to sign the player for £21 million plus add-ons.
Looking at what they have battled through during the last two decades it is quite remarkable that Brighton are still even in existence.
The 1990s were not a happy time and their final years at the old Goldstone ground, when they were struggling in the fourth tier almost proved to be their last in the Football League.
At one stage in the 1996-97 season, they were 13 points adrift at the very bottom, but managed a late recovery and in the last game against Hereford secured the point they needed not to fall into the Conference.
However, they still faced massive problems off the pitch.
With the club in deep financial trouble they sold their Goldstone ground and were forced to play their "home" games at Gillingham's Priestfield Stadium, 100km away. Not surprisingly gates plunged.
This intolerable situation for players and fans alike went on for two seasons before the club moved to the inadequate Withdean Stadium, an athletics arena where Brighton were to play for 12 long seasons.
The Seagulls finally moved into the excellent Amex Stadium for the 2011-12 season and their fortunes on the pitch improved considerably, culminating in winning promotion to the Premier League six seasons ago.
That they have become a side to be reckoned with in the top flight is truly impressive.