- Albion’s under-23s win the PL2 Play-Off Final
- Henrik Bjordal fires home in the opening half
- Aaron Connolly adds a second after the break
- The Seagulls will play in Premier League 2 Division 1 next season
Brighton & Hove Albion’s under-23s won promotion to the Premier League 2 Division 1 after sealing a 2-0 victory over Aston Villa in the Division 2 Play-Off Final at Villa Park this afternoon.
Henrik Bjordal fired home for the Seagulls in the opening half, before Aaron Connolly’s header after the break secured victory for Simon Rusk’s team - who ended the season 18 matches unbeaten - within 90 minutes.
Albion will now come up against the likes of Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea in the top flight of under-23 football next season.
The hosts created the first opportunity of the game after ten minutes, when Jordan Lyden slipped the ball into the path of Callum O’Hare, but the Villa winger fired over the crossbar from a tight angle.
Tom Dallison then raced into the box to meet Danny Mandroiu’s corner, but volleyed over the crossbar from the penalty spot, before Robert Sanchez made a comfortable stop from Andre Green up the other end.
The Seagulls were agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock when Viktor Gyokeres cut inside off the left wing and bent a low effort towards the bottom corner, but the Swede saw his shot come back off the post.
But two minutes later, in the 23rd minute, Albion took the lead through Bjordal, as the Norwegian made the most of Connolly’s parried shot and made no mistake from close range, as he lashed the ball home.
Villa goalkeeper Matija Sarkic then pulled off a fine save at full stretch to deny Bjordal a second goal of the game, as he leaped across his goal to push the winger’s curling effort away at the back post.
Steven Alzate was next to go close for Rusk’s team, as he ran onto Mandroiu’s cut-back to the edge of the penalty area, but the midfielder saw his first-time effort roll just wide of the target.
A series of efforts on Albion’s goal came just before the break, as the ball pinged around the penalty area, but a number of important blocks were made as Albion’s defenders showed desperation to keep the ball out.
Sanchez was forced into making a spectacular save soon after the teams returned for the second half, as he leapt across his goal to make a one-handed save from Rushian Hepburn-Murphy’s powerful strike, which was heading towards the top corner.
Villa had the ball in the back of the net on the hour mark, as Hepburn-Murphy lashed home at the back post from Green’s cross - but the linesman’s flag was raised for offside, to the relief of Albion’s players.
But despite Villa’s early pressure in the second half, the Seagulls doubled their lead in the 69th minute to put one hand on the Premier League 2 Division 2 Play-Off Final trophy.
Max Sanders picked up the ball and delivered an inviting cross into the six-yard box, and there was Connolly to glance a header past Sarkic to double Albion’s lead from close range at Villa Park.
Gyokeres almost made it 3-0 when James Tilley’s shot rebounded into the Swede’s path, but Sarkic was on hand to tip his powerful half-volley over the crossbar from inside the box.
Callum O’Hare attempted a spectacular overhead kick in the closing stages, but Sanchez wasn't troubled as he came to claim the midfielder’s effort at goal.
Mandroiu fired just wide in stoppage time for the Seagulls, but moments later the full-time whistle was blown and Albion's promotion to Premier League 2 Division 1 was confirmed - a fine way to end the campaign.
ALBION: Sanchez; Mateju, Dallison, Barclay, Cox; Bjordal, Sanders, Alzate, Gyokeres; Mandroiu; Connolly (Tilley 70).
Subs not used: Collings (GK), O’Hora, Cochrane, Radulovic.