AEK Athens 0-1 Brighton: Pedro penalty seals subpar Seagulls’ place in Europa League knockouts

The penultimate game for both AEK and Brighton in Group B of the UEFA Europa League took place in Greece on Thursday evening. In terms of their respective domestic campaigns, Brighton had narrowly escaped Nottingham Forest with a 3-2 win in the Premier League, while AEK Athens had defeated Giannina on the road in the Greek Super League.

AEK: Stankovic; Rota, Vida, Moukoudi, Hajsafi; Amrabat, Pineda, Szymanski, Gacinovic; Mantalos, Zuber

BHA: Verbruggen; Hinshelwood, Igor Julio, Dunk, Veltman; Gross, Gilmour; Adingra, Mitoma, Ferguson; Pedro

A mild evening in Athens almost started out perfectly as Evan Ferguson had two chances in succession to put Roberto de Zerbi’s side in front, only for Cican Stankovic to save well at the near post.

AEK also had their first chance of the game early on after Lewis Dunk misplaced the ball on the edge of the box, leaving Steven Zuber to fire straight at Albion goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen.

Simon Adingra was another Brighton player to test his luck from range, but his effort whiskered past the top corner. 

A excellent delivery in from Ehsan Hajsafi at the other end was cleared by the Brighton defence, but the clearance landed at the feet of Orbelin Pineda, whose fierce effort just about evaded the top left corner. The Mexican then saw a header collected comfortably by Bart Verbruggen moments later.

Steven Zuber then saw another effort of his own making be tipped over the bar by Verbruggen, who had been the busier goalkeeper thus far. The Swiss international was then unlucky not to find the net via a header which went just wide.

With two minutes to go before half-time, Zuber had two successive chances to put the home side in front. His first coming courtesy of an excellent strike which came back off the frame of the goal, and his second being a shot saved comfortably by Verbruggen.

The first chance of the second half didn’t arrive until the 52nd minute as following Nordin Amrabat’s ball in being cleared, Mijat Gacinovic’s ferocious effort from the edge of the Brighton box was saved brilliantly by Bart Verbruggen. 

However, just a minute after AEK Athens could’ve taken the lead, Brighton were awarded a penalty after Joao Pedro was caught by Damian Szymanski. The Brazilian then picked himself up to smash home the spot kick from 12 yards – a goal that the away side’s performance had barely warranted, but a huge one in their quest to seal their place in the knockout rounds.

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It got worse for the home side as after being booked in the first half, Mijat Gacinovic was given his second yellow card for a rash challenge on Joel Veltman, leaving AEK Athens a man light. 

Billy Gilmour looked to double Brighton’s goal tally for the evening shortly after, but his volley from the edge of the box sailed just over the bar. Evan Ferguson was then through one-on-one with Stankovic, but the AEK Athens goalkeeper was alert and collected the ball at the last minute.

At the other end just moments later, Orbelin Pineda almost equalised for the 10-man Greek side, but his shot whistled past the far post. It proved to be the final clear chance of the game, as Brighton saw out a uncomfortable but important win.

Both sides return to league action this weekend, with AEK Athens hosting Aris in the Greek Super League next Monday at 7pm UK time, while Brighton head to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday at 2pm.