The final set of reports on an Albion match in this most glorious of seasons reflected the nature of the fixture – more about the opponents than Roberto De Zerbi’s men.
The brevity of the coverage of many of the matches on the last day show that the national daily papers were only interested in the clubs that had something left to play for, and in Albion’s match that meant Aston Villa.
Fair enough, but one or two writers noticed that the visitors to Villa Park had also qualified for a European competition, and one of higher value than that at the heart of Villa’s quest.
Michael Hincks gave the most even-handed assessment in the i, a paper whose sports editors always like to look at the bigger picture where possible.
"Aston Villa fans, Brighton fans, they’re all going on a European tour, and after a result that mattered more to those in claret-and-blue, the rare sight at a Premier League ground on the final day: opposing fans, unanimously delighted,” he wrote.
“For Villa, it’s the Europa Conference League, a competition not to be sniffed at as West Ham have shown this season. For Brighton, the Europa League and a first taste of European football, a just reward for the boundaries they’ve pushed.
“And for both a mighty challenge awaits with a renewed attempt to disrupt the status quo soon to be combined with journeys to the continent – and that isn’t always easy. Just ask West Ham. Or Leicester, for that matter.
“The [Villa] mission faced one final obstacle in a Brighton side who had already dazzled their way to sixth, their best-ever finish, and so as two head coaches shortlisted for the Premier League Manager of the Season award met in the dugout, Villa’s Unai Emery was perhaps hoping for a favour in this match of little significance for Roberto De Zerbi’s side.
“There were warning signs aplenty for Villa, with Brighton finding space beyond this high defensive line championed by Emery, and twice Evan Ferguson spurned an opening before Matt Cash brilliantly denied Deniz Undav.
“Undav and Brighton would get the goal they deserved before the break, and though Alexis Mac Allister narrowly shot wide soon after, Villa held on to secure seventh and a place in the Europa Conference League.
“Going forward, then, the challenge for both sides will be trying to trouble the old Big Six once more, no mean feat given they will soon have the added workload of European football that will not preoccupy Chelsea or Tottenham next season.
“Brighton at least have a Europa League group stage to prepare for, and though their engine could yet be ripped out if, as expected, Mac Allister and Moises Caicedo depart this summer, in De Zerbi and a revered recruitment team they have the tools in place to make next season as special as this one.”
“West Ham’s struggles in the Premier League this season will also play on their minds, however, although like De Zerbi at Brighton, the prospect of a full season under Emery brings with it hope of even greater moments to come.”
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Graeme Bryce of The Sun gave the fullest account of the match action and wrote that “De Zerbi's boys will console themselves with a sixth placed finish - the highest the Seagulls have ever flown in the Premier League and have that historic first ever European campaign to look forward to.
“Jacob Ramsey, on his 22nd birthday, picked out Leon Bailey after four minutes and the Jamaican international's shot clipped Pascal Gross's shin as it sailed over Jason Steele. However, with the Seagulls keeper stranded the crossbar came to Brighton's rescue as the ball bounced to safety.
“But Villa were in full flow and unfazed, they swept into the lead four minutes later with a brilliant opener to dampen Spurs' spirits. Douglas Luiz fed Ramsey who took the ball up to Veltman and teased him before laying it back for Luiz who side-footed it low past Steele.
“However the Seagulls regrouped and the game became a battle of nerves as Brighton tried to get the better of Emery's well-practised offside trap. Alex Mac Allister sent Evan Ferguson through on goal but the Irishman fired over under pressure from Ezri Konsa. It wasn't the only warning Villa had as they diced with danger, playing Emery's daringly high back line.
“Brighton thought they had equalised after 19 minutes when Adam Webster picked out Enciso on the left touchline. The winger took on Matty Cash and crossed for Undav to nip between Tyrone Mings and Emi Martinez to prod the ball home. But Brighton's celebrations were killed stone dead when VAR Graham Scott spotted that Enciso had been marginally offside while collecting Webster's raking pass.
“There was a flurry of bookings as Undav was punished for clipping Bouba Kamara, Cash followed for a foul on Enciso, then Ramsey cynically brought down Ayari to halt a counter-attack.
“But Brighton's fortune deserted them just before the half hour as a pumped-up Villa doubled their lead. There was a VAR check as Brighton protested Mac Allister had been fouled but VAR Graham Scott saw no offence and the goal stood.
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“Ferguson tried to pull one back but was blocked by Kamara before Cash produced a double block to defy Ferguson then Undav. Mings was booked for bringing down Buonanotte and it turned out to be a costly offence for the home side. From the resulting free kick Webster lofted the ball over the top and Undav flicked the ball to one side with his head to leave Mings wrong-footed, before firing the ball beyond Martinez.
“Villa fans cheered as the scoreboard confirmed there was an offside check taking place. But for once, Villa's defence had put a foot wrong as Matty Cash's left heel had marginally played the 26-year-old German onside, allowing him to celebrate his fifth goal in his last eight Premier appearances. It was also Brighton's 35th goal on the road this season, the most of any Premier team this term.”
In The Times, Graham Hill admitted that “two first-half goals, both made by the outstanding Jacob Ramsey, were enough to win [Villa] the game; but Brighton & Hove Albion made it far from easy for them.
“Brighton, whose first entry into European football was already secured, were not about to let this become a procession. Evan Ferguson was able to spring Villa’s normally watertight offside trap and break clear before producing a shot that sailed over the bar.
“Brighton appeared to have levelled after 19 minutes when Undav converted a cross from Julio Enciso, who was ruled offside following a VAR check.
“Bailey …was then involved in the build-up for his side’s second goal. John McGinn, the Villa captain, won the ball on the halfway line and found Bailey whose first time ball set Ramsey clear.
“He took a calm touch, despite Jason Steele, the Brighton goalkeeper, bearing down on him. But a quick flick into the path of Watkins left the striker with the relatively simple task of scoring his 16th league goal of the season, but his first in seven games.
💙&🤍 army. 🙏 Our 'thank you' for your superb travelling support this season! 👕😇 pic.twitter.com/QpB0C3gVLf— Brighton & Hove Albion (@OfficialBHAFC) May 29, 2023
“Brighton, who made six changes for the game, were playing their part in an open game; and they pulled one back seven minutes before half-time when VAR went their way. Undav appeared to have had another goal ruled out for offside when he ran on to a Pascal Gross free kick and scored. But this time, VAR showed the German forward was onside, and the goal stood.
“Emi Martínez, the Villa goalkeeper, then spread himself to stop Undav scoring another before the break.
“Villa almost added their third seven minutes into the second half but the action soon switched to the other end and Pervis Estupinan, a half-time substitute for Brighton, crossed for Alexis Mac Allister, who drove his shot into the ground and saw it bounce just wide.”
Joe Bernstein of the Daily Mail, wrote that “Brighton, themselves guaranteed sixth and a Europa League place, made it nervy and thrilling.
“The home side raced into a 2-0 lead inside 26 minutes through Douglas Luiz and Watkins, both set up by Ramsey, but feared the worst when Deniz Undav reduced arrears shortly before half-time.
“De Zerbi brought on big guns Moises Caicedo, Kaoro Mitoma and Pervis Estupinan to make a real game of it in the second half with Mitoma a constant threat.
“But Villa didn’t shut up shop either. They tried to kill the game with a third with Ramsey scooping a Leon Bailey cross over from close range but in the end they didn’t need it.”
In The Guardian, Ben Bloom wrote that “a much-altered Brighton side played their part in a match played at breakneck speed. The visitors thought they had an early goal, only for Julio Enciso – whose pinpoint cross had been turned in by Deniz Undav – to be ruled offside by VAR.
“Where that decision gave Villa fans a belated celebration, Brighton soon had some delayed gratification of their own with half-time approaching when Undav was wrongly judged offside as the German fired past Emiliano Martínez. Again, VAR overturned the decision, allowing the goal to stand.
“Defeat did not dampen the spirits of the travelling fans, who said farewell to Alexis Mac Allister and Moises Caicedo in the expectation that they will depart.”
Villa fan Matt Law also gave a late nod to Albion in his report in the Daily Telegraph, writing that “Deniz Undav scored for Brighton for whom defeat did not matter as Europa League qualification had already been sealed. But, as Villa celebrated at the final whistle, Alexis Mac Allister, who is expected to move to Liverpool, was in tears and had to be consoled by team-mates and Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi.
“’That can be the last game of Alexis and Moises Caicedo,’ said De Zerbi. ‘I am really sorry because they are two great people and two great players, but the policy of Brighton is like this and we have to accept it.
“’I think it’s right they can change team and play at a higher level because I think they can play in the big, big European teams. We are ready and we have to find other big players to play without Alexis and Moises’.”