After a 13-year absence, Aston Villa managed to beat Brighton at a wild Villa Park match to secure their spot and return to European football.
To finish seventh in the Premier League and qualify for the third-tier Europa Conference League play-offs, Villa needed to win the game.
The club’s Player of the Year, Douglas Luiz, slipped the ball home from Jacob Ramsey’s pullback in the eighth minute to give them the lead after Leon Bailey had struck the crossbar.
18 minutes later, Ramsey received another assist when he received a through ball and smashed a sideways pass to England striker Ollie Watkins, who scored his 15th league goal of the season.
Deniz Undav’s shot appeared to have given Brighton the lead, but VAR ruled that Julio Enciso had been offside throughout the buildup. Undav scored in the 38th minute after Pascal Gross promptly took a free kick, which was the result of a VAR ruling that went in his favour. The assistant referee raised the offside flag, but Stockley Park authorities overruled him.
Villa last competed in a European match in 2010, losing 4-3 on aggregate to Austrian team Rapid Vienna in the Europa League play-offs. Villa won the European Cup in 1982. Despite a tense second half versus Brighton, they managed to secure the result they needed to provoke cheers from the crowd.
Villa’s incredible comeback
Villa players embraced after the final whistle, and Emery and his team followed as the home crowd erupted in wild applause.
The fact that this was something Villa supporters could not have imagined a few months ago made it all the more remarkable for them. This season has been genuinely amazing for the team and their fans.
When Steven Gerrard was fired an hour after a 3-0 loss to Fulham in October, Villa were only out of the bottom three on goals scored and had two victories in their previous 11 games.
Emery, a former manager of Sevilla and Arsenal, joined Villa from Villarreal and completely changed the course of the team’s season, leading them to 15 victories from 25 games and bringing them back into Europe.