BRIGHTON may have been three games away from the Premier League in each of the last two seasons but such is the transformation in fortunes that they now face a fight just to remain in the Championship.
The Seagulls this term have been a shadow of the side which finished in the play-offs under both Gus Poyet and Oscar Garcia and find themselves languishing in the bottom three.
Friday night’s 1-0 reverse at home to Millwall left the Sussex club with just one win in their last 17 league games – and yet more questions for a boss who is starting to feel the pressure more than ever.
Sami Hyypia was almost speechless when asked whether he would walk away and how he is going to turn form around after Lee Gregory’s first-half goal condemned his team to a third successive defeat.
What a difference a year makes for the former Liverpool defender, who – this time 12 months ago – was guiding Bayer Leverkusen to the last 16 of the Champions League and challenging Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga.
Fighting spirit and determination is something the Finn has never lacked but the situation has now become as desperate as it could possibly get.
And after the fans – those who decided to stay until the end – booed the players off, winning the support of the home faithful back is another factor to the challenge.
Anxiety and tension reverberated around the terraces all evening – the mood lifted only partially during a surprise marriage proposal at half-time.
But a small section of the spectators had made their minds up as a banner – similar to the one produced at the Hawthorns recently calling for Arsene Wenger’s head – asked for Hyypia’s time to be up.
The AMEX Stadium – a ready-made Premier League ground in its current shape – was half-full even from the start and those who braved the cold temperatures were barely warmed up by what they saw in the opening exchanges.
Millwall had arrived on the back of a wretched run themselves with no win since edging past Cardiff on October 25 and just a solitary victory in their previous 16 outings.
But the Lions roared into life from the outset, cashing in on the vulnerability and nerves of their hosts to establish a foothold.
There was a slice of luck about the goal when it did arrive on the quarter hour – however there was no disputing its merit.
Magaye Gueye’s shot was scuffed and Lewis Dunk stumbled to ground. It should not take anything away from the clinical finish of Gregory – the rookie striker who netted 32 goals for Halifax Town in non-league last term.
Thereafter, Millwall turned into defensive mode with much of the attacking threat coming from a Brighton side who, for all their possession and territorial advantage, scarcely worried the Lions rearguard.
The visitors’ willingness to contest for every ball and scrap until the cows came home, though, was illustrated through the dogged nature of their rock of a captain Danny Shittu – who unsurprisingly was named man of the match.
The defender – of international and Premier League pedigree – summed up the character of a player who has been around the blocks and knows what it takes to get out of trouble with blocks and headers galore.
The togetherness was evident for all to see in the pre-match huddle – the same, unfortunately, cannot be said of the Seagulls of late.
David Forde had to beat away a Jake Forster-Caskey drive and tip a Joao Teixiera shot around the post but was otherwise unconcerned.
Brighton – with on-loan Aston Villa striker Darren Bent making his first start – huffed and puffed in the second half.
But for all of their pressure, there was nothing to get excited about – another insipid display and ultimately frustrating watch for Hyypia.
Opposite number Ian Holloway’s experience and nous ultimately made all the difference.
His demand for a response from the 5-1 thrashing by Middlesbrough last weekend would have been ringing in the ears of Millwall’s players all night long.
Hyypia is a rookie at this level by comparison and the question now on everyone’s lips is how much longer will he last. His future is certainly uncertain.