Alex Dicken reports from Villa Park on the final day of the Championship season
Jack Grealish stepped off the bench to score a late leveller against Brighton and hand Newcastle United the Championship title.
The local lad’s 89th minute stunner left Brighton players on their knees as 10-man Aston Villa ended a poor season on a high.
Nathan Baker had been sent off for conceding the penalty that led to Brighton’s goal midway through the second-half but Villa fought back and claimed a share of the spoils.
As you would expect, Brighton immediately set out to dominate possession and find an early breakthrough in their pursuit of the title.
But early territory and pressure wasn’t rewarded. In fact, Villa should have been ahead midway through the first-half as Henri Lansbury inexplicably missed the target from six yards out.
Neil Taylor’s left-wing delivery was inadvertently headed back into the mix by Brighton’s Sebastien Pocognoli before Lansbury somehow missed the target with his head.
The former Nottingham Forest man won’t get a better chance to open his claret and blue account than the gift presented by Brighton’s Argentine full-back - but the wait goes on.
Pocognoli’s generosity didn’t stop there. With no pressure being applied to the on-loan West Brom man, he played a loose back-pass towards goalkeeper David Stockdale that Scott Hogan latched onto.
However, like fellow January recruit Lansbury, Hogan couldn’t beat Stockdale, who was showing the skills that saw him named Championship goalkeeper of the year.
That was to be Hogan’s final involvement as he was again withdrawn through injury with what looked like a problem to that troublesome right ankle.
The big money man from Brentford was caught late by Brighton defender Lewis Dunk and hobbled off to be replaced by youngster Keinan Davis.
And Davis took the game to Brighton after the restart. His trickery and power saw him evade a couple of challenges before appearing to be fouled in the Brighton penalty area, but referee Darren Bond wasn’t interested and pointed for a corner.
All of the big chances had fallen to Villa before Glenn Murray’s predatory instincts deserted him in the 57th minute as he headed Murphy’s cross wide.
Another big opportunity fell the way of Murray’s strike partner and boyhood Villa fan Sam Baldock shortly afterwards but he was denied by a superb Sam Johnstone save.
Then came the moment that changed everything. Baldock raced through on goal to be denied by Johnstone once again.
However, the referee adjudged Baker to have pulled the Seagulls striker back and awarded the visitors a penalty and reduced Villa to 10 men.
Glenn Murray converted the spot-kick for his 23rd goal of the season in the 64th minute.
Brighton could have clinched victory and the Championship crown moments later but Murray’s cutback for Baldock was a little short and James Chester prevented what would have been a certain goal.
Villa weren’t done, though, and could have levelled through Davis as both teams began to implement a gung-ho strategy.
As ever, Stockdale stood firm and denied the Holte End, and the thousands of Geordies tuning in, a moment of glory.
The goalkeeper was again called into action with five minutes remaining as Conor Hourihane struck a sweet free-kick around the wall, but Stockdale stretched to tip it around the post.
But Villa eventually got their goal. Substitute Grealish picked the ball up around 20 yards from goal and sublimely curled it home to send Villa Park crazy.
Davis could have even won it for Villa but Stockdale gathered his tame effort as he tried to break away from the Seagulls defence.
Villa (4-5-1): Johnstone; Bree, Chester, Baker, Taylor; Adomah (Grealish, 61), Lansbury, Hourihane, Bacuna, Amavi (Elphick, 65); Hogan (Davis, 45)