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Ulloa's absence masked by Barnes
When Leo Ulloa was stretchered off at The Amex on the first day of October, Albion fans feared the worst.
They were concerned about how long the talismanic Argentinian striker would be out for and how Oscar Garcia's team would cope in his absence.
The worries multiplied when the Seagulls lost their first game without him, 3-1 at home to Nottingham Forest.
Yet here we are, almost 12 weeks later. Ulloa is on the brink of his Amex comeback from a fractured foot bone, with Albion in great shape.
They have been beaten only once more in nine outings since that Forest setback. Victory at home to mid-table Huddersfield tomorrow, combined with a couple of favourable results elsewhere, could see Oscar's side head into Christmas in a play-off spot.
It would be wrong to say Ulloa has not been missed. How could Albion not miss the target man who has plundered 14 goals in 26 starts since his arrival from Spanish club Almeria in January, led the line so effectively and been a useful defender as well at set pieces with his aerial power?
What they have managed to do though, better than those fearful supporters dared to imagine, is disguise the impact of losing him.
Ashley Barnes, along with Oscar and his coaching staff, deserve credit for that. Barnes has vindicated the faith displayed in him and stepped up to the plate in style.
Oscar's assistant, Nathan Jones, said: "We're not arrogant but we're confident in what we do. We've worked with Ashley to replace him (Ulloa) and Ashley has done fantastically well. He's a different player now.
"I've watched games from last year and he's a different player in lots of ways and he's worked hard. He has stepped into Leo's shoes fantastically well.
"He's got five or six goals, he's worked hard and his productivity is so much more now.
"That's a credit to him and also the coaching staff. We wouldn't have envisaged we would be on this run, because you are never that presumptuous, but we are happy with where we are at the moment.
"There is still a long way to go and we still have work to do, because we can get better."
Albion will be a better team with Ulloa available but there is no need now to rush him back into service. He can be eased in gradually, as was the case with Liam Bridcutt.
Ulloa, it is worth bearing in mind, has only played 102 minutes since scoring a late equaliser against Millwall at The Amex at the end of August.
He was sent-off in the first half at Reading in September and injured early in the second half against Sheffield Wednesday.
He returned as a late replacement for Barnes at Middlesbrough last Saturday, will be on the bench again tomorrow and perhaps beyond that.
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