- Ajax’s miserable 2023-24 season continued with a 2-0 defeat down at Brighton
- Brighton have had to be patient for their first win in the UEFA Europa League
- Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s football podcast ‘It’s All Kicking Off!’
Brighton were made to wait for their first Europa League victory.
They slumped to defeat against AEK Athens. They stumbled to a point in Marseille but when it finally came victory came against Ajax, aristocrats of European football and it tasted sweet.
Not the mighty Ajax of years gone by it is true.
Fifty years after Johan Cruyff inspired them to a hat-trick of European Cup wins they are a pale shadow of those teams that helped to create the legend of Total Football.
Against their principles, they came to Sussex to take on a team playing only its third tie in European football, sat deep and tried to defend and take their chances on the break. Enough to make Cruyff turn in his grave, you might say.
Ansu Fati (left) showed his class as he delivered a big goal to help fire Brighton to victory
Joao Pedro (left) set them on their way against Ajax and they are off the mark in Europe
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As the game meandered towards its conclusion, angry fans in the away end made their feelings clear but take nothing from Brighton on their historic night.
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
Brighton (4-2-3-1): Steele 6; Veltman 6, Van Hecke 6 (Webster 86), Dunk 6.5, Milner 6.5 (Dahoud 86); Gross 7, Gilmour 7 (Baleba 64, 6); Adingra 7, Fati 7.5 (Buonanotte 64, 6), Mitoma 8; Pedro 7.5 (Ferguson 75, 6).
Subs not used: Verbruggen, McGill, Julio, Lallana, Hinshelwood, Duffus.
Goals: Pedro 42, Fati 53
Bookings: Mitoma, Van Hecke
Manager: Roberto de Zerbi 6.5
Ajax (4-2-3-1): Ramaj 6.5; Gaaei 5, Sutalo 6, Hato 6, Sosa 5.5; Tahirovic 5 (Van den Boomen 60, ), Taylor 6; Borges 5 (Hlynsson 46, ) Berghuis 5.5 (Godts 60, ), Bergwijn 6 (Vos 75); Brobbey 5 (Akpom 75).
Subs not used: Pasveer, Setford, Salah-Eddine, Medic, Avila, Gooijer
Manager: Hedwiges Maduro 6
Ref: Bartosz Frankowski (POL) 6.5
They controlled this game, held their nerve when patience was required and sought to keep playing the sort of intricate and attractive football they have become renowned for under Roberto De Zerbi.
Joao Pedro pounced for the opener at the end of the first half and Ansu Fati scored the second early in the second.
Finally, they are on the move in Group B with a trip to Ajax in two weeks and they will detect the chance to progress.
Ajax are in the throes of a crisis, having started this week by sacking boss Maurice Steijn after only four months with the team languishing next to the bottom of the Dutch Eredivisie with two wins in 11 games.
When the draw was made it looked as if these back-to-back fixtures in the heart of the group stage might be the sternest test for De Zerbi’s team. Instead they could prove the springboard into the knock out stages.
Acting head coach Hedwiges Maduro played without adventure, surrendered possession to their hosts.
This has become something of a plan against Brighton. Marseille and AEK adopted similar tactics in the opening Group B games with some success.
Here, Brighton dominated from the start and battered away, initially without finding a way through the massed ranks.
There were early flashes from Kaoru Mitoma on the left and couple of penalty appeals from Pedro when the game was goalless. The second when barged off the ball by Jorrel Hato was stronger than the first but neither was ruled a foul.
Ajax goalkeeper Diant Ramaj made saves, denying James Milner and Pedro, again. Simon Adingra fizzed a volley over when Lewis Dunk nodded a corner back across goal.
It was a dominant display from Brighton, who were much improved than against AEK Athens
For Ajax there are alarm bells ringing and players fronted up to the away fans at the end
The visitors conjured the occasional threat on the break, mainly through the pace of former Tottenham forward Steven Bergwijn behind Brighton’s former Ajax Joel Veltman at right back, but they went behind, three minutes before the interval.
Mitoma picked up a fine Dunk pass and cut into the penalty box. Ramaj produced another save but could not hold the shot and Pedro pounced to hammer the rebound into the net, his fourth goal of the Europa League campaign.
They did not have to wait long for the second. Adingra clipped a pass forward to Fati, whose first touch was immaculate. With his second, he eased the ball between the legs of an Ajax defender, beyond Ramaj and inside the far post.
Fati flashed another wide before Ajax stirred and ventured forward. Suddenly, the game became a spectacle. Steven Berghuis struck a post as Brighton wobbled but held out for their first clean sheet since winning at Arsenal in May.
IT’S ALL KICKING OFF!
It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football.
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