Brighton head coach Graham Potter said second half substitute Jack Grealish made the difference as Aston Villa cruised into the Carabao Cup fourth round, with a 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.
Head coach Graham Potter said, “I’m really pleased that the players all celebrated Haydon’s goal. It was nice for them collectively to have that experience and feel the joy of the goal and crowd.
“Over the course of the game, Aston Villa deserved to go through, but it just goes to show that they had to bring Jack Grealish on to get over the line.
“Despite all of Aston Villa’s quality, at 2-1 we were still in the game and that’s the beauty of football.
“We were hoping to get to that last 15 minutes and perhaps nick a 2-2 draw — it wasn’t to be, but the players gave everything and it was a great experience from them.”
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.
Potter said, “We’ve had a few problems with injuries and the squad has been stretched, so that provided an opportunity for the young lads to play.
“You find out a lot about the guys when they’re out there, and there were some real positives. Aaron Connolly looked really lively and it was nice to see Haydon get his goal.
“You can speak from a coaching perspective, but it’s only when you’re out there and you’re playing against top players that you find out things about your own personal game.
“We’re a club that invests a lot of money and time into the academy, so it’s important to give opportunities and pathways to the players.”
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.
Potter said: “It sounds like he has had either a kick or something in his calf. Obviously it is a concern for us. We will see how it settles down in the next 24 or 48 hours.”
Just to highlight how deep into his squad Potter had delve...the squad numbers of Albion’s 18-man squad added up to 801.
Villa’s victory was their first at Brighton since the European Cup-winning campaign of 1981-82.