Chris Hughton insists making extensive changes to his team for the FA Cup is not purely about keeping key players fresh for Brighton’s Premier League survival bid.
Hughton, who made eight changes for the third round win at Bournemouth earlier this month, plans to rotate his squad again at home to Sky Bet Championship club West Brom on Saturday.
While the Seagulls boss is keen to progress in the competition, he admits top-flight stability remains his priority and feels cup games provide an ideal opportunity to satisfy players on the periphery of the first team.
Brighton, who travel to relegation-threatened Fulham in the league on Tuesday evening, go into the fourth round tie against the Baggies seven points above the drop zone.
“There will always be that balance and as a manager you have to make decisions, and these are big decisions,” said Hughton about his team selection.
“For where we are at the moment, it’s still very much about stability in the league and picking up league results.
“When you change a team and you use your squad, it’s not always just about making sure you don’t pick up injuries because you know you’ve got a game on Tuesday night.
“It’s about the squad and players that are not in the team at the moment that are training hard every day.
“There is a big value for the squad to keep them involved and for them to be playing some games.
“You would have players that are very, very close – maybe been on the bench but haven’t played so much – that would be thinking, ‘if I can’t play a cup game on a Saturday against so-and-so then it’s going to be very difficult for me’.”
Brighton, FA Cup finalists in 1983, reached the quarter-finals last year, where they were beaten by runners-up Manchester United.
Clubs currently in the Premier League’s top six places have dominated the tournament in recent years, lifting the trophy in 28 of the previous 31 seasons dating back to the late 1980s.
Hughton, twice a winner of the competition during his playing days with Tottenham, expects that trend to continue.
“For as much as you want to make progress, you always think it’s going to be the top clubs and the top six that are going to get to the latter stages,” he said.
“But there’s always going to be the teams that surprise and hopefully you get a little bit of fortune with the draw.
“There isn’t anybody in the game who doesn’t have big memories of the FA Cup.
“I still think it’s the best cup competition in the world, even though the approach from most clubs now is different to perhaps how it would have been many years ago.”
Seagulls midfielder Yves Bissouma faces a late fitness test on a hip problem, while left-back Bernardo is unlikely to feature because of a hamstring injury and winger Jose Izquierdo is out with a knee issue.
Australia goalkeeper Mat Ryan and Iran winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh remain at the Asian Cup.