The Seagulls had taken just one point from their opening two Europa League games in Group B ahead of the double-header with the Dutch giants – meaning a win was crucial to keep the knock-out rounds a realistic aim.
Any nerves were not on show as Roberto De Zerbi’s side bossed possession against an Ajax side, who haven’t won a game since their Europa League qualifier at Ludogorets and sit second bottom in the Eredivisie – a run of form which saw manager Maurice Steijn lose his job as head coach.
Albion had to be patient for the opening goal, with James Milner and Simon Adingra missing decent opportunities before the deadlock was finally broken on the stroke of half-time.
It was Joao Pedro who found the net – his fourth goal in this season’s competition – after Karou Mitoma had a shot saved following a slick passing move.
It took just eight minutes after the restart for Brighton to double their lead. Adingra was the creator after his nice cut back gave him space to delightfully pick out Ansu Fati in the box. The Spaniard controlled it with his left foot before slotting it in with his right – nutmegging the defender in the process.
The Barcelona loanee nearly scored again just moments later before Ajax had their best move of the game and Steven Berghuis struck the post.
Brighton continued to pass the ball around with ease and were rarely troubled by Ajax, as they secured a vital victory – and their first clean sheet of the season – which blows Group B wide open at the half-way stage.
Albion sit third with four points, behind Athens due to their head-to-head record and a point short of leaders Marseille. Ajax are now bottom with two points as their desperate run of form goes on.
Jason Steele – 7: Held the ball well after a dangerous cross. Tried to find Mitoma with long kick up field but it was wayward. Very little to do against an Ajax side devoid of confidence
Joel Veltman – 7: Did his defensive duties well and contributed to the slick attacking moves
Jan Paul van Hecke – 8: Solid at the back and barely misplaced a pass. Looked to burst forward when he could. Harshly booked after tussle with Brobbey
Lewis Dunk – 8: Faultless again as Brighton finally earned a clean sheet. Defence splitting pass to Mitoma in the build up to the opening goal
James Milner – 7: Intercepted a poor clearance and had a tame shot saved. Sloppy pass. Good tackle in the middle of the park. Standing ovation as he left the field. A much improved display from the timeless veteran.
Billy Gilmour – 7: Picking up the pieces well in midfield. Drove team forward and it was him who started the move for the second goal. Replaced by Baleba just after the hour mark
Pascal Gross – 7: Makes the game look easy. Effortless passing and kept things ticking over nicely.
Simon Adingra – 7: Maybe could have done better with first time effort inside the box, which was always rising. Redeemed himself with a brilliant assist for Fati. Caused the Ajax plenty of problems
Joao Pedro – 8: All-action display in the first half, capped off with a goal. Was in the right place at the right time and took the goal very well. The Brazilian loves a goal in the Europa League. He has scored six goals in 13 appearances in Brighton colours – four of them coming in Europe.
Kaoru Mitoma – 7: Superb wing play to set up Pedro for a good chance early on. Lost the ball after a heavy touch and then fouled his man, earning himself a booking. Linked up brilliantly with Pedro. Had a decent shot saved before the opener. The ball didn’t quite fall for him in the second-half but he was menacing all evening
Ansu Fati – 8: Good turn of pace but shot from distance was way off target. Lovely finish for 2-0 – his second goal in two games – as his class shone through. Powerful strike inches just wide moments later. Taken off to a standing ovation. Looks like he’s really settling down on the South Coast.
Facundo Buonanotte – 6: Powerful shot saved by Diant Ramaj as the keeper scrambled to get back in position
Carlos Baleba – 6: Looked composed in the midfield as he looked to regain his confidence after that slip up at Manchester City
Evan Ferguson – 6: Occupied the defenders well but still looking to end his mini goal drought for Albion. Not a great touch to end a promising move, not quite at his best.
Adam Webster – N/A: A rare appearance, helping Brighton keep compact at the back
Mahmoud Dahoud – N/A: Not much time to make a real impact with the game already won