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Roberto de Zerbi hailed the most illustrious victory in his club’s 122-year history as Brighton toppled Ajax for the second time in a fortnight, this time dazzling with their artistry in the home of the Dutch masters.
“Yes, I think so,” De Zerbi nodded when asked, and the traveling fans celebrating high at the top of the Johan Cruijff Arena would agree. ‘We are very happy for our fans and our club. We deserved the win and played very well for seventy minutes.’
Ansu Fati led the way with a sparkling performance, scoring the first and setting up the second for Simon Adingra, who left the Sussex club with seven points and two to play in Group B. “His best game with us,” said De Zerbi.
After a slow start to their debut European season, Brighton are well on track to progress in the competition, but this victory may have come at a price with three more injuries, including captain Lewis Dunk and Pervis Estupinan, who collapsed on his return as a substitute . .
James Milner limped off dejectedly after just eight minutes. He appeared to jerk an ankle as he stretched to make a block, replaced by Billy Gilmour. Pascal Gross moved to the left back position, where Milner was the deputy.
Ansu Fati and Simon Adingra from Brighton celebrate in the Johan Cruijff Arena
Former Tottenham winger Steven Bergwijn on the night of Ajax’s defeat
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Ajax 4231: Ramaj 6; Gaaei 5 (Sosa 57, 6), Rensch 6 (Mikautadze 78), Sutalo 6, Hato 5; Vos 5.5 (Tahirovic 72, ) Taylor 5 (Akpom 46, 6.5); Berghuis 6, Hlynsson 6 (Borges 57, 6), Bergwijn 6; Brobbey 7.
Subs: Pasveer, Setford, Salah-Eddine, Medic, Avila, Godts, Martha
Manager: John van’t Schip 6
Brighton 4231: Verbruggen 6.5; Milner (Gilmour 8, 7), Van Hecke 7.5, Dunk 7 (Julio 46, 6.5), Veltman 6.5; Dahoud 6 (Estupinan 65, (Baleba 77), Gross 6; Adingra 7.5, Fati 8 (Ferguson 65, 6), Mitoma 6; Pedro 7.5.
Subs: Steele, McGill, Webster, Lallana, Baleba, Buonanotte, Hinshelwood, Duffus
Goals: Fati 15, Adingra 53,
Bookings: Pedro, Van Hecke,
Manager: Roberto de Zerbi 7
Ref: Nikola Dabanovic (Montenegro) 6.5
First-choice left-back Estupinan was on the bench after missing six games, but De Zerbi did not want to expose him to a long shift, so the Ecuardorian came on in the 65th minute and left 12 minutes later.
Dunk, who has been selected by England for the Euro 2024 qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia, indicated he had a groin problem towards the end of the first half and did not return for the second half. The Zerbi did not think the injuries were serious. “I hope not,” he added.
Despite the disruption, Ajax could not find the net. They are the only team to play Brighton this season without scoring, and they have had it happen twice. In any case, the Dutch played with a greater sense of adventure than they showed in the defeat at the Amex.
Their early-season crisis has eased somewhat since John van t’Schip took over as interim manager and restored confidence.
However, his side gifted the visitors the opener when midfielder Silvano Vos telegraphed a pass, deep in his own half, and Adingra intercepted. Joao Pedro turned to make space and Fati capitalized, collecting Adingra’s pass and sliding an accurate finish past goalkeeper Diant Ramaj.
It was his fourth goal for Brighton, his third in the last five appearances and the Spanish striker, on loan from Barcelona, is becoming influential in De Zerbi’s team, developing a good understanding with Pedro and Adingra.
Ajax dominated much of the ball possession until half-time without creating any chances. Brighton frustrated them and almost extended their lead before the break. Ramaj denied Adingra with his left foot.
Roberto De Zerbi will be happy with Brighton’s form in the Europa League so far
Ansu Fati celebrates after scoring the first goal of the match against Ajax in the 14th minute
The home crowd cheered Chuba Akpom into battle, but he could do nothing as the four-time European champion fell further behind.
This time Fati was the creator with a ringing run to pull the Ajax defense out of shape and a simple pass to Adingra, who came in from the right to clip a shot past Ramaj as the keeper slid out.
Ajax rallied to apply late pressure but their evening was summed up by Brian Brobbey, whose side-foot volley in the 73rd minute hit the inside of one post, rolled along the goal line, hit the other post and spun out.
Brighton made it to safety and survived a strong finish at home to earn a win that would have them singing all the way home to Sussex.