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Brighton in Premier League: Hughton, Knockaert the Seagulls' star men

Brighton forward Vicente spoke to ESPN FC about his side's promotion push, injuries and his international career.

Brighton have secured Premier League promotion 34 years after they were last in the English top flight.

Chris Hughton's side narrowly missed going up in three of the last four seasons, losing in the playoff semifinals on each occasion, but they have been in the top two of the Championship since October and never looked like dropping out.

What sort of team are they, and what chance will they have of doing well in the Premier League next season?

Who's the manager?

Hughton has a reputation as being one of the nice guys of English football, but the man who made his name as Tottenham assistant and coach under 10 different managers has built his career on a quiet steeliness that gets the best from his players.

He got Newcastle promoted in 2010, and after taking over at Brighton in 2014 with the club struggling at the wrong end of the Championship, he gradually hauled them away from trouble and fashioned a promotion-chasing side in the following season. They lost to Sheffield Wednesday in the playoffs last term, but this season came back stronger under Hughton's leadership.

"Ever since he came through the door at Brighton he has had the respect of all the players and everyone at the club, purely because of his pedigree at this level," said midfielder Dale Stephens.

Brighton are back in the big time, winning promotion to the Premier League following their win over Wigan.

Who's their star man?

Anthony Knockaert is not only Brighton's best player, but the best in the Championship too. A dazzling, left-footed winger who does most of his work on the right, he arrived at Brighton last season and quickly established himself as the most talented player in the division.

He can often be quite a frustrating player, rarely one to play a simple pass when he could go for goal himself, but he's also a match-winner. He only has a small amount of experience in the Premier League, with Leicester in 2014-15, but if he can recreate some of the excellent form he's shown this season, then Brighton will have the man who can lead them in the top flight.

Who are their other big players?

Next season could be the time David Stockdale establishes himself as one of the better goalkeepers in the country, and perhaps in the England squad. The central defensive duo of Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk is perhaps the best outside the Premier League, so they at least have the basis for a solid defence, usually vital for survival in the top flight.

Midfielder Stephens was wanted by Burnley last season but it remains to be seen whether he'll stay -- his contract expires in the summer -- while strikers Glenn Murray, Tomer Hemed and Sam Baldock have all reached double figures this season, scoring 44 goals between them.

Chris Hughton has enjoyed a superb spell on the south coast since his appointment in 2014.

How do they play?

Broadly speaking, Hughton's side tread the fine line of pragmatism, avoiding being an unattractive, direct side but not relying on flair to do the job. They usually stick to a fairly straightforward 4-4-2, with inside-out wingers and two central strikers, but have been known to pack the midfield when required. Their teamwork is the most striking thing about the side, and has enabled them to possess that most valuable commodity in the Championship -- winning while playing badly.

Where will they need to strengthen?

As with any team new to the top flight, significant additions will be required. Another central defender would be useful, and perhaps a right-back too: club captain Bruno has been excellent this season, but will be 37 in October, so may not have the legs for a full Premier League season. A little more depth in central midfield and a left-winger might be required, plus every promoted team usually needs a striker or two.

How will they cope in the Premier League?

Hughton will be hoping Brighton can follow the lead of Burnley and establish themselves in the top flight a year after promotion, and there's every reason to suggest they can.

They have a solid defence and a player with some magic, in Knockaert, but perhaps their biggest asset is the age of their squad. This is not exactly a collection of old men, but none of their regulars (players who have made over ten starts this season) are younger than 25 -- they have plenty of players who are in that sweet spot of not being too old, not too young.

They will not be able to get away with some of the subpar performances in which they've grabbed results this season, but this is a team who have been preparing for the Premier League for some time. If they get their signings right, then they could be there for some time.

Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.


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