The seagulls’ flight to Europe caused much fanfare. It was rightly a celebration in itself. A kind of confirmation of their recovery from the brink of extinction, not only to return to the top of English football, but beyond.
The city responded by lighting the Brighton Pavilion blue for the occasion and decorating the streets in club colours. Fans flocked to the Amex Stadium in frenzy. Then AEK Athens descended on the south coast and clipped their wings.
Twice the Greeks led and twice Roberto de Zerbi’s team responded with the help of two penalties awarded after VAR referrals and both clinically converted by Joao Pedro as the match went one way.
But Brighton created little by their own standards. It took more than an hour to find any rhythm and just as they were generating a little momentum, they were punished and stunned at the back by the winner, scored by AEK substitute Ezquiel Ponce.
It was the first time that the thirteen-time Greek champion defeated an English opponent since 1977. The match ended in a flurry of defeat. They’ve been through too much to be too despondent in these parts, but the new chapter of their soaring script wasn’t meant to start like this.
Djibril Sidibe scored a sensational header to give AEK Athens a surprise lead at the Amex
Ezequiel Ponce’s accidental winner stunned the home crowd as Brighton were beaten
Roberto de Zerbi was dismayed as Brighton’s big European win ended in a 3-2 defeat
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“We gave in too early,” Pedro said. ‘We knew they were strong in corners and in attack. We have to learn.’
De Zerbi made seven changes to the team that won at Manchester United on Sunday, leaving captain Lewis Dunk and Evan Ferguson to rest with minor injuries. Both are expected to be fit against Bournemouth on Sunday.
Dunk’s absence was felt as AEK took an early lead, a fantastic flying header scored by Djibril Sidibie, the former France international whose loan spell at Everton is best remembered for the time he forgot to put one of his socks on while playing in the field came. replacement.
Brighton sputtered, wobbled and might have fallen even further behind. Jason Steele made excellent saves to keep out Levi Garcia and Orbelin. Pineda and Garcia pushed another good chance wide when De Zerbi squirmed furiously on the touchline and aimed for a water bottle. He also missed.
Midway through the first half, AEK goalkeeper Cican Stankovic was forced to make a remarkable save at his near post to deny Ansu Fati, making his first start and otherwise anonymous. Igor Julio headed wide of the back post when he should have scored for penalty number one.
Initially, Estonian referee Kristo Tohver thought that striker Pedro had dived. His yellow card came, but replays backed Pedro’s claim that he had been tripped by Ehsan Hajsafi and VAR intervened to change the decision.
Pedro, whose yellow card had been withdrawn, leveled from the spot. He will go down as Brighton’s first goalscorer in European competition, but AEK’s lead was restored before the break. Once again, a free kick from a free kick landed expertly in the penalty area and slid past Steele after Mijat Gacinovic’s bounce.
A long break for treatment for AEK defender Hajsafi interrupted the second half after a head-to-head battle with Jan-Paul van Hecke.
Joao Pedro scored his third of the season when he made it 1-1 from the penalty spot
Mijat Gacinovic restored AEK’s lead a few minutes before half-time
Pedro brought Brighton back into the game as he kept his cool from twelve yards out
Ponce scored the winner as AEK Athens resisted two equalizers to ultimately triumph
Brighton lost Milner to injury before penalty drama number two. Once again a trip on Pedro was disallowed by referee Tohver, probably due to the exaggerated fall. Once again a reference to the fieldside screens and a change of heart by the man in the middle.
Once again Pedro sent goalkeeper Stankovic the wrong way to equalize and set up a frenzied final scene including 13 minutes of extra time, but Ponce settled the tie. This time there was no way back for Brighton.
AGREEMENT FACTS AND ASSESSMENTS
Brighton 4231: Steele 6.5; Milner 6 (Lamptey 55, 7), Van Hecke 5, Julio 5, Estupinan 6; Gross 7, Gilmour 6.5 (Buonanotte 86); March 6,5, Fati 6, Mitoma 7 (Adringra 86); Pedro 7.5 (Welbeck 82).
Goals: Pedro 30 (pen)
Bookings: Julio, Estupinan, Van Hecke, Welbeck,
Manager: Roberto de Zerbi 6
AEK 4141: Stankovic 6; Sidibe 6.5, Mitoglou 8, Symanski 7.5, Hajsafi 6 (Mohammadi 61); Jonsson 7; Amrabat 6, Araujo 6 (Zuber 68), Pineda 7 (Mantolas 79), Gacinovic 7 (Eliasson 79); Garcia 6 (Ponce 68, 7.5).
Goals: Sidibie 11, Gacinovic 40
Bookings: Mitoglu, Ponce, Gacinovic, Mantolas, Mohammadi
Administrator: Matias Almeyda 7
Ref: Kristo Tohver (Estonia) 6
IT’S ALL GOING OFF!