It took until the final minutes of a first half that Brighton had dominated for the breakthrough to arrive, Pedro tapping home on the rebound after an opening period in which Ajax – second-bottom of the Eredivisie – did little more than look to preserve parity, as Brighton dictated things from the first minute.
The Dutch side have endured their worst-ever start to a league season, and after sacking manager Maurice Steijn on Monday they went down with barely a whimper, Fati’s goal early in the second half laying bare the gulf between Roberto De Zerbi’s team and the four-time European champions.
It was a first half that Brighton controlled but were for the most part frustrated by an organised, obdurate Ajax. Pedro wanted a penalty for a shove in the back inside of three minutes, waved away by the referee with barely a glance, before Brighton’s top scorer on their European campaign tucked the only real chance of the opening exchanges wide of the near post from Karou Mitoma’s cut-back.
Pedro appealed again for a spot-kick, this time with more gusto, when he appeared to be bundled to the ground by Jorrel Hato. The defender was adjudged narrowly to have reached Mitoma’s through-ball ahead of the Brighton striker as the Amex howled for a penalty.
The hosts’ central-defensive pair spent much of the first half 10 yards inside the Ajax half. The plan to lure out the visitors and exploit the resulting space was resisted by caretaker boss Hedwiges Maduro’s team, who seemed content to sacrifice attacking ambition for the sake of clogging the gaps in between their lines.
Simon Adingra had the best chance of the opening half-hour when he lashed a right-footed effort over the bar from Lewis Dunk’s header back across goal, as Brighton’s threat was stymied by Ajax in what was a ponderous first half from De Zerbi’s side.
Mitoma and Pedro’s partnership looked the most likely avenue of success. The pair carved out the clearest opening yet when Pedro dashed into a channel down the right to reach his team-mate’s threaded ball and drove low at goal, only for goalkeeper Diant Ramaj to beat it away with a strong right hand.
The breakthrough came three minutes before the break. Dunk’s pass was weighted into the path of Mitoma who dashed into the box and dragged the ball inside Josip Sutalo to make space to shoot. His effort was pushed out by Ramaj, but only to the feet of the onrushing Pedro who continued his fine European scoring run to end a frustrating half for Brighton on a high.
Fati’s goal, slotted home brilliantly eight minutes after the break, cemented Brighton’s superiority. Adingra began the move from midfield, patiently stewarding the ball until Fati’s run was made, checking inside and feeding the on-loan Barcelona forward who beat his man with a devastating first touch and dispatched deftly beyond Ramaj.
The game had sprung suddenly to life. Fati was inches from making it three and burying Ajax, his driven effort licking inches wide of the post, before Steven Berghuis at the other end struck the upright with Jason Steele beaten, a rare foray forward from the visitors.
It was to be the closest the 2019 Champions League semi-finalists came, as Brighton’s debut European season finally got going in earnest.