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Brighton gave themselves a Europa League lifeline as Joao Pedro’s late penalty completed a comeback from two goals down away to Marseille and helped Roberto De Zerbi’s side avoid a second straight European defeat.

Pedro slotted home in the 88th minute after Tariq Lamptey was tripped inside the box, earning the visitors what had looked an unlikely point when Marseille duo Chancel Mbemba and Jordan Veretout struck two goals within a minute of each other in the first half.

At that stage, a badly out-of-sorts Brighton looked like they would be lucky to avoid the kind of thrashing Aston Villa meted out to them on Saturday. Marseille threw everything at them, whilst the visitors gave only space and encouragement.

Still they held on, figured out how to contain Gennaro Gattuso’s side, and hit back. Pascal Gross made it 2-1 after 56 minutes, and from there their pressure grew until Pedro’s dramatic intervention at the death.

Marseille started with high energy, roared on by the support of a noisy Stade Velodrome.

Amine Harit tested the reflexes of Jason Steele early, lifting a free-kick over the wall and requiring the Brighton goalkeeper to leap and flick it over the bar.

Gattuso’s side had conceded 10 goals in their last three games and were winless in five, but this was a confident opening that defied their lowly Ligue 1 position of 12th.

Brighton by contrast were lethargic off the ball and careless when on it, giving away possession as they sought to play out through midfield, inviting pressure onto themselves.

After 19 minutes, that pressure yielded a goal. Kaoru Mitoma slipped as he sought to close the ball down, allowing France international Jonathan Clauss space to charge down the right flank and, after linking up with Iliman Ndiaye, he fired in low cross which the unmarked Mbemba – the former Newcastle defender – guided home first-time past Steele from near the penalty spot.

There was barely time for De Zerbi to take stock before it was 2-0, and it was Brighton captain Lewis Dunk on his European debut whose mistake set things in motion, missing his kick and losing the ball inside his own half, allowing Harit time to size up a cross. With Dunk out of position Joel Veltman came across to clear but was fractionally too slow to prevent Veretout beating him to it and striking it beyond Steele, who appeared to let the ball bounce through his hands.

Then came what appeared to be Brighton’s road back. The referee was called to the pitchside monitor to adjudicate on a possible Marseille handball inside their box and initially said penalty. After a moment of confusion, VAR ruled there had been an earlier foul, and Brighton’s lifeline was whipped away.

With the home support buoyed into a deafening chorus, Marseille sought the third goal to bury Brighton and Steele was called on again to turn over a long-range Harit effort.

Pau Lopez in the hosts’ goal twice denied Brighton late in the half, first flinging himself to keep out Ansu Fati’s header then blocking with his feet after Danny Welbeck raced clear from Veltman’s through-ball.

The second half began with renewed Marseille pressure and so it was against the run of play that Gross hauled Brighton back into it. Lamptey carried the ball almost to the byline and tucked it back for Mitoma, who looked up to see Gross arriving in the box and teed him up to make it 2-1.

It had a transformative effect and suddenly Brighton had found their rhythm. The wayward passing of the first half became accurate and direct, and now it was Marseille conceding possession cheaply.

They still had a chance to restore a two-goal lead when substitute Vitinha looked to have got the better of Dunk after a hoofed ball up from Lopez, but the captain recovered brilliantly to block.

Mitoma struck a left-footed effort too close to Lopez allowing the goalkeeper to parry as Brighton’s intensified their threat.

Then, late drama and a chance for De Zerbi’s side to salvage their European campaign.

Clauss dived in on Lamptey as he looked to dart into a channel inside the box, and the referee did not hesitate. From the spot, substitute Pedro defied the pressure to send Brighton home with a point.