Aston Villa secured a return to Europa in the Conference League next season with a 2-1 home win over Brighton & Hove Albion, as goals from Douglas Luiz and Ollie Watkins on Sunday saw them end the Premier League campaign in seventh place.
Deniz Undav pulled a goal back for sixth-placed Brighton, who had already sealed their best ever league finish prior to kick-off and are looking forward to a maiden continental campaign in the Europa League next term.
Villa finished the season with 61 points from 38 games after a revival in fortunes under Unai Emery, who took over a team hovering just above the relegation zone with 12 points from 13 games in October.
Undav also had a goal disallowed for offside, while Villa’s birthday boy Jacob Ramsey provided a contender for miss of the season when he ballooned the ball over from four yards with the goal gaping.
Villa last appeared in European competition when they played in the Europa League in the 2010–11 season, and Emery will now look to add to his four European titles gained with Sevilla and Villarreal.
“It’s unbelievable; when I woke up on my birthday this morning, this is all I wanted. Two assists, three points, and European football again,” Ramsey said.
“It’s tough to put a finger on what the manager has changed. We had talent in the squad, but since he came in, he has put his foot down and put pressure on us. They have brought in their own identity and style of play.”
The home side were close to taking the lead inside the first few minutes when Leon Bailey’s shot on the turn from 10 yards thundered back off the crossbar.
But the home fans did not have to wait long. Ramsey picked up the ball on the left wing, and his cut-back picked out Douglas Luiz, who provided a clinical finish after eight minutes.
Villa extended their advantage midway through the first half as they won the ball in midfield, and with Ramsey bearing down on goal, he unselfishly set up Watkins to score with a simple finish for his 15th goal of the campaign.
Undav did get his goal before halftime when he beat the offside trap from a free kick, took one touch to control with his head, and scored with his second.
Villa might have sealed the points when Ramsey had a tap-in at the back post but inexplicably blazed over the crossbar.