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Stoke City-Brighton & Hove Albion Preview
Brighton and Hove Albion's first ever season in the Premier League is going better than even their own coach expected.
Chris Hughton's side will go into Monday's clash with Stoke City at the AMEX Stadium safe in the knowledge that they are already well on the way to avoiding relegation.
The Seagulls' promotion to the top-flight was achieved in style earlier this year, but a quiet summer transfer window led to doubts that the squad would have enough to keep their heads above water against the high calibre of opposition in the Premier League.
The results so far suggest those doubts were misplaced.
Brighton (4-3-4) are 2-2-0 in their last four, with wins away from home against West Ham United and Swansea City boosting them into the top half of the table.
"We've surpassed my expectations with where we are at this stage of the season, of course, and I'm delighted with it," Hughton said this week, before offering a note of caution.
"But you just don't know how you're going to fare before the campaign. It was our first start in the Premier League and it's about sustaining it now. I've been delighted by both the points total and the way we've conducted ourselves in matches as well."
Stoke City (3-3-5) have endured a less favourable start to the season, but their fortunes appear to be on the rise. Mark Hughes' Potters have recorded a draw and a win in their last two games, with star playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri impressing in both fixtures.
The Swiss wide man then played a role in his country's World Cup qualification playoff win over Northern Ireland during the recent international break. His club manager hopes that the fillip of a major tournament will inspire Shaqiri to even greater heights in the remainder of this campaign.
"Now he has the reward of the World Cup at the end of the season, and hopefully he can use that to his advantage now and become even more successful with us," Hughes said. "He will of course be excited about it, but he has to put it to the back of his mind now and just kick on even further now and keep doing what he has been doing this season.
"There is extra pressure on big name players who move over here, which can be difficult because it can take a while to adjust, but Xherdan understands the league now and that is why we are getting the level of performances we are from him on such a consistent basis."
Brighton's only injury absentee is veteran midfielder Steve Sidwell, while Stoke remain without the injured Jack Butland, Geoff Cameron and Stephen Ireland.
Brighton go into the game having lost just once on their own turf all season, that against league leaders Manchester City on the opening weekend. In contrast, Stoke have picked up just one win away from home all season. However, that victory did come in their last run-out on the road at Watford.
Monday's game will be the first ever top-flight meeting between the two clubs, and the first in any league since 2006.
Updated November 18, 2017