• “What an achievement, what a club, what a group of guys,” Brighton goalkeeper Jason Steele told Sky Sports after the draw with Treble-chasing City.
• The Seagulls will be the first English side since Hull City in 2014 to make their debut in the Europa League after recording their highest top-flight finish and surpassing their previous best of ninth last season.
These are “special times” at Brighton & Hove Albion.
The Seagulls have been soaring all season and on Wednesday they matched champions Manchester City in a thrilling 1-1 draw to seal a Europa League spot.
A club who were playing in League One 12 years ago have qualified for Europe for the first time in their 122-year history, and they have done it by playing an attacking brand of football with an exciting, young and inexpensive squad.
“What an achievement, what a club, what a group of guys,” Brighton goalkeeper Jason Steele told Sky Sports after the draw with Treble-chasing City.
“The togetherness, the culture, and we are driven by a top, top manager. Special times.”
Brighton started the season brilliantly with a 2-1 win away to Manchester United.
After six matches, they were fourth in the table but then lost manager Graham Potter to Chelsea, who paid in excess of £21m to secure his services, as well as his assistant Billy Reid and several other key members of the coaching staff.
Yet rather than this being a setback for the club, it proved to be a catalyst. In came ex-Shakhtar Donetsk boss Roberto de Zerbi and the club have not looked back since.
“It has been difficult, we’ve had a transition with a new manager coming in and everyone has responded in a brilliant way,” striker Danny Welbeck told Sky Sports.
“To get Europa League football is amazing. From top to bottom, the club is outstanding. This club is on a rise and we can’t wait for the Europa League next season.”
The Seagulls will be the first English side since Hull City in 2014 to make their debut in the Europa League after recording their highest top-flight finish and surpassing their previous best of ninth last season. Albion have also broken the club’s top-flight record for most wins in a season.
“I didn’t think about targets [when I first came here],” De Zerbi told Sky Sports. “I wanted to work and to analyse the team and the players, to understand the new country and the new league.
“In February I started to think about the table, the final result and the goal. I am lucky because I found a group of players who are fantastic. I am normal, a good coach.”
De Zerbi was the only candidate Brighton spoke to after Potter departed. He had led Serie A side Sassuolo to successive eighth-placed finishes before lifting the Ukrainian Super Cup after joining Shakhtar Donetsk.
“You never know in the early part of the season what may happen when you hire a new coach,” Brighton chairman Tony Bloom told Sky Sports.
“Fortunately we hired the perfect man, the players have taken to him so magnificently. His motivational skills, tactical skills and getting the best out of our players has been absolutely superb.”
Brighton recorded 20 shots on Wednesday, the most City have faced in the league this season, and scored a brilliant equaliser through Julio Enciso’s first-half strike.
Enciso, 19, is the latest Brighton star to attract interest from the Premier League traditional elite. Indeed Brighton have scored two more goals from teenagers this season than the rest of the league combined.
World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister is also much coveted by rival teams, as are the likes of Moises Caicedo and Kaoru Mitoma.
“I don’t know the future, I don’t know the policy of these players,” De Zerbi told BBC Match of the Day when asked about this summer’s transfer window.
“I think they deserve to play in another level. But we have to be ready to bring in more big players because we will play four competitions.”