Ian Hart: FA Cup elimination could be an advantage

Albion celebrate a goal in the third round win over rivals Crystal Palace earlier this month. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)
Albion celebrate a goal in the third round win over rivals Crystal Palace earlier this month. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)

Since being a bright-eyed eight-year-old in 1973, I’ve followed the Albion through thick and thin. Prior to the turn of the century, despite the occasional high spot, it was far more thick than thick.

I have never gone into a match day hoping the Albion will lose, until now.

Saturday’s FA Cup fourth round trip to Middlesbrough could be one of the most pivotal games in the club’s recent history.

Quite simply, a win or a draw at the Riverside could seriously muddy the waters in the Albion’s battle to retain their Premier League status.

Without a defeat up north on Saturday, the Albion go in to the fifth round draw, with a possibility of an extra game in the form of a replay. What if the fifth round draw brings a very winnable home tie?

Right away, some fans will have one eye on the quarter-finals and the prospect of being 90 minutes away from a Wembley semi-final.

As romantic as the cup is, hopefully as Albion fans we can bypass any kind of romance for at least one season (actually two, because if you recall Albion went out to Lincoln at the same point last season

and looking back that didn’t do us any harm, league-wise).

Yes, the FA Cup is the greatest cup competition in the world, but the Premier League is the greatest league in the world and currently the Albion find themselves in an exciting, almost intriguing situation.

Six points separate ten clubs with 14 games to go.

Apologies to lovers of the FA Cup, but it’s far more palatable than any domestic knockout scenario in recent years.

Wednesday night’s visit to St Mary’s begins the 14-game ‘mini-season’ with the South Coast Derby against Southampton, to my mind, the most significant game between the clubs in recent years.

Defeat, subject to Stoke’s result, potentially puts us in the bottom three.

A win or draw gives us that little bit of breathing space and renewed confidence going into the visit of West Ham at the beginning of next month.

Saturday’s game with Chelsea encapsulated the agony and the ecstasy of the Premier League.

Giving Chelsea a two goal start inside six minutes was always going to give the Albion a huge mountain to climb. But, bizarrely, with a new formation, after Willian’s superb strike Brighton played some really exciting, attacking football and were denied at least one, possibly two penalties, but once the third went in, it really was lesson learned and game over.

It wasn’t a traditional 4-0 thrashing, and ironically I think Chris Hughton will take more positives than negatives into the Southampton game.

The arrival of club record signing Jurgen Locadia from PSV is definitely a shot in the arm for everyone, slightly tempered by the fact he’s currently injured. But his debut in the blue and white stripes hopefully won’t be too far away.

While the Dutch league isn’t exactly the Premier League, his stats of nine goals in 15 games and six assists is certainly encouraging.

But before that the immediate question is how ‘squad-based’ will Hughton’s starting 11 in North Yorkshire be?

Hopefully, very...