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AEK Athens 0-1 Brighton: Joao Pedro's penalty sends Seagulls into Europa League knockouts against 10-player hosts

Match report as Brighton reached the Europa League knockout stages with a 1-0 win over AEK Athens; the Seagulls were dominated in the first half but took the lead after half-time through Joao Pedro's penalty; Brighton's task was eased when Mijat Gracinovic was sent off for a second yellow

Brighton's Joao Pedro celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal in Athens
Image: Brighton's Joao Pedro celebrates after scoring the only goal in Athens

Joao Pedro's penalty earned Brighton a 1-0 win over 10-player AEK Athens and safe passage into the Europa League knockout stages in the Seagulls' debut continental campaign.

Initially, Roberto de Zerbi's side found their Greek test a tough one, as they were dominated in the first half and would have fallen behind had Bart Verbruggen not made some smart stops in goal, with Steven Zuber's strike also hitting the post.

But Brighton struck against the run of play 10 minutes after half-time when Pedro was felled by Damian Szymanski, before the Brazilian stepped up to roll home his spot kick.

Pedro scored from the spot 10 minutes after half-time
Image: Pedro scored from the spot 10 minutes after half-time

AEK's ill-discipline continued as Mijat Gracinovic was shown a second yellow card for a lunge on Joel Veltman and that gave Brighton enough security to coast to victory.

The Seagulls now know that only victory at home to Marseille in the final group game will earn them top spot in Group B - which would see them skip the play-off round and move straight into the last-16 stage.

"I am really proud for the players, first of all. For the fans, for the club for the owners for the people who work inside the club, it's another historic day," De Zerbi told TNT Sports.

"Now we want to reach first place in the group table, because it's possible we can play two games less. It's important."

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How Brighton improved to gain victory

Despite AEK Athens dominating the first half, it was Brighton who actually had the best chance of the game.

The returning Kaoru Mitoma fed Evan Ferguson down the Brighton left and the forward shot as he entered the box, drawing a save from AEK goalkeeper Cican Stankovic, before Domagoj Vida kept out Ferguson's rebound with a superb block.

Team news

  • Brighton welcomed back Kaoru Mitoma from injury just in time to replace Ansu Fati, who is out for six months.
  • Igor Julio and Jack Hinshelwood started in defence in place of Tariq Lamptey and Jan-Paul Van Hecke, while Adam Lallana made way for Joao Pedro.

Simon Adingra then blasted over the bar a few minutes later, but the Greek hosts then grew into the game before taking control.

Orbelin Pineda blasted over before stinging Bart Verbruggen's palms in the Brighton goal, with the Seagulls goalkeeper having to be equal to Zuber's stinging drive from distance.

Brighton struggled in a first half where AEK had 13 shots
Image: Brighton struggled in a first half where AEK had 13 shots

Pineda then put another effort wide before the hosts had their best chance of the first half on the stroke of half-time, when Zuber cracked a shot from a tight angle, which deflected off Lewis Dunk and onto the frame of the goal. Mijat Gacinovic then put the rebound over the bar.

AEK continued their onslaught of the Brighton goal after half-time with Pineda forcing Verbruggen into another good save - but the visitors then found their opener against the run of play.

Pedro went to ground under Symanski's challenge in the box and after initially dismissing the claims, the referee stopped play moments later to go and check the monitor.

The spot kick was given and Pedro dispatched it, sending Stankovic the wrong way to send the 2,000 Brighton fans in the 20-degree Greek heat into delirium.

Brighton players celebrate Pedro's opener
Image: Brighton players celebrate Pedro's opener

Then came another Brighton boost as Gracinovic fouled Veltman with a clear lunge in the Brighton penalty area and with the midfielder already on a booking, he was given his marching orders.

Brighton then tried to take control of the game with Billy Gilmour firing over from inside the box - before Ferguson had an even better chance to steal it.

The striker was played through for a one-on-one and had just Stankovic to beat. He tried to round the AEK goalkeeper but was denied by a solid glove from the stopper, with Adingra striking the side netting as the play developed.

That nearly proved pivotal for Brighton as, at the other end, Pineda flashed a good chance wide after being played into space in the box by Sergio Araujo. But that was the closest the Greek side came to parity.

De Zerbi: We had to suffer

Brighton manager Roberto de Zerbi speaking to TNT Sports:

"It's difficult because AEK are a good team, it's a very hard stadium, a great atmosphere. We are not used to playing in this stadium because we are not in the best physical condition, so we can suffer parts of the game.

"We had the first chance in the first half with Ferguson then we lost the balance. But it's difficult when you play against one team who have only one result, they have to win. It's difficult. For today, we played a great game in terms of attitude and character. We played for our fans.

"[Joao Pedro] can play better. He can score more goals and become stronger and Ferguson as well. We need strikers during the game, our style is nice if 11 players play in the game, keeping the ball."

Brighton to investigate away fans inadvertently being teargassed

Brighton have said they will investigate incidents where some of the travelling Seagulls fans were caught in teargas used by police against home fans.

The Premier League club released a club statement on Thursday evening saying tear gas was used in some sections of the home support - but some Brighton fans were caught in the incident.

The statement read: "Once again, the travelling Albion fans have been a credit to the club and supported the team on another historic night for the club.

"We are aware of a small number of minor incidents at full-time in the home section of the ground.

"We understand this resulted in police clearing the home area with the use of teargas. None was directed at the away section.

"However, we are also aware that this inadvertently affected a number of Albion supporters in the away section.

"We will investigate further and seek clarity from AEK Athens - who as a club were excellent hosts - and from UEFA, but at this point will not make any further comment."

Hinshelwood on course to be Brighton's next big thing

In making his European debut against AEK Athens, Brighton's Jack Hinshelwood became the youngest English player to start a Europa League match since Jude Bellingham.

In fact, the Brighton teenager was exactly the same age as the now-Real Madrid midfielder - 18 years and 233 days old - when Bellingham set that record in February 2022.

Brighton's Jack Hinshelwood could be a future star
Image: Brighton's Jack Hinshelwood could be a future star

Many Brighton fans would not have had Hinshelwood in their starting team on Thursday night - especially after the 18-year-old gave away a penalty at Nottingham Forest last weekend while playing in an unnatural left-back role.

But despite having James Milner fit again as a left-back option, Hinshelwood was given a big show of faith by Roberto De Zerbi by putting him in defence again - and it paid off.

Against AEK, the teenager won more possessions in the middle and defensive third (four and five) than any of the players on the pitch. De Zerbi gave Hinshelwood praise at full-time.

"Jack Hinshelwood is a top player, already a top player," he said. "Because he plays with personality, courage and leadership - because he's a leader.

"He's another Lewis Dunk, another Pascal Gross, another Danny Welbeck or Adam Lallana. He's unlucky because I have many players with spirit, with the right passion and soul."

Do not be surprised if the name Jack Hinshelwood is the next big thing to come out of Brighton.

Opta Stats: Hinshelwood matches Bellingham record

  • AEK Athens have conceded six penalties in five games in the UEFA Europa League this season, a joint record total by a team in a Europa League season, along with Sporting Braga in 2021-22. AEK's six is the most ever by a team in a group stage.
  • Brighton's Joao Pedro is only the third player to score four penalties (excluding shootouts) in a major European season for an English club, along with John Wark in 1980-81 for Ipswich Town and Bruno Fernandes in 2020-21 for Manchester United.
  • Brighton's Jack Hinshelwood became the youngest English player to start a UEFA Europa League match since Jude Bellingham in February 2022 for Borussia Dortmund vs Rangers, with Bellingham in that game the exact same age as Hinshelwood (18 years, 233 days).
  • Brighton only completed just 345 passes, their lowest total in a game all season in all competitions, while their share of possession (44.6%) was also their lowest in 2023-24.

What's next?

Brighton visit Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday; kick-off 2pm. Sky Sports' digital platforms is the first place to watch free match highlights of the game, which will arrive shortly after full-time.

Roberto De Zerbi's side complete their Europa League group stage campaign at home to Marseille on Thursday December 14; kick off 8pm.

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