Roberto De Zerbi praised an “incredible” reaction from Brighton after they recovered from two goals down at the Stade Velodrome to salvage a point against Marseille and keep alive their hopes of progressing in the Europa League.
Substitute Joao Pedro scored an 88th-minute penalty to earn a 2-2 draw that kept Brighton in contention in Group B following their defeat to AEK Athens two weeks ago, the striker slotting home coolly after Tariq Lamptey had been tripped.
A draw had looked an unlikely outcome when Marseille struck twice in the space two first-half minutes, the first a low finish from former Newcastle defender Chancel Mbemba, then a strike by Jordan Veretout that went through the hands of goalkeeper Jason Steele after Lewis Dunk had given the ball away with a poor mis-kick.
Brighton weathered the Marseille storm, too often giving the ball away cheaply when in possession but surviving to go in only two down at the break, before launching a comeback early in the second period when Pascal Gross slotted home from Kaoru Mitoma’s cutback.
From there on De Zerbi’s team were on top, and it came as just rewards when Pedro was given the chance to level from the spot and salvage their hope of progressing to the knockout rounds.
The manager said he was concerned by the way his injury-hit side have played recently but praised their powers of recovery in the south of France, particularly coming off the back of Saturday’s 6-1 defeat to Aston Villa.
“I want to be honest more than other days, other games,” De Zerbi said. “I think we are not playing well, it’s a very tough period for us in this moment. It’s difficult to show our quality like last season, like a month ago.
“It’s a period where we have to work, but after that in football it’s important the quality of the play and the players, but it’s important playing with heart, passion and the right behaviour.
“I’m really proud of the performance today, of the players. After the defeat 6-1 at Villa Park and the second goal to close the first half at 2-0, this reaction is incredible. For it I am very happy.”
Brighton appeared stagestruck during the first half inside a stadium that rocked with the noise of a vociferous home support.
De Zerbi admitted the atmosphere had been a factor in knocking his players out of their usual rhythm that has seen them win five of their first seven Premier League games this season.
“I know we are not a big team yet,” he said. “We are a small club. We reached the European competition playing very well, showing the incredible qualities of the players, but it’s possible we suffered too much from the atmosphere. (It was) the first game (away) in Europe for Brighton, the players and the fans.
“I’m not a big coach, I’m not used to playing in this competition. We have to adapt, we have to get used to playing in this competition from this moment.
“We can lose the game but we can’t lose our DNA, our spirit, our bravery and passion. This season will be important to progress, to adapt to playing in different competitions, playing three games every week.
“Today we played not more than 30 per cent of our potential.”
Marseille manager Gennaro Gattuso acknowledged his team lost their way after a dominant opening and gave Brighton the encouragement they needed in order to recover.
“The pressure we applied in the first 65 minutes was (good),” he said. “Then we started to press in a different way, not the best way. We should have paid more attention to them.
“With Brighton, if you don’t press well and do the good things, they will punish you. I think the players gave 65 minutes where they were able to press high but it was still not enough.”