Chris Hughton was left paying a heavy price for Brighton’s end-of-season slump and bad recruitment.
Hughton, 60, was regarded as one of the most likeable and respected managers in the Premier League who had also done a remarkable job at the AmEx.
But for all of his achievements, Hughton did not see the axe coming when chairman Tony Bloom fired him at the training ground on Monday morning.
It was easy to read little hints that Hughton feared the writing was on the wall – saying a heartfelt goodbye in his post-match press conference and emotional hug with Pep Guardiola – but those close to him insist he was expecting to remain in charge.
But it was done because of Brighton ’s dismal run of three wins in their last 23 league games and they won none of their last nine and stayed up with just 36 points thanks to Cardiff being even worse.
Bloom said: “Our run of three wins from 23 Premier League matches put our status at significant risk. It is with that in mind, and the performances during that period, that I now feel it’s the right time for a change.
“Undoubtedly, this has been one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make as chairman of Brighton, but ultimately one I have made due to how we struggled in the second half of the season.”
Hughton knew the club wanted change this summer but hoped and believed he would get the chance to oversee it, having earned the right to do so during four and a half years in charge.
Former Newcastle and Norwich boss Hughton took the club from 17th in the Championship to 15th in the Premier League in their first full season in the top flight since 1983.
But Brighton’s transfer business was hugely disappointing and failed to push the club on this season as recent big buys Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Florin Andone and Jurgen Locadia were all underwhelming.
However, that was not down to Hughton and indeed his greatest quality was to get the best out of a squad built on the defensive rock of Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk but lacking in attacking threat which made goals a problem.
That was the biggest criticism aimed at Hughton which was his style of football but keeping them up two years running on a smaller budget should not be underestimated. And yet Brighton’s hierarchy clearly do not see it that way.
Any new manager now coming in will be expected to get new signings, more home grown talent and more British players but why Hughton was not offered the same opportunity is the hardest thing to understand. He has ended up paying for other people’s mistakes.
Brighton will now go into a third season in the Premier League with an impressive stadium and state-of-the-art training ground which will give them a platform to build on but the foundations were laid by Hughton.
The dismissal was also criticised as another BAME manager is forced out.
Anti-racism campaign group Kick It Out criticised the dismissal and spokesman Troy Townsend said: “To do this less than 24 hours after the last game is just staggering.
“If a player had left at this stage, walked out on the club, people would be in uproar. It’s so shabby. What are the expectations of Brighton? Surely it is to stay in the league. You are 4th from bottom and you have got to an FA Cup semi-final. I don’t get it.”