Villa too strong for Seagulls

Aston Villa cruised into the Carabao Cup fourth round, with substitute Jack Grealish sealing a comfortable 3-1 win over a young Brighton side.

First-half goals from Jota and Conor Hourihane saw Villa seize control of the all-Premier League clash at the Amex Stadium.

A header from 17-year-old defender Haydon Roberts gave the inexperienced hosts hope of forcing a penalty shoot-out, before Grealish slammed home a powerful half-volley to put the result beyond doubt.

Seagulls boss Graham Potter opted to hand senior debuts to seven academy players from the start, including goalscorer Roberts, while substitutes Ryan Longman, Romaric Yapi and Jack Spong eventually took that total to 10.

His youthful starting line-up, with an average age of just over 21, were outclassed for much of the evening, although they were unfortunate not to halve the deficit earlier as Aaron Connolly struck the crossbar just before the break.

Villa, who made nine changes on the south coast following the weekend loss at Arsenal, quickly asserted their authority on the contest and went ahead with 22 minutes played.

Creative Spaniard Jota claimed the opener – his first goal since a summer switch from city rivals Birmingham – by firing home a first-time finish after Albion goalkeeper David Button pushed away Hourihane’s fizzing cross from the left.

Brighton were reliant on the speed of 19-year-old striker Connolly to push them up the field and they fell further behind in the 33rd minute.

Republic of Ireland midfielder Hourihane applied the emphatic finishing touch this time, registering his first goal since last season’s Championship play-off semi-final by dispatching Keinan Davis’ pull back from the left.

Wednesday’s third-round tie was just the fourth fixture between the two clubs in 36 years.

Albion almost pulled one back three minutes before the break when Irishman Connolly, who scored his first senior goal in the previous round at Bristol Rovers and had earlier seen an effort deflected over, rattled the woodwork.

Minutes after the restart, referee Graham Scott waved away the home side’s penalty appeals when Peter Gwargis went down under a challenge from Hourihane.

Remarkably, the squad numbers of Albion’s 18-man squad added up to 801.

Number 58 Roberts reignited the game by nodding home Gwargis’ right-wing corner in the 61st minute, before 18-year-old forward Longman stung the palms of Jed Steer two minutes later.

The hosts suffered a setback and lost momentum when centre-back Shane Duffy, one of only four players in their squad to have previously played a senior game, limped off injured.

Albion had been denied the Sky Bet Championship title on their previous meeting with Villa after an 89th-minute equaliser from Grealish allowed Newcastle to take top spot at the end of the 2016-17 campaign.

The midfielder, on for the final 24 minutes in place of John McGinn, repeated the trick to settle the contest 13 minutes from time, smashing in from the edge of the box.

Villa’s victory was their first at Brighton since the European Cup-winning campaign of 1981-82.

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