Brighton & Hove Albion sealed their European place next season for the first time in history after beating Southampton 3-1 at the Amex Stadium in the Premier League on Sunday, with young striker Evan Ferguson scoring twice.
Brighton are sixth with 61 points and can no longer be caught by eighth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, meaning they are guaranteed a place in Europe next season, in either the Europa League or European Conference League.
“Incredible, one of the best days of my career,” Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi told the BBC as quoted by ESPN.
“I am very proud to be the coach of these players and this club. We won together, and I am very proud,” he continued.
“They believed from the first moment that they deserved to go through, we had a difficult period, we lost a lot of players through injury, but when you have something inside you push until the end for your target.”
After Kaoru Mitoma and Carlos Alcaraz both missed early chances, Brighton took the lead in the 29th minute through Evan Ferguson.
Mitoma’s individual action doubled Brighton’s lead 10 minutes later as the Japan international whipped Romeo Lavia down the left flank before setting up Ferguson.
Mohammed Elyounoussi met James Ward-Prowse’s corner in the 58th minute to cut it short for Southampton and the goal looked to have caught Brighton by surprise for a moment.
Southampton launched several attacks in the following minutes and Theo Walcott had a goal ruled out for offside after a VAR check, but hope was revived when Pascal Gross scored with a low shot past two defenders at the near post.
Brighton almost scored their fourth but McCarthy produced an excellent save to keep out Gross’ shot.
Bottom club Southampton, who have been relegated, remain on 24 points.
Southampton manager Ruben Selles lamented his side’s inability to capitalize on their chances but praised his players for creating chances.
“We had the first big chance with Alcaraz one-on-one and then we conceded two goals very quickly,” said Selles. “Then we scored [Walcott’s] goal and it’s a more frequent situation when we score a goal this season and then it’s been disallowed.
“It was a disappointing moment but it wasn’t the only moment. We showed we are here ready to play and compete against one of the best teams in the league.”