Aston Villa player ratings gallery v Brighton: Two score 9/10 but two get 4s in historic victory
Player ratings from Aston Villa 2-1 Brighton as Unai Emery’s side confirm European football with a famous win on the final day of the Premier League season.
Aston Villa secured European football for the first time in 13 years as they survived an incredibly tense second half to beat Brighton & Hove Albion by two goals to one on the final day of the Premier League season. Douglas Luiz’s early strike and Ollie Watkins’ first goal in seven games was enough to secure all three points for the Villans, even despite a moment of brilliance from Deniz Undav and a Brighton onslaught throughout much of the second 45. Unai Emery’s team showed remarkable passion and composure to hold on to a famous victory, giving the impressively loud support plenty to celebrate with qualification for the Europa Conference League confirmed.
If you thought Villa Park was rocking before the game, another thing hit you when referee David Coote blew the whistle for kick-off. It was a brilliant atmosphere pre-match and then it was deafening in the opening moments, causing the visitors to have a few unusually shaky moments playing out from defence. The Villans did well to press from the front and were able to carve a very early opportunity as Leon Bailey went agonisingly close in the fifth minute. Cut back to him by Jacob Ramsey, the Villa winger did brilliantly to hold off Pascal Gross but then deflected his shot off the Brighton midfielder and onto the crossbar.
It wasn’t long until the hosts had a second big opportunity, though, and they took it emphatically to lift the roof at Villa Park. Yet another effective cut-back from Ramsey dribbling down the left touchline, it was none other than the Player of the Season, Luiz, waiting to drill the ball home into the bottom right-hand corner for 1-0. The Seagulls had an opening of their own to equalise immediately after as Evan Ferguson ran through one-on-one with Emiliano Martinez, but the Irishman leaned back and put his effort well over.
Albion thought they had their equaliser in the 20th minute when Deniz Undav slotted the ball beyond Martinez and into the net but VAR official Graham Scott intervened and disallowed the goal. Julio Enciso, who had put in a lovely deep cross, was offside by about a yard. Villa managed to regain control of possession soon afterward and were patient to create their next chance, but it was well worth the wait as Ramsey broke forward yet again and was able to hand Watkins the easiest goal he will score in a very long time. Playing it across an onrushing Jason Steele for his second assist of the game, Ramsey gave Watkins an empty net to double the Villans’ lead.
Emery’s side were in the ascendency after going 2-0 up but Brighton got themselves back into the encounter when Undav worked a chance out of nothing and converted beyond Martinez in the 40th minute. Having previously had one disallowed by VAR, the German then had a reverse in fortunes as the flag was at first raised for offside but Graham Scott got involved to award the goal. Matty Cash’s trailing leg played Undav on - just about - allowing the Seagulls back into the clash. It was a clever move as make-shift left-back Pascal Gross took a deep free-kick quickly to wrong-foot Villa’s defenders and Undav used some improvisation to flick the ball over Tyrone Mings’ head, before prodding it home.
The start of the second period ramped up the tension at Villa Park as Brighton, who brought on Moises Caicedo and Pervis Estupinan at half time, looked revitalised on the attack. De Zerbi’s men were a lot more fluid in possession and won the majority of their midfield duels to cause problems going forward. Alexis Mac Allister went very close to making it 2-2 with a low, bouncing drive from just outside the area but his effort went marginally wide. Villa then missed a massive opportunity to regain their two-goal buffer as Ramsey slid in at the far post from a Leon Bailey cross but directed the ball over the crossbar. The midfielder had an open goal to aim at but he just couldn’t get the right direction on his shot.
Emery’s nerves on the touchline looked to be just as high as those in the crowd as Villa Park fell silent with around 20 minutes left on the clock. The hosts, still leading, were being pressured heavily by Albion and substitute Kaoru Mitoma was causing Cash all sorts of problems with his close ball control. It may not have felt like it given the tension, but Brighton’s threat got less and less as the minutes kept on ticking. The Villans did very well to regain their composure and keep possession for much of the closing moments, even with a lengthy six minutes of added time. The full time whistle blew and every fan in the ground got up onto their feet to roar in celebration. Here are our Villa player ratings.