Unai Emery says Aston Villa must adapt to the varying challenges of European and domestic football ahead of Sunday's Premier League meeting with an "amazing" Brighton at Amex Stadium.

Villa boss Emery has become renowned as somewhat of a European mastermind, having won three Europa Leagues with Sevilla and another when in charge of Villarreal.

Yet the Spaniard will have been disappointed as Villa slipped to a 4-2 home defeat against Olympiacos in Thursday's Europa Conference League semi-final first leg.

Emery acknowledged his Champions League-chasing Villa must prepare differently for different challenges in Europe as they prepare to return to domestic action against Brighton.

He said: "We want to grow up in Europe, playing Europa League and Champions League. I like it.

"The players have to adapt to that situation playing more matches than normal and then try to take experiences and manage those competitions and try to be successful in both."

European football is on the cards next term at Villa Park, too, with Emery's fourth-placed side seven points clear of Tottenham, who have played a game fewer.

Villa can move one step closer to an unlikely Champions League qualification with victory at Brighton, though Emery knows a tough task awaits against Roberto De Zerbi.

"The respect for Roberto de Zerbi is high," he added. "He is an amazing coach, he was playing very good last year.

"It is amazing how they play."

Brighton, meanwhile, are winless in six straight Premier League games and have been demolished by Bournemouth and Manchester City in recent weeks.

That winless run leaves the Seagulls 12th in the table and Brighton head coach De Zerbi is desperate for a response on Sunday, even if they are out of European contention.

"I spoke about motivation not because we want to go on holiday tomorrow or next week," De Zerbi said. "When the target is not so close it is tough to accept for a team who is used to fighting for the important target.

"This season until the Brentford game, until maybe the Burnley game, we have had the chance to qualify for another year in the Europe League.

"I think after that we lost something of energy and of motivation."


Brighton – Joao Pedro

Brighton have not managed a goal from one of their own players since Danny Welbeck scored after just two minutes in the March 31 defeat against Liverpool at Anfield.

De Zerbi may look to Joao Pedro to end that struggle, with the forward's eight league goals leading the club's scoring charts – though he has not scored since March 2 against Crystal Palace.

Aston Villa – Ollie Watkins

Ollie Watkins has scored six goals in his last four Premier League appearances against Brighton, including a hat-trick in Villa’s 6-1 win earlier this season. It’s the most goals he’s netted against an opponent in the competition.

The England striker has also been involved in eight goals in his last five Premier League away games, scoring six and assisting two. His 10 Premier League away goals overall this season is the most of any English player in the competition.


The Opta supercomputer struggled to split these two sides in the pre-match predictions, though Villa are the narrow favourites for this one considering recent head-to-head clashes.

Emery's men won 6-1 in this season’s reverse Premier League fixture against Brighton – they last netted more than six against an opponent in 2020-21 vs Liverpool (8), while their most goals against an opponent in a season is 10 against Wimbledon in 1994-95.

Brighton have also lost their last five Premier League matches against Villa by an aggregate score of 14-3. The Seagulls last suffered six defeats in a row against a side between 2019 and 2022 against Man Utd.

Villa, meanwhile, will be looking to register six consecutive top-flight wins against an opponent for the first time since between 2005 and 2010 against fierce rivals Birmingham City.

The visitors may be confident of doing so given De Zerbi's men have lost their last two league games by an aggregate score of 7-0.

The Seagulls last lost more in a row in the competition in March 2022 (run of six – the third of which was at home to Villa), while they last conceded 3+ goals in three successive league matches in October 2011 as a Championship side.


Brighton win – 35.4%

Aston Villa win – 35.7%

Draw – 28.9%

Mikel Arteta savoured a “big, big performance” after Arsenal reclaimed top spot in the Premier League by ending Brighton’s impressive home form with a thumping 3-0 victory.

The title-chasing Gunners arrived at the Amex Stadium having dropped to third place in the table following Manchester City’s 4-2 success at Crystal Palace in Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off.

Bukayo Saka set Arteta’s men on course to return to the summit by converting a 33rd-minute penalty before second-half goals from Kai Havertz and substitute Leandro Trossard completed a comprehensive win.

The result – Albion’s first top-flight home loss in more than seven months – puts Arsenal a point ahead of both Liverpool, who play their game in hand at rivals Manchester United on Sunday, and City.

“I’m really happy, really proud of the boys,” said Gunners boss Arteta.

“They put in a big, big performance to beat this great Brighton side.

“They haven’t lost here since August and that tells you the difficulty of the task but we were really good today.”

Fit-again Saka was recalled after sitting out the 2-0 midweek win over Luton with a muscular problem.

The England forward scored from the spot when Seagulls full-back Tariq Lamptey was penalised for bringing down Gabriel Jesus, despite brushing the top of the ball.

Havertz rewarded Arsenal’s dominance by tapping home Jorginho’s centre 28 minutes from time before substitute Trossard ran half the length of the pitch to rub salt into the wounds of his former club late on.

“The understanding between the attacking players today was superb,” said Arteta.

“They had real purpose and connection and we created many chances.”

Arsenal led the division for much of last season before falling short in the final weeks.

The Gunners, who begin their two-legged Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich on Tuesday evening, have won 10 of 11 top-flight fixtures in 2024, with seven games to go.

“We are in a really good moment,” said Arteta.

“We have the squad healthy, with a really good energy, with a lot of confidence individually and collectively because they are performing really well and we are winning a lot of matches.

“We just have to carry on doing what we’re doing.”

Brighton dropped to 10th position, below Chelsea on goal difference, as their quest for a second successive season of European football suffered a setback.

Injury-hit Albion faded from a positive start and rarely threatened Gunners goalkeeper David Raya.

Seagulls boss Roberto De Zerbi had no complaints about the award of Arsenal’s penalty and urged his players to quickly move on.

“I thought it was clear but I don’t want to speak about the decisions of the referee,” he said of the spot-kick.

“We lost not for the referee’s responsibility.

“We played a good game until the second goal we conceded but we didn’t shoot enough to score. We weren’t strong enough to score.

“Arsenal are one of the best teams in the Premier League. We knew that before the game.

“We fought in a good way.

“The penalty was clear and we move on trying to work better, to improve our young players, to recover our eight injured players, and we try to compete to reach another season in the European positions.”

Mikel Arteta pointed to Arsenal’s growing maturity as a key factor in driving their Premier League title challenge ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Brighton.

Victory at the Amex Stadium will see the Gunners finish Saturday back on top of the table with leaders Liverpool not in action until Sunday, as they chase a first league crown since 2004.

At 20 years it is the club’s longest streak without winning the top flight since they were first champions in 1930-31.

The last two decades have seen Arsenal consistently written off as being psychologically lacking when it comes to the title-race home straight.

There have been a number of significant collapses in form, particularly during spring. In early 2008 they led the table by six points late in February before finishing third, while the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons also saw points thrown away during the run-in.

In 2013-14 they spent more days on top of the league than any other side yet still finished fourth, and last season they were again dominant for much of the campaign before being overtaken in April by Manchester City.

However, with eight games to go in the title race, Arteta is confident something has changed.

“The team has matured,” he said. “They has found their own rhythm, their own leadership and a way of managing certain things.

“They know we are always there to support. We guide them, you always have to be vigilant that what you expect to happen is happening. They are a great group, they are easy.

“It’s about trust. A culture where everybody is very clear what we expect from each other; where everybody does what we expect when I’m there, when I’m not there, when someone is looking or when they’re not looking.

“Trust has to be built every day. You can have an incident or a situation, you can lose it straight away. It takes so much to build it. That’s why you have to be on it every single day. And you need good people.”

Their most recent outing – a 2-0 victory over Luton at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday – saw visiting manager Rob Edwards describe Arteta’s side as being “the perfect team” with no obvious weakness.

With previous Arsenal teams having been regularly accused of being soft and having insufficient physicality despite their bold attacking play, there is a clear sense of that missing toughness having been found.

“In this league, every game demands different things,” said Arteta, whose team have won nine of their last 10 in the league.

“Certain teams try to get you to play a certain game and, when they do, you have to play it in the best possible way. You have to have the adaptability to do that.

“That’s what we’re trying to do, to evolve as a team, be comfortable and be dominant as well.

“You have to evolve the team, you have to understand what you want. You have to have the players to do it and the knowledge to explain it.”

Brighton failed to score at home for the first time in 23 matches as they were held to a frustrating goalless draw by Wolves at the Amex Stadium.

Albion dominated possession in a tetchy Premier League contest but lacked a cutting edge in attack.

Wanderers captain Maximilian Kilman hit the frame of his own goal early in the second half, while Pedro Neto, Matheus Cunha and Mario Lemina went close for the counter-attacking visitors.

A largely forgettable encounter was at least memorable for Seagulls midfielder James Milner, whose 633rd Premier League appearance lifted him clear of Ryan Giggs on the competition’s all-time list, behind only record holder Gareth Barry.

Brighton climb to seventh, above Manchester United on goal difference, courtesy of the stalemate, while Wolves move level on points with 10th-placed Newcastle.

Albion won this fixture 6-0 last season – their biggest Premier League victory and Wolves’ heaviest loss.

Danny Welbeck was one of three players to score twice that day and he threatened to inflict to more misery on Wanderers during a bright beginning for the hosts.

After forcing a corner with a deflected shot off Matt Doherty, the former England forward climbed high to flick on Pervis Estupinan’s 11th-minute delivery, only for Facundo Buonanotte’s back-post diving header to be hacked off the line by Tommy Doyle.

Wolves were just about managing to contain the lively hosts and almost snatched a 22nd-minute lead.

Portugal forward Neto, making his first start since October in the absence of 10-goal top scorer Hwang Hee-chan, was afforded time and space on the edge of the Seagulls’ 18-yard box but his curling effort flew narrowly wide of the left post.

Wolves boss Gary O’Neil was left frustrated on the half-hour mark when Brighton midfielder Billy Gilmour escaped punishment after cynically halting Cunha’s off-the-ball run as Neto broke down the left.

Tempers then threatened to boil over on the touchline during a flashpoint sparked by a clash between Gilmour and Wolves defender Craig Dawson, which led to the visitors’ goalkeeping coach Neil Cutler being booked by referee Craig Pawson.

The fractious ending to a tight opening period persisted with Cunha receiving a yellow card for a challenge on Gilmour and then confronting the officials following the half-time whistle.

Brazil forward Cunha almost channelled his sense of injustice into the opening goal within seconds of the restart but his initial effort was repelled by Seagulls goalkeeper Jason Steele before he poked over the rebound.

Wolves skipper Kilman then diverted the ball on to the base of his own right post as he slid in to intercept Jack Hinshelwood’s cross before Neto was denied by Steele as the end-to-end action continued.

In-form Wolves were seeking to register four successive top-flight wins for the first time since January 1972 and looked the more likely to break the deadlock in the closing stages.

Neto flashed across goal before the onrushing Steele was fortunate to escape being rounded by Cunha and then kept out a powerful drive from Lemina.

Ange Postecoglou defended his “tired” Tottenham team after they were blown away in a six-goal thriller at Brighton.

Joao Pedro struck a brace of penalties while Jack Hinshelwood and Pervis Estupinan produced fine strikes in a well deserved 4-2 victory for Roberto De Zerbi’s men.

While Alejo Veliz and Ben Davies scored in the final 10 minutes, Spurs were second best for much of the night and suffered a fifth Premier League defeat of the campaign.

Both clubs have faced numerous injuries during recent months, with Brighton without eight players for this contest and Tottenham nine, which led to Postecoglou taking a philosophical view.

Postecoglou said: “Fair to say we were looking a bit tired and lacked our usual sharpness, especially at the start of the game. We’ve been starting games well.

“I guess that’s understandable, we’ve been on this run for a while now and asking players to perform at levels. It’s very demanding the way we play, physically, and today we kind of looked like a team that wasn’t at its sharpest.

“Brighton are a good side and they took advantage of that. Ultimately what I do know is the players, everything they had they gave and that’s all I can ask for.”

Pedro found the unmarked Hinshelwood to fire beyond Guglielmo Vicario, who had twice denied Danny Welbeck early on, and the Brazilian then rolled home a spot-kick after Dejan Kulusevski was penalised for pulling Welbeck.

Vicario was forced into action several more times, while James Milner also hit the post before Estupinan capped his comeback appearance with a goal from 25 yards.

The offside flag had denied Richarlison twice but Spurs’ miserable night was compounded when substitute Giovani Lo Celso brought down Evan Ferguson and Pedro slotted home to make it 4-0.

Tottenham fought back with Veliz scoring his first goal in English football with nine minutes left before Ben Davies headed home at the back post, but it finished 4-2.

Postecoglou had no qualms with either penalty decision, although did take umbrage with VAR not punishing Brighton captain Lewis Dunk for a poor tackle on Kulusevski in the build-up to Veliz scoring.

“It was obviously clear and obvious because it only took him (Jarred Gillett) three minutes to see it on the screen, and VAR picked up everything today except the one tackle which nearly cost me another player,” Postecoglou added.

“It’s been difficult this whole run. We’ve been stretched for a very long time and we’ve just tried to play on through it.

“We’re only in the position we are because of the enormous efforts of the players to do jobs that normally is not in their brief, but they do it willingly and they give everything. Today we fell short but not for the want of trying.”

De Zerbi toasted a brilliant end to a special year where Brighton finished sixth, made the FA Cup semi-finals and progressed into the last 16 of the Europa League.

“Yes, the best way to finish the year,” he added.

“We played a great game because we show incredible courage to defend men-to-men for 90 minutes and to play with that courage, that quality, that style.

“I am sorry we concede two goals and I am sorry we have no clean sheet.”

Tottenham’s Premier League revival was halted in emphatic fashion after two Joao Pedro penalties and a stunning strike from Pervis Estupinan helped injury-hit Brighton record a thumping 4-2 win.

Spurs arrived at the Amex Stadium seeking a fourth successive top-flight success to reclaim fourth spot from reigning champions Manchester City.

But the north London club were ripped apart as Pedro’s double and Estupinan’s thunderbolt added to Jack Hinshelwood’s opener.

Tottenham, who claimed late consolations through substitute Alejo Veliz and Ben Davies, could easily have lost by more as rampant Albion twice hit the woodwork and had a Facundo Buonanotte effort disallowed.

Richarlison struck a post for the visitors and was twice denied by the offside flag, while Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg also hit the woodwork.

Yet, on this evidence, Champions League qualification looks a distant dream for Ange Postecoglou’s side, who had registered just one point from 15 before their recent upturn in form. Victory lifts Roberto De Zerbi’s hosts above Newcastle into eighth.

Depleted were missing eight first-team players while their visitors also had a lengthy list of absentees.

One-time Arsenal forward Danny Welbeck should have opened the scoring for Albion inside six minutes when he was twice denied by goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario, but the Seagulls deservedly edged ahead with 11 minutes on the clock.

Tottenham’s porous defence failed to halt Pedro’s mazy waltz across the 18-yard box and his offload was emphatically dispatched into the roof of the net by 18-year-old defender Hinshelwood.

Brazilian forward Pedro duly doubled the lead with a spot-kick awarded following VAR intervention.

Spurs thought they had escaped when Jan Paul van Hecke’s header from a Pascal Gross corner came back off the right post but replays showed Dejan Kulusevski pulled down Welbeck as he attempted to reach the rebound and Pedro coolly rolled home from 12 yards.

Stunned Spurs showed little response and were in danger of falling further behind. James Milner rattled the right post with a superb curling effort before Buonanotte’s clinical finish was flagged offside.

The away side almost gifted Brighton a third when Pedro was sent through by a calamitous back-pass from Pedro Porro, only to see his attempted dink pushed wide by Vicario.

Postecoglou would undoubtedly have been happy to reach the break only two behind, albeit his side’s predicament nearly improved as Richarlison swept against the outside of the left post in added time.

The Brazilian then put the ball in the net having already been ruled offside and then curled wide before again being denied by the flag of assistant referee Darren Cann.

Tottenham’s frustration was quickly compounded. Seagulls substitute Estupinan, making his first appearance since November 9 due to injury, did the damage, unleashing a thunderous, dipping effort into the top right corner from around 25 yards following Milner’s short corner.

Tormentor-in-chief Pedro rubbed salt into Spurs’ wounds 15 minutes from time by dispatching his second penalty after Evan Ferguson was brought down by Giovani Lo Celso.

Veliz’s first goal in English football, after Kulusevski and Son Heung-min capitalised on sloppy Seagulls defending, eased the embarrassment before Davies’ header from a Porro cross increased the anxiety among home fans.

But Brighton weathered a frantic nine minutes of added time, during which Hojbjerg hit the base of the right post, to claim the points.

Vincent Kompany said Burnley will need more outstanding individual performances in order to survive in the Premier League after goalkeeper James Trafford put in a superb display in his team’s 1-1 draw against Brighton at the Amex Stadium.

The visitors took the lead against the run of play courtesy of a brilliant strike from Wilson Odobert, taking advantage as three Brighton players stood off him and unleashing a wicked drive that nicked off James Milner and flew over goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen into the top corner.

At that stage, Trafford had already saved well from Milner and Pascal Gross, and he continued to repel the home side’s attempts to claw the game back, racing from his goal to keep out Simon Adingra with a sprawling block in the second half.

Burnley were finally breached when Adingra nodded in a cross from the excellent Gross minutes later, but Trafford would save his best until last, first showing outstanding reflexes to beat away a header from substitute Jack Hinshelwood in stoppage time before flinging himself towards the top corner to somehow fingertip Karou Mitoma’s volley over the bar.

“The game demanded it at the end,” said Kompany. “You don’t come to these places and get a result without moments like this.

“It’s in the bank for him (Trafford), in terms of having come through this. He needs to keep working on becoming the best he can be. We’re very fortunate to have two very good goalkeepers.

“His season has been no different to everyone else in the team. He’s improved throughout the season, shown good signs. He’s been more and more consistent and ultimately at this level consistency is the key word.

“We have more and more players who perform at a consistent level. In games like today, without someone having an outstanding performance, you never get results.”

Burnley were seeking just their second away win of the season but despite defending bravely after taking the lead they were left to rue more dropped points on the road, though the gap to Everton in 17th place has been cut to two points.

“We’re not at a level yet where we can compete every week with teams like Brighton on an equal level,” said Kompany.

“There’s a tremendous belief in me that the club is going in the right direction.

“Our biggest, unique strength is it’s an elite club in terms of the attitude, the standard and the habits. I would put us against anybody. The amount of belief and resilience we’ve got. It’s a special club that really lives.

“It’s not for no reason that after such a tough start, you still see progression, you still see people getting better. That won’t stop.”

Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi reflected that there is still a way to go before his side can consider themselves amongst the league’s top bracket.

“I consider my team a very good team, I have big, big confidence,” he said.

“There isn’t anyone more than me who believes in my players. But we are not a top team yet, because a top team wins today, against Sheffield (United) and against Fulham (both games finished 1-1 at the Amex).

“Winning these three games, we would be third in the table. These three games, we played very well, and we deserved to win.

“Why didn’t we win these three games? Maybe because we are not a top team yet. Maybe the coach of Brighton is not a top, top coach yet.”

England Under-19 international Jack Hinshelwood claimed his first Premier League goal to earn Brighton a 2-1 comeback win over Brentford at the Amex Stadium.

The 18-year-old full-back, making only his fifth top-flight appearance, headed home Pascal Gross’ cross early in the second half, having cleared Yoane Wissa’s effort off his own goal-line just a minute earlier.

Stand-in Albion skipper Gross levelled for the hosts in the opening period after they fell behind against the run of play to a Bryan Mbeumo penalty.

Bees forward Mbeumo was later forced off by a nasty-looking ankle injury on a disappointing evening for the visitors, while his replacement Wissa was perhaps fortunate to avoid a second-half red card for swinging a hand into the face of Billy Gilmour.

The match-winning contribution of Sussex-born Hinshelwood, whose father Adam played 100 league games for Brighton between 2002 and 2009, earned his side a first home victory since September 24 following three successive score draws.

Depleted Brighton were once again without a host of key players due to injuries and suspensions as they went in search of only a second win in their last nine top-flight outings.

The Seagulls shaded a forgettable opening period devoid of goalmouth action before Brentford capitalised on sloppy defending to snatch the lead in the 27th minute with their first attack.

Bees captain Vitaly Janelt was pulled down by Jan Paul van Hecke following an impressive burst into the box and Mbeumo coolly sent Jason Steele the wrong way to find the bottom left corner from 12 yards.

Brighton had scored and conceded in each of their previous 18 Premier League fixtures.

Roberto De Zerbi’s hosts swiftly resumed their intricate interplay and ensured that statistic would continue just four minutes later.

Gross, leading the team in place of the banned Lewis Dunk, thumped home the eye-catching equaliser, taking a touch on the edge of the Bees’ 18-yard box after collecting the ball from Kaoru Mitoma before rifling a left-footed drive into the bottom right corner.

Brentford then suffered a major setback when the hobbling Mbeumo was helped from the field by medical staff after going over on his right ankle.

Teenager Hinshelwood took centre stage after the restart with a couple of key contributions in the space of two minutes to decisively turn the game in Brighton’s favour.

The academy graduate, who joined the club at the age of seven, was alert to deny Wissa a certain goal before rising above Bees substitute Keane Lewis-Potter at the other end to nod in Gross’ scooped cross from the left.

Brentford rarely threatened to snatch a point and could have finished the game a man down after Wissa swung his right arm at Gilmour, which resulted in a booking from referee Peter Bankes.

Brighton had chances to make the result comfortable, with Simon Adingra twice going close, before Hinshelwood jubilantly celebrated a night to remember with the home fans.

Brighton enjoyed a comprehensive first victory in the Europa League as a goal in either half from Joao Pedro and Ansu Fati eased them to a 2-0 win against Ajax at the Amex Stadium.

It took until the final minutes of a first half that Brighton had dominated for the breakthrough to arrive, Pedro tapping home on the rebound after an opening period in which Ajax – second bottom of the Eredivisie – did little more than look to preserve parity, as Brighton dictated things from the first minute.

The Dutch side have endured their worst-ever start to a league season, and after sacking manager Maurice Steijn on Monday they went down with barely a whimper, Fati’s goal early in the second half laying bare the gulf between Roberto De Zerbi’s team and the four-time European champions.

It was a first half that Brighton controlled but were for the most part frustrated by an organised, obdurate Ajax. Pedro wanted a penalty for a shove in the back inside of three minutes, waved away by the referee with barely a glance, before Brighton’s top scorer on their European campaign tucked the only real chance of the opening exchanges wide of the near post from Karou Mitoma’s cut-back.

Pedro appealed again for a spot-kick, this time with more gusto, when he appeared to be bundled to the ground by Jorrel Hato. The defender was adjudged narrowly to have reached Mitoma’s through-ball ahead of the Brighton striker as the Amex howled for a penalty.

The hosts’ central-defensive pair spent much of the first half 10 yards inside the Ajax half. The plan to lure out the visitors and exploit the resulting space was resisted by caretaker boss Hedwiges Maduro’s team, who seemed content to sacrifice attacking ambition for the sake of clogging the gaps in between their lines.

Simon Adingra had the best chance of the opening half-hour when he lashed a right-footed effort over the bar from Lewis Dunk’s header back across goal, as Brighton’s threat was stymied by Ajax in what was a ponderous first half from De Zerbi’s side.

Mitoma and Pedro’s partnership looked the most likely avenue of success. The pair carved out the clearest opening yet when Pedro dashed into a channel down the right to reach his team-mate’s threaded ball and drove low at goal, only for goalkeeper Diant Ramaj to beat it away with a strong right hand.

The breakthrough came three minutes before the break. Dunk’s pass was weighted into the path of Mitoma who dashed into the box and dragged the ball inside Josip Sutalo to make space to shoot. His effort was pushed out by Ramaj, but only to the feet of the onrushing Pedro who continued his fine European scoring run to end a frustrating half for Brighton on a high.

Fati’s goal, slotted home brilliantly eight minutes after the break, cemented Brighton’s superiority. Adingra began the move from midfield, patiently stewarding the ball until Fati’s run was made, checking inside and feeding the on-loan Barcelona forward who beat his man with a devastating first touch and dispatched deftly beyond Ramaj.

The game had sprung suddenly to life. Fati was inches from making it three and burying Ajax, his driven effort licking inches wide of the post, before Steven Berghuis at the other end struck the upright with Jason Steele beaten, a rare foray forward from the visitors.

It was to be the closest the 2019 Champions League semi-finalists came, as Brighton’s debut European season finally got going in earnest.

Roberto De Zerbi congratulated his Brighton players in the dressing room for their performance despite losing 3-2 to AEK Athens on their European debut.

Despite dominating the ball and dictating the shape of the game in wet and difficult conditions at the Amex Stadium, Brighton were undone by an AEK side who made the best of what little they created and were clinical when their moments came.

First, the right-back Djibril Sidibe dashed into the box unmarked at a corner and flew into a superb diving header that nestled in the corner.

It was a lead they twice should have doubled when striker Levi Garcia went through on goal, first denied by goalkeeper Jason Steele then sliding the ball beyond the post as two glorious chances were wasted.

Brighton hit back through a penalty from Joao Pedro after a VAR check, the same means by which they levelled for a second time after the break. In between, Mijat Gacinovic had restored AEK’s lead, sliding in at a free-kick to finish from near the penalty spot.

Brighton were missing the injured Lewis Dunk in defence and his absence was felt again when substitute Ezequiel Ponce was given space on the counter-attack to win it for the Greek champions late on.

“We conceded three goals,” said De Zerbi. “Two goals in set pieces and one incredible goal, the third. We made some mistakes in the (final third) of the pitch, for example the chance of Joao Pedro in the second half, or the chance for Igor in the first half. But in terms of quality of play we played a very good game, I think.

“I’m really proud for the performance. I think we showed not the right experience, or maybe not the same experience as AEK Athens.

“But for the rest I think we played with personality and with the right attitude. We controlled the game, we dominated the game. And we are sad for the result.

“We are sad because we couldn’t make happy our fans, ourselves, our club. But we have to analyse the performance and the performance was good.

“We can learn. We have to learn. We can improve, but it’s difficult to accept this defeat. I congratulated the players 10 minutes ago, because I can’t be happy when we win at Old Trafford and sad today if the performances are both good performances.

“We have to know, and we knew before the game, that AEK had two situations where they could score; set-pieces and counter-attack. And when we’re defending set-pieces against this team, we have to be more focused, more with the right attitude, more smart to defend the set-pieces.”

De Zerbi confirmed that Dunk and striker Evan Ferguson had been ruled out of contention earlier on Thursday.

“Dunk couldn’t play because after the game with Man United he felt a problem,” he added. “This afternoon Evan had a temperature, he is ill.”

AEK manager Matias Almeyda reflected on a win which he hoped will help cement his team’s reputation as a serious European force this season.

“We work on the basis of playing a type of football based on team work,” he said. “I live my life the way I manage the team. I like to respect people and I like to be respected. We want to be respected in Europe and we wanted to get a result to gain that respect.

“We have been working together for over a year. We came here in order to play our usual game. The opposition on a number of occasions forced us to play a different kind of game. But it’s spirit of the team, a fighting spirit, and that’s what we have managed to achieve. To keep on fighting.”

Brighton were taught a harsh lesson on their Europa League debut as Greek champions AEK Athens ran out 3-2 winners after a pulsating encounter at the Amex Stadium.

Substitute Ezequiel Ponce struck the winner on the counter-attack six minutes from the end of normal time as Roberto De Zerbi’s side failed to heed the signs after falling behind twice previously in the first half.

Joao Pedro equalised from the penalty spot in the first period then again in the second, both times after VAR had intervened in Brighton’s favour.

The hosts had the better of the play but they lacked the clinical edge of AEK, who scored with two excellent finishes from set-pieces. The first goal was a superb header from Djibril Sidibe, followed by a sliding finish from Mijat Gacinovic as Brighton were undone by nerves and their own naivety.

The opening goal came after 11 minutes and was against the early run of the play.

AEK’s first attack saw them win a corner on the left after a low cross was turned behind. As the ball was whipped in, no one had picked up the lurking Sidibe who with a late dash into the box caught Brighton out with a superb 15-yard diving header that whistled past Jason Steele.

De Zerbi’s side had been badly caught out, and seconds later it could have been two. Levi Garcia, who would torment Brighton in the first period with pace and clever movement, raced beyond the defence and went through on goal, but Garcia’s tame finish was too close to Steele.

Garcia wasted another glorious chance to double the lead from an almost identical position, this time slipping his effort just beyond the far post.

Pedro nodded wide from a free header inside the six-yard box as Brighton finally put together an attack to concern the AEK defence, but within a minute he had made amends for his profligacy.

When defender Ehsan Hajsafi dangled a leg as Pedro looked to cut inside to shoot the referee initially booked the striker for diving. But after a pitchside VAR review the booking was rescinded, Pedro stepped up and coolly rolled his penalty beyond Cican Stankovic to score Brighton’s first European goal.

At that stage it appeared that they had had their reprieve for the way they had left themselves vulnerable to AEK’s threat, but five minutes before the break there was another fine delivery from a set-piece and another critical lapse in concentration.

Brighton held a high line on the edge of their own box as a free-kick was whipped in from 40 yards out, but as blue shirts charged back towards their own goal none could prevent Gacinovic from sliding to get a foot on the ball to turn it beyond Steele.

There was still time for Jan-Paul Van Hecke to deny Orbelin Pineda what would have been a deserved third for AEK on the stroke of half-time.

There was relief then around the Amex when the referee was directed pitch-side for another VAR review after Pedro’s tumble inside the box under Damian Szymanski’s challenge had at first been waved on.

As in the first half, the decision was overturned, and Pedro got to his feet to replicate his earlier composed finish to draw Brighton level again.

De Zerbi was booked for remonstrating too forcefully on the touchline, before Pedro was handed the chance to seal his hat-trick and an opening night win when he spring the offside trap and went one-on-one with Stankovic. This time the goalkeeper got the better of their duel.

Then came AEK’s final sting. A raking ball from the back was nodded out wide by Ponce to Niclas Eliasson, who returned the ball to his fellow substitute. Although Steele blocked Ponce’s shot, the rebound ricocheted off the Argentinian and into the net for the winner.

Eddie Howe admits defeat at Brighton is a warning Newcastle cannot allow their Champions League adventure to distract from the “ruthless” Premier League.

The Magpies are back in the group stage of European football’s premier competition for the first time in 20 years and travelled to the Amex Stadium having been drawn to face heavyweights AC Milan, Paris St Germain and Borussia Dortmund.

But anticipation of those upcoming fixtures was swiftly tempered by a third successive top-flight loss as a hat-trick from 18-year-old Evan Ferguson earned the Seagulls a 3-1 success.

Manager Howe, whose side were beaten 2-1 at home by 10-man Liverpool last weekend following a 1-0 defeat at Manchester City, accepts responsibility for the mini slump but insists he will not over-react.

“It’s never been lost on me how difficult the Premier League is,” he said.

“I know how tough a league it is, it’s ruthless, so if you get your focus swayed, you’re going to have big problems – I don’t think our focus has been.

“We’ve tried to very much concentrate on our next match, that will always be our focus and we’re determined to be successful in the league this year and win as many games as possible.

“But we know the demands placed upon us are going to be extreme so this is a warning, I think, that we can’t be swayed and the Premier League is a very tough division.

“We’ve lost three in a row and we have to take responsibility for that. It’s important that I don’t over-react.”

Newcastle had the better of the early chances on the south coast but fell behind to Ferguson’s 27th-minute opener following defensive errors.

The Republic of Ireland striker doubled his tally with a stunning long-range effort before becoming only the fourth teenager to register a Premier League treble thanks to an effort which deflected in off Fabian Schar.

Howe, who revealed sidelined midfielder Joe Willock will be out for a further six weeks after his hamstring issue was compounded by a fresh Achilles problem, is itching for a swift return to action going into a two-week international break.

“I’d like a game pretty quickly, if I could,” said Howe, whose team host Brentford on September 17.

“We have some great games to come and we’re looking forward to that challenge.

“I think the challenge to me is to lift everybody and keep our confidence levels because we are a very good team and we have to always have that in the back of our minds as we go into the next two weeks.

“The lads are very disappointed. Collectively we’ve got an outstanding group of individuals, great mentalities and we know what we’ve got to do.”

Ferguson’s first senior hat-trick, which was followed by Callum Wilson’s consolation, was the third in the Premier League on Saturday after trebles for Manchester City’s Erling Haaland and Tottenham forward Son Heung-min.

“It’s a good day,” he told Brighton’s website. “It’s an unbelievable feeling.

“It’s not bad company to be in; Haaland’s record last season (52 City goals in all competitions) and Son’s been doing it for a number of years, so it’s good company to be in.”

Ahead of kick-off, the Seagulls paraded 20-year Spain forward Ansu Fati following his deadline-day loan switch from Barcelona.

“He’s going to be great for the squad, especially as competition,” said Ferguson.

“It’s tough up that area of the pitch and he’s going to be another one chucked in there and I reckon he’ll be very good for it.”

David Moyes was delighted to see West Ham end their Brighton hoodoo with a convincing 3-1 win at the Amex Stadium which took them top of the table.

Summer signing James Ward-Prowse scored his first Hammers goal in only his second start to set the visitors on course for a first ever Premier League win over the south coast side.

Manager Moyes said: “I’m thrilled with the three points because usually we come here and struggle to get any points.

“We haven’t won here for years. It’s been the same coming here and not getting the results.

“Today was a well-deserved three points. Brighton did a good job, but we also did a good job in other parts of the game.

“Brighton have got an extremely good manager and his side are causing problems to plenty of teams, not just us.

“They are going to be hard for any manager to play against.

“They are very offensive, which is great, but that also means it can open up and give you chances on the counter.

“We worked hard on not getting picked off easily and we defended really well.

“Our counter-attacks were really good. Two or three years ago we were really good on the counter and we showed that. All the forward players made a really good contribution today.”

Moyes led West Ham to their first trophy in more than 40 years by winning last season’s Europa Conference League.

On their surprise early-season surge to the Premier League summit, the Scot said: “I didn’t realise we had gone top. It has been a long time since any West Ham manager did that also.”

Ward-Prowse got West Ham off to the perfect start when he opened the scoring after 19 minutes, following on from his two assists in last weekend’s debut win over Chelsea.

Michail Antonio was too strong for Brighton defender Adam Webster and picked out England international Ward-Prowse to tap in from two yards.

Jarrod Bowen added a second 13 minutes into the second half – expertly controlling Said Benrahma’s cross before firing into the bottom corner.

Bowen then teed up Antonio to seal the points in the 63rd minute with a drilled shot into the corner.

Brighton, who had 79 per cent of the possession, got a goal back with nine minutes to play when German midfielder Pascal Gross chopped back onto his right foot to rifle home through a crowded penalty area.

West Ham goalkeeper Alphonse Areola made two crucial saves in the dying stages to keep out Joel Veltman’s volley and Ferguson’s fierce drive.

Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi said: “I’m disappointed with the result. It wasn’t the best performance in my time at the club, but we didn’t play badly.

“We shot 27 times and created 11 chances to score. In the second half I’m disappointed because we lost the balance of the game.

“I’m very proud of the performance, the attitude, the passion and the mentality to play well and get points.

“I can analyse how we conceded the goals and how we made a lot of mistakes in the last 20 metres and how we conceded so many counter-attacks, but it is not a problem.

“We will start on Monday working on the last week.”

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