Don't expect a festive treat
by Andy Naylor
Albion manager Mark McGhee warned fans today not to expect a feast of festive entertainment over the cluttered Christmas period.
Newcastle boss Graeme Souness has led criticism of the congested fixture list and McGhee symapthises with the view of his fellow Scot.
Quality, rather than quantity, is McGhee's main concern as he prepares his players for a stamina-sapping schedule launched by troubled QPR's Boxing Day visit to Withdean.
"It's not so much that we cannot manage to play four games in eight days, even with the small squad we have," McGhee said. "I don't think we can expect the quality of performance we would hope for and for the players to be as fresh, energetic and dynamic as they should be with a week between games.
"By the third game, against Millwall, there are going to be some tired boys. The danger at that stage is you get injuries brought about by fatigue. You don't have time to recover and you are playing with injuries that are exacerbated by the closeness of the next game, so I don't think it's ideal by any means."
McGhee's custom of giving his players Christmas Day off was rewarded last year by a healthy haul of points.
Now he is looking for a similar return from what, on paper at least, is a not too testing programme for the fourth-bottom Seagulls against out-of-form teams as they try to build on the pre-Christmas home win against Hull McGhee admitted: "I think it's an opportunity. There will be somebody in our area of the League that comes out with a haul of points nobody expects. I think we've got decent fixtures and there are points there for us.
"We've kept other people in our sights, which is the main thing. Psychologically it would be nice to go into the New Year still out of the bottom three and higher up than we are now.
"We've got to claw our way up and that's what we have been doing. Going into the last few games, if we give ourselves a chance like we did last year then we would take that now."
The players also regard the holiday period as an opportunity to make up ground. Defender Kerry Mayo, recalled for the Hull victory, said: "I think this year is very important with the teams we are playing.
"QPR didn't look the best the other night (at home to Coventry). We've got them at home as well and, on the back of a good win against Hull, if we can capitalise on that and get three points then we go away to Luton who are a bit hit and miss at the moment.
"Maybe we can get a point up there and then we've got Millwall at home, who are struggling, so potentially there are seven or nine points to be had.
"If we can get at least seven points out of those three games that will take us well above where we are now and put us in good stead for Southampton on January 2.
"If we have a great Christmas and New Year it will pull us right out of the danger zone and put a lot of pressure on the teams below us to get results. Not being part of that mini-league would give us great confidence to push on."
Mayo's return against Hull was his first appearance since the beginning of October.
The long-serving leftback, who is in his benefit season, said: "I'd been out for a long time and I've been very frustrated, the manager has known that. I've been getting my head down and getting on with it.
"I found out just over an hour before kick-off and I was buzzing. I just wanted the game to start.
"That's all I want to do, play first team football. All the time I'm not in the first team I'm not happy but I'll get on with it.
"I keep my football life and home life separate. I've been able to do that over the years because it's become like a culture for me, being in and out of the side and then I get back in at Christmas and tend to stay there."
Leon Knight is unlikely to be back in the starting line-up over the festive season. The five-goal top scorer's future remains in doubt after he was dropped for the third time in seven matches against Hull.
McGhee, unhappy with Knight's attitude, said: "I will continue to use him the way I see fit for as long as he is here.
"Lots of players have been left out and I think there has been a bit too much made of it."
by Andy Naylor
Albion manager Mark McGhee warned Leon Knight today he has got to change his attitude if he wants to rescue his career with the club.
McGhee axed his top scorer from the squad again for last night's crucial 2-1 win at Withdean against Hull.
Knight was dropped for last month's trip to Stoke after reacting badly to being substituted in the home game against Wolves a few days earlier.
He was left on the bench for the visit to Watford a fortnight ago and his exclusion last night raises doubts about his future at Albion.
McGhee said: ìI've just been disappointed with Leon in training and generally and decided I was going to put people out there that I knew at worst were going to work hard for us. I picked a team that I knew were going to graft.
"Leon's got to look after his own future, I am responsible for the future of this football club.
"If he's left out he needs to do something about it. He's got to change his attitude towards his training and towards his career."
Superb first-half strikes by Seb Carole and Charlie Oatway after Stuart Elliott had given Hull an early lead ended Albion's nine match run without a win and lifted them two places to fifth bottom.
McGhee said: "It's the start of a happy Christmas. If ever there was a must-win game this was it. If we had lost, we would have been unable to catch the likes of Hull and it would have resigned us to a relegation fight all season."