Aston Villa will play in Europe for the first time in 13 years after Sunday’s 2-1 win over Brighton sealed their place in next season’s Europa Conference League. Unai Emery’s side secured a seventh-place finish in the Premier League thanks to first-half goals from Douglas Luiz and Ollie Watkins on the final day of the season at Villa Park. Villa’s long-awaited return to continental competition was a fitting reward for Emery after the Spaniard’s impressive impact since taking over from the sacked Steven Gerrard in October.
After a disappointing first spell in the Premier League with Arsenal, Emery has won over his doubters by leading Villa into their first European competition since they lost in the Europa League play-off round in 2010.
Villa have been revitalised by the former Paris Saint Germain and Villarreal coach and their highest Premier League finish for 13 years could be the foundation for future success.
Sixth-placed Brighton are also heading to Europe, for the first time in their history, after securing a Europa League berth prior to their visit to Villa Park.
With nothing to play for, Brighton were ideal opponents for Villa, who took the lead after just eight minutes.
Jacob Ramsey was the architect when he was given too much time on the left to pick out the unmarked Luiz. The Brazilian midfielder finished from just inside the area.
Villa doubled their lead after 26 minutes as John McGinn won the ball in midfield and Leon Bailey sent Ramsey scampering towards goal with Watkins in support.
Ramsey prodded past Brighton keeper Jason Steele to give Watkins the easiest of close-range finishes.
Brighton’s Deniz Undav reduced the deficit seven minutes before half-time.
Villa were caught napping from Pascal Gross’ quick free-kick and Undav darted clear to hook past Emi Martinez.
From a position of strength, Villa were nervous, but Martinez denied Undav just before the break.
Villa held firm in the second half to ensure Emery and his players can prepare their passports for a European tour.
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