After over a month away Villa under-23’s returned to PL2 Div2 action with a clash against Middlesbrough at Bodymoor heath. Having not played since the 6th December Villa’s young starlets will have been itching to get back to action and, were strengthened by the return of FA cup youth winners Louie Barry, Brad Young and Arjan Raikhy all from their respective loan spells. Villa came into this with 1 win in their last 5 sitting 5th in the PL2 2nd division against a Boro side in mid-table who had lost 4 of their last 5 games.
It was a game where Villa were second-best for large portions and looked very much like a side who had been out of action for over a month. The opening 20 mins saw the away side settle the better and in their 5-3-2 formation were looking the more dangerous. The front two of Fletcher and Kavanagh for Middlesbrough tormented the Villa back line all day long. On the 21st minute the bright early start from the away side was rewarded with a penalty given away by Sil Swinkels, which on second glance looked a very harsh decision from the referee. Nevertheless, Kavanagh converted from 12 yards to give the away side the lead. The closest the home side came in the first half was a back post Swinkels header from a corner, who almost redeemed himself hitting the post. The young Villains ended the half well with probably their best sustained spell of pressure in the last 10, but never truly tested Swan in the Boro goal.
Mark Delaney would have wanted to see a lot more from his side in the second period but the opening 20 minutes of the half was dominated by the away side. Kavanagh, who scored the 1st, could have easily sealed a second half hat-trick. On the 56th minute Feeney was pickpocketed by the Boro forward who was only denied by a top save from Marschall at close range. On the hour mark with his first touch after coming on Caleb Chukwuemeka lost the ball in midfield, which saw Kavanagh race through again only to be denied by another super stop from Marschall. But it was 3rd time lucky for the Middlesbrough man who on 65 minutes stole the ball from Feeney again, who overplayed in his own box and rounded the keeper to make it 2-0. Villa tried to push for a goal back in the remaining half hour but Swan was comfortable in the Boro goal and Villa struggled to find in-roads against the back 5. With the game petering out a fierce left footed low drive from Finley Thorndike on the 81st Minute found its way into the back of the net to give Villa hope. The last 10 minutes Villa dominated the ball and camped in their attacking half. A succession off freekicks in dangerous areas came to nothing, with Villa captain Lindley coming closest forcing Swan into a smart save down to his right. But Boro kept their shape and discipline and frustrated Villa, in the end holding out for a deserved 2-1 win.
In terms of individual performances from the home side it is difficult to pick a stand-out player. 16-year-old Josh Feeney, recently on the bench in the Premier League against Brentford, had a shaky game when playing out the back. The three returning loanees weren’t ever able to show their quality and didn’t influence the game as much as some may have expected. Goodridge showed some bright moments in the 1st half as Villa chased a leveller and looked arguably the most likely to create for Villa. But the Man of the match for the home side has to go to 18-year-old Marschall in goal. Without his saves in the second half the score line could have been a lot worse for Villa. Overall a day to forget for Villa’s youngsters who now must shift their attention to next week’s derby game vs West Brom on the 17th.