Aston Villa 2 – 1 Brighton. Aston Villa beat Brighton at a raucous Villa Park to secure a return to European football after a 13-year absence.
Villa needed to win to secure seventh place in the Premier League and earn a spot in the play-offs for the third-tier Europa Conference League.
They made a dream start as, after Leon Bailey had hit the crossbar, they took the lead in the eighth minute when the club’s Player of the Year Douglas Luiz slid the ball home from Jacob Ramsey’s pullback.
Ramsey got another assist 18 minutes later when he collected a through ball and, just as away goalkeeper Jason Steele slid at his feet, knocked a sideways pass to Ollie Watkins for the England striker to score his 15th league goal of the season.
Brighton thought they had scored when Deniz Undav volleyed in, but Julio Enciso was ruled offside by the video assistant referee before he crossed for his team-mate.
But in the 38th minute a VAR decision went Undav’s way when he scored following a quickly taken free-kick by Pascal Gross, with the assistant referee saying it was offside before being over-ruled by officials at Stockley Park.
Villa, who won the European Cup in 1982, last played in European competition in 2010, losing 4-3 on aggregate to Austrian side Rapid Vienna in the Europa League play-offs.
Despite a nervous second half against Brighton, they held on to the victory they needed to spark celebrations in the stands.
There was a thunderous atmosphere at Villa Park, with boss Unai Emery saying this was the day the club had been dreaming off for the last two months – and the occasion did not disappoint.
The final whistle saw the players hugging each other while Emery and his coaching staff did likewise amid incredible noise from the home fans.
What made this more special for Villa’s fans was the knowledge this was something they could not have contemplated a few months ago.
It has been a truly remarkable season for Villa.
In October they were only out of the relegation zone on goals scored, with only two wins from 11 games when Steven Gerrard was sacked an hour after a 3-0 loss to Fulham.
Ex-Sevilla and Arsenal boss Emery arrived from Villarreal and has transformed Villa’s season, guiding the side to 15 wins from 25 matches and take Villa back into Europe.
For Brighton, this has been the best league season in their 122-year history with sixth place having already been assured and the Seagulls qualifying for the Europa League for their first European campaign.
Roberto de Zerbi’s side had chances to wreck Villa’s day but Undav had a shot saved by Emiliano Martinez before his Argentina World Cup winning team-mate Alexis Mac Allister fired just wide from the edge of the penalty area.
De Zerbi faces a summer when Mac Allister and a number of the club’s other highly rated players – such as midfielder Moises Caicedo, Kaoru Mitoma and teenagers Enciso, Facundo Buonanotte and Evan Ferguson – will have admirers.
Whoever returns after the off-season, Brighton will have European football to look forward – and so too will Villa.
source – BBC