If I was Chrissy Hughton, I’d be looking forward to Saturday’s fixture with rather more relish than most.
Not that he would ever admit as much. He is one of football’s nicer guys.
Equally, if I were Alex Neil a trip to face Brighton on the back of recent events would be the last thing I would have wanted.
It has the word ‘awkward’ stamped right through it; as any reunion with an ex-City boss tends to be. Particularly if they left in rather grisly circumstances; their managerial talents under-appreciated and under-valued by those the strove to please.
Be it on the terraces or in the boardroom.
Chris Hughton will want to win on Saturday. Badly. In a game that Alex Neil can’t afford to lose – at least not badly.
He is at a crossroads. Of that there would appear to be little doubt.
There has been a gnawing unease around the place for the better part of nine months now. And it hasn’t been eased by recent results or performances.
That have been sloppy. By anyone’s standards.
To give away two leads, to Leeds, the second of which coming when the hosts were down to ten men is not good. It stank, if we’re honest.
The penalties that then followed likewise lacked any genuine conviction or belief.
The challenge now facing the Scot is one of courage.
He has bought or brought in, but barely played, a number of players this summer. And, indeed, the summer before.
The danger of not playing new faces is that it raises question marks about your own managerial judgement if they don’t come to oust those players already in the building.
Those that have been resting on their laurels for all-too long. Going through the motions.
If you don’t ring changes with new players – particularly when results and performances are going awry – then why did you bring them in at all? If not to freshen up the place and offer genuine competition for places?
Because it strikes me that City are currently running two separate teams of the First XI and Second XI variety – with the mental laziness that comes with both if you fail to make significant changes when required.
First XI players seemingly unthreatened by the rest of the dressing room go into cruise control, while Second XI players not given a glimpse of the real deal retreat into a peed-off shell.
‘What more do I need to do to get a game round here…’
And that contagion can spread. And undermine spirits and belief.
Which is why I go back to Brighton on Saturday. Hughton is far too long in the footballing tooth not to recognise and smell Neil’s current discomfort.
He will feed that knowledge into his players. And if he has their respect, the players will look to give the Gaffer the result he wants.
Neil is no fool.
He will know that a whiff is growing. Things are getting stale. But, as mentioned, then it comes down to courage. And trust.
Does he trust himself to make the right changes? As importantly, does he trust the players enough that those who do come in, make the required difference?
If the answer is ‘No…’ then it starts to be a rod for his own back; an indictment of his own transfer decisions over the last 18-24 months.
And punters will be swift to condemn if Hughton gets to rain on his parade and make his own, telling point this weekend.
Not one for the faint of heart.