Albion's under-23s shared the spoils with Villa at Crawley.
ASTON VILLA 1
- Solly March returned from injury
- Jesse Starkey gave Albion the lead
- Jayson Molumby sent off in the closing stages
- Albion next host Fulham at the Amex on Friday
Solly March made his long-awaited comeback from a knee injury in Brighton & Hove Albion under-23s’ 1-1 draw with Aston Villa at the Checkatrade.com Stadium.
The winger played for the first 45 minutes against the Villains, as Jesse Starkey’s header gave Albion the lead, before Jordan Lyden equalised soon after the re-start to earn the visitors a point.
Simon Rusk made two changes to the squad that travelled to Middlesbrough last week, with March and Henrik Bjordal replacing Sam Adekugbe and Connor Tighe.
Villa recorded the game’s first shot on target, as Rushian Hepburn-Murphy ran through on goal and fired low to Robert Sanchez’s right, but the Albion keeper got down to save well.
The Seagulls struggled to create a clear-cut chance within the opening 20 minutes, as Ben Barclay’s glanced header wide was the closest they came to a breakthrough.
Referee Dean Treleaven waved away calls for handball inside Villa’s penalty area, following Joe Ward’s run and cross from the right wing.
The winger drove into the penalty area and crossed for Jack Harper, but the winger’s delivery was excellently blocked in front of goal.
March grew into the game, and after Dessie Hutchinson’s corner fell to his feet 25 yards out, the 22-year-old tried his luck but saw his effort sail wide of Viktor Johansson’s goal.
Albion enjoyed more possession as the game progressed, and finally broke the deadlock after 35 minutes.
Starkey sunk low to head the ball past Johansson, following Will Collar’s fierce drive from 25 yards that cannoned off the crossbar and into the goalmouth.
Jayson Molumby was then on hand to intercept the ball inside Albion’s box, when Tom Leggett looked set to pull the trigger inside a crowded penalty area.
Rusk made one change at the break with Bjordal replacing March on the left wing, completing a 45-minute comeback for the returning midfielder.
Tyler Hornby-Forbes was presented with a perfect chance to retake the lead, but the full-back’s back-post header was cleared off the line when a second goal looked inevitable.
Harper rounded Johansson and found himself in a great position to score, but his goal-bound effort was blocked inside the penalty area when the goal was gaping.
James Tilley and Jordan Ayunga were introduced in place of Harper and Starkey, as Albion went in search of a winning goal.
Khalid Abdo and Hepburn-Murphy wasted good chances for the Villans, and the latter dragged a shot wide with the goal at his mercy from inside the six-yard box.
Albion spent the closing stages of the game defending under sustained pressure, with Tilley’s deflected long-range strike the closest they came to a second goal.
Substitute Callum O’Hare then squandered a fantastic opportunity to snatch all three points for the visitors, also failing to find the target from inside Albion’s six-yard box.
Molumby was shown a red card in the dying stages, receiving a second yellow for a late challenge, but the remaining ten men were able to hold on for the draw.
ALBION: Sanchez; Collar, Hall, Barclay, Hornby-Forbes; March (Bjordal 45), Molumby, Hutchinson, Ward; Starkey (Ayunga 81); Harper (Tilley 65).
SUBS NOT USED: Vose (GK), Cadman.