Brighton 2-3 AEK Athens: Seagulls defeated on UEFA Europa League debut despite João Pedro brace

Just days after recording a monumental win against Manchester United at Old Trafford, Roberto De Zerbi’s Brighton welcome AEK Athens to the American Express Community Stadium. With seven changes made to the starting lineup for the club’s European bow, a challenging AEK side would look to take full advantage.

BHA: Steele; Estupiñán, Igor, van Hecke, Milner; Gilmour, Groß; Mitoma, March, Fati; Pedro

AEK: Stankovic; Hajsafi, Szymański, Mitoglou, Sidibe; Jønsson; Amrabat, Gacinovic, Pineda; García, Araújo

While the torrential rain did little to dampen the atmosphere on the South Coast, Brighton fans were silenced after just thirteen minutes when AEK Athens took the lead through a well-worked set piece. Djibril Sidibe was able to latch onto Ehsan Hajsafi’s corner delivery, poking home with a diving header to hand the Greek champions the upper hand.

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João Pedro was blatantly fouled by Hajsafi inside the penalty area as the half-hour mark rolled around – and while the on-field referee initially showed the forward a yellow card for simulation, a VAR review awarded a penalty. Stepping up to the spot, the Brazilian converted perfectly from twelve yards out, beating Cican Stanković to restore parity.

But the Seagulls would find themselves trailing once more just ten minutes later, as Mijat Gaćinović slammed Levi Garcia’s free-kick past Jason Steele from close range. The home defence should arguably have done better – though AEK’s set pieces were incredibly well-worked.

João Pedro was called upon again with little over twenty minutes of regulation time remaining, with VAR required once more to award a penalty after Damian Szymański clipped the forward inside the area. A composed effort rolled into the bottom-right corner saw the ex-Watford man complete his brace, etching his name deeper into Brighton’s history books.

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Yet AEK Athens would respond once more, and in the 84th minute, Ezequiel Ponce would net their third of the evening. With Niclas Eliasson flicking the ball on for Ponce, he was left with a simple finish to make – and he rose to the occasion to put the Greek side in control once more.

And despite thirteen minutes of stoppage time as a result of a head injury to Hajsafi, Brighton were unable to claw themselves level once more. Ultimately forced to settle for a loss on their European bow, the Seagulls can now turn their attention to their trip to Marseille on 5 October. AEK Athens will host Ajax on the same date.