Joao Pedro nets late winner as Brighton hit Aston Villa’s Champions League hopes

Aston Villa’s quest for Champions League qualification suffered a setback after Joao Pedro ended Brighton’s six-match Premier League winless run with a dramatic 87th-minute winner.

Unai Emery’s side travelled to the Amex Stadium knowing victory combined with a Tottenham loss to Liverpool later in the day would guarantee a fourth-placed finish.

But Villa, who are juggling their top-flight commitments with a run to the semi-finals of the Europa Conference League, laboured for large parts of a tight south-coast encounter and were beaten 1-0 after Pedro headed home the rebound when his late penalty was saved by Robin Olsen.

Second-choice keeper Olsen produced a series of fine stops to prevent the Seagulls taking an earlier lead, while Pascal Gross had a second-half finish ruled out for offside following a lengthy VAR review.

With 19-goal top scorer Ollie Watkins a peripheral figure, the visitors barely threatened, albeit captain John McGinn also had a goal chalked off.

Villa arrived in Sussex on the back of 4-2 home loss to Olympiacos in their Europa Conference League semi-final and with work to do in Thursday’s second leg in Athens.

Manager Emery recalled defensive duo Diego Carlos and Pau Torres following a difficult evening against the Greek side, while Brighton’s starting XI showed three changes from last week’s dismal 3-0 defeat at Bournemouth.

Out-of-form Albion, seeking only a fourth league win this calendar year, had the better openings during a cagey start.

Simon Adingra stung the palms of Olsen after a neat nutmeg on McGinn before Danny Welbeck diverted a Billy Gilmour corner narrowly over with his back.

Villa’s travelling fans repeatedly revelled in Birmingham’s relegation from the Sky Bet Championship, which was confirmed on Saturday.

But the sold-out away end had little to cheer on the pitch as their side struggled for rhythm in a forgettable first half, disrupted by Morgan Rogers departing injured in the 26th minute to be replaced by Matty Cash.

Lively forward Adingra continued to be the Seagulls’ greatest threat and he carved out a golden chance in added time.

Having moments earlier been unable to generate power on a back-post volley as he stretched to reach Pedro’s cross from the right, the Ivory Coast international played through Gross, only for Olsen to save with his feet.

Brighton’s sole goal in their last five league outings was an own goal by Burnley goalkeeper Arijanet Muric in a 1-1 draw three weeks ago.

Olsen, once again deputising for first-choice Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez, produced a superb one-handed save from Pedro to prolong Albion’s drought, before the hosts suffered further frustration.

Germany midfielder Gross turned home Igor Julio’s left-wing cross in the 68th minute but the finish was disallowed for a marginal offside.

Villa endured similar disappointment 11 minutes from time when McGinn was denied by the flag after Leon Bailey blocked Adingra’s attempted clearance following Lucas Digne’s corner.

Brighton were then given a golden chance to earn an overdue success when Adingra went down under a challenge from Ezri Konsa.

Although Pedro’s initial effort was easily kept out by the impressive Olsen, the ball looped up kindly for the Brazil forward to nod in, much to the relief of most inside the stadium.

Villa had nine minutes of added time to salvage a point but never looked like doing so as their top-four hopes were dealt a blow.


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