Soccer

You’ve got to dream big: Lewis Dunk eyes Europa League glory with Brighton

Lewis Dunk hailed a historic day for Brighton (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Lewis Dunk hailed a historic day for Brighton (Gareth Fuller/PA) Lewis Dunk hailed a historic day for Brighton (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Captain Lewis Dunk says Brighton are dreaming of Europa League glory after securing a spot in the knockout stages on a historic day for the club.

Albion guaranteed a top-two finish in Group B with a game to spare thanks to an unconvincing 1-0 victory away to 10-man AEK Athens.

Joao Pedro’s 55th-minute penalty proved the difference against the Greek champions as the Seagulls set aside a disjointed display to progress ahead of a final-round fixture at home to Marseille on December 14.

Defender Dunk is determined to finish in first place in the pool in order to advance directly to the last 16 and avoid a knockout round play-off against a team falling out of the Champions League.

“The next game, we’ve got to win, we’ve got to top the group,” he told Brighton’s website. “I think that’s massive, you miss a round out.

“That’s our next aim in this competition but who knows how far we can go?

“We want to win it and you’ve got to dream big to achieve it. We’re going to set our sights on reaching the final and winning it.”

Brighton, who are enjoying their maiden European adventure, were second best in the first half at AEK Arena and fortunate not to fall behind when Steven Zuber’s shot deflected off Dunk and struck a post.

The contest turned during a pivotal 10-minute second-half spell in which Pedro converted a VAR-awarded penalty after being fouled by AEK captain Damian Szymanski and Mijat Gacinovic was dismissed for a second booking.

Following back-to-back successes over four-time European champions Ajax, Albion jubilantly celebrated another famous win with the travelling fans.

England international Dunk, who made his senior debut when the Seagulls were a League One side, acknowledged the visitors were forced to dig deep.

“It’s massive,” the 32-year-old said of the result. “I think you can see in the celebration at the end what it means.

“It’s a historic day for the football club.

“We came into this tournament to qualify out of the group and we’ve done that tonight.

“It wasn’t the prettiest of our performances but sometimes you’ve got to win like that and it’s all credit to us.”

Pedro’s successful spot-kick was his fifth goal in the competition and backed up his match-winning brace as a substitute in Saturday’s 3-2 Premier League victory at Nottingham Forest.

Dunk, whose right shoulder was taped up at full-time, was sent off at the City Ground and will miss Sunday’s trip to Chelsea due to suspension.

“(I’m) just nursing a few injuries but you just get on with them,” he replied when asked about the strapping.

“Frustrating not to be out there (at Stamford Bridge), it’s my fault and I’ve got to deal with that myself.”