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Brighton 2-3 AEK Athens: Seagulls LOSE their first ever European match as Greek champions rain on their parade despite two Joao Pedro penalties

The flight of the Seagulls into Europe commanded great fanfare. It was, quite rightly, a celebration in its own right. Confirmation of sorts of their recovery from the brink of extinction, not only to return to the top flight of English football but beyond.

The city responded by lighting up Brighton Pavilion in blue for the occasion and decking the streets in club colours. Fans flocked to the Amex Stadium in high spirits. Then AEK Athens descended on the south coast and clipped their wings.

Twice the Greeks led and twice Roberto de Zerbi‘s team responded with the help of two penalties awarded after VAR referrals and both clinically converted by Joao Pedro as the contest twisted one way and another.

But Brighton created little by their own standards. They took more than an hour to find any rhythm and just as they generated a little momentum were punished at the back and stunned by the winner, scored by AEK substitute Ezquiel Ponce.

It was the first time the 13-time Greek champions had beaten any English opposition since 1977. The game ended in a deluge to go with defeat. They have been through too much to be too despondent in these parts but the new chapter of their soaring script was not meant to start like this.

Djibril Sidibe scored a sensational header to give AEK Athens a surprise lead at the Amex

Djibril Sidibe scored a sensational header to give AEK Athens a surprise lead at the Amex

Ezequiel Ponce's fortuitous winner stunned the home crowd as Brighton fell to defeat

Ezequiel Ponce’s fortuitous winner stunned the home crowd as Brighton fell to defeat

Roberto de Zerbi was left dismayed as Brighton's big European bow ended in a 3-2 defeat

Roberto de Zerbi was left dismayed as Brighton’s big European bow ended in a 3-2 defeat 

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‘We conceded too early,’ said Pedro. ‘We knew they were strong in corners and in attack. We need to learn.’

De Zerbi made seven changes to the team that won at Manchester United on Sunday, leaving out captain Lewis Dunk and Evan Ferguson to rest minor injuries. Both are expected to be fit for Sunday against Bournemouth.

Dunk’s absence was felt as AEK took an early lead, a fabulous flying header scored by Djibril Sidibie, the former France international whose loan spell at Everton is best remembered for the time he forgot to put on one of his socks as he came on as a substitute.

Brighton spluttered, wobbled and might have gone further behind. Jason Steele made excellent saves to keep out Levi Garcia and Orbelin Pineda and Garcia dragged another good chance wide as De Zerbi contorted in fury on the touchline, taking aim at a water bottle. He too missed.

It was midway through the first half when AEK goalkeeper Cican Stankovic was required to make a save of note, at his near post to deny Ansu Fati, making his first start and otherwise anonymous. Igor Julio headed wide at the back post when he should have scored before penalty drama number one.

Initially, Estonian referee Kristo Tohver thought striker Pedro had dived. Out came his yellow card but replays supported Pedro’s claim he had been tripped by Ehsan Hajsafi and VAR intervened to alter the decision.

Pedro, his yellow rescinded, levelled from the spot. He will go into the record books as Brighton’s first scorer in European competition but AEK’s lead was restored before the interval. Again, from a set-piece, this time a free-kick swerved expertly into the penalty box and slid past Steele on the bounce by Mijat Gacinovic.

A long stoppage for treatment to AEK defender Hajsafi interrupted the second half after a clash of heads with Jan-Paul van Hecke.

Joao Pedro scored his third of the season when he made it 1-1 from the penalty spot

Joao Pedro scored his third of the season when he made it 1-1 from the penalty spot 

Mijat Gacinovic restored AEK's advantage just a few minutes before the break

Mijat Gacinovic restored AEK’s advantage just a few minutes before the break 

Pedro once again got Brighton back into the game as he kept his cool from 12 yards out

Pedro once again got Brighton back into the game as he kept his cool from 12 yards out 

Ponce scored the winner as AEK Athens resisted two equalisers to prevail in the end

Ponce scored the winner as AEK Athens resisted two equalisers to prevail in the end

Brighton lost Milner to injury before penalty drama number two. Again, a trip on Pedro dismissed by referee Tohver, probably because of the exaggerated fall. Again, a referral to the pitch-side screens and a change of mind by the man in the middle.

Again, Pedro sent goalkeeper Stankovic the wrong way and equalised and set up a frenzied closing sequence including 13 minutes of added time but Ponce settled the tie. This time there was no way back for Brighton.

MATCH FACTS AND RATINGS 

Brighton 4231: Steele 6.5; Milner 6 (Lamptey 55, 7), Van Hecke 5, Julio 5, Estupinan 6; Gross 7, Gilmour 6.5 (Buonanotte 86); March 6.5, Fati 6, Mitoma 7 (Adringra 86); Pedro 7.5 (Welbeck 82).

Goals: Pedro 30 (pen)

Bookings: Julio, Estupinan, Van Hecke, Welbeck,

Manager: Roberto de Zerbi 6

AEK 4141: Stankovic 6; Sidibe 6.5, Mitoglou 8, Symanski 7.5, Hajsafi 6 (Mohammadi 61); Jonsson 7; Amrabat 6, Araujo 6 (Zuber 68), Pineda 7 (Mantolas 79), Gacinovic 7 (Eliasson 79); Garcia 6 (Ponce 68, 7.5).

Goals: Sidibie 11, Gacinovic 40

Bookings: Mitoglu, Ponce, Gacinovic, Mantolas, Mohammadi

Manager: Matias Almeyda 7

Ref: Kristo Tohver (Estonia) 6

Att: 30,178

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, launching with a preview show today and every week this season.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube , Apple Music and Spotify

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