Albion's slow but sure evolution has taken a major step with the departure of Dale Stephens.

The long-serving midfielder has become the fourth member of the 2016-17 promotion-winning squad to move on this summer.

He will not be part of Graham Potter’s thinking as he plans how to beat Manchester United at the Amex tomorrow.

Stephens follows his former midfield sidekick Beram Kayal as well as Shane Duffy and Glenn Murray in moving on. But this departure feels rather different.

For one thing it is a permanent deal – two years at a fee believed to be £1 million potentially rising to more than double that with add-ons.

Duffy and Murray are both loans although it seems likely the latter, if not both, have played their final games for the club.

Kayal was released when he ran out of contract.

But that is not really why Stephens’ exit feels different.

The contrast is that, even a week or so ago, it still felt like he could have a part to play in the season.

He started 28 league games last term and ranked seventh in term of minutes played.

At one stage Potter was talking about him as one of the best, if not THE best, Albion player at that time.

True, he was not in the XI for the league opener versus Chelsea this time.

Bur he looked good against Portsmouth and it was easy to think he may well have a reasonable part to play in the league.

That the old guard would still have a role in a long, testing season even with Yves Bissouma and fit-again Steven Alzate starting the season in pole position.

Kayal’s exit was a formality, Duffy’s was expected and Murray was not going to play a big role for the Seagulls this season.

The fact Stephens can move on says rather more about changing times at the Amex.

Of the 11 men who played most league minutes last term, three have now gone in Stephens, Aaron Mooy and Martin Montoya.

READ MORE: United need their defence to step up at the Amex

Three more have not started either of the two league games to date, namely Pascal Gross, Davy Propper and Dan Burn.

There has been a shift, even though the two new signings – Adam Lallana and Joel Veltman – only have one Prem start between them so far.

It feels and looks even more like Potter’s team now.

Or, better, his squad when you see how the midweek team has performed in the Carabao Cup.

Not that the head coach is keen to see it that way.

He said: “Whenever you come in, it’s your squad. There’s no excuses in that regard.

“You want to work with the players that are there because that’s what my job is.

“You look at what they can do and the different options and combinations and try to set out as best you can to at least make a start on what you’re trying to do.

“Anybody would say when you’re making some changes culturally or in the direction of how you play, you want to get to know the existing guys, see what they can do and how they can help.

“Then you want to add to that players who are more suited to what you want to do directly. It’s just the normal process.

“We’re a couple of windows into that. But, at the same time, the focus should always be on helping the players improve that are here because they can work towards what you’d like to see more and more.

“I think what’s reflected in the performances from the last two or three games is there is a growing collective understanding which is important for us.”

Early days and all that. Very early days. Has a promising start silenced the calls for more signings?

Not really. It has just turned down the volume a notch or two. It will all get noisier again if results worsen.

WATCH: Potter's praise for "fantastic servant" Dale Stephens 

Potter knows that and there are tough games ahead in Manchester United at home (twice) and Everton away.

Still, Newcastle away was also a tough game. It was easy to say after the event that Steve Bruce’s side were poor and set up in an old-fashioned way which played into Albion’s hands.

Not too many were saying that before the game as Newcastle looked to build on an impressive opening win at West Ham.

Albion promised quite a lot against Chelsea and delivered emphatically on that on Tyneside.

All that without having to look too much to their new signings.

Yes, Ben White is a new face in terms of the league after his loan at Leeds.

But summer arrivals Lallana and Veltman have not really got going yet.

It is not long ago that players signed from Liverpool and Ajax would have been looked to for immediate exploits.

They will no doubt play their part when the time comes but Potter often talks about improving what he has.

That has not changed and he is confident about delivering on that policy.

He told The Argus: “I know it’s the culture of football in terms of we want to see a signing and that fixes all our problems. But often it’s the team, it’s the collective idea.

“I think we have improved in terms of an understanding together of what we want to do.

“Adam and Joel for different reasons are adapting, adapting to another country in Joel’s case. It takes a bit of time as well to properly be themselves and comfortable in what we are asking them to do.

“It’s nice they are here, nice they are part of our group and nice we have also got players who can help them.”