Aston Villa U23s have won the Premier League Cup Final on penalties against Swansea U23!
Swansea City came into the game energised off of beating Sheffield Wednseday 3-0 in the semi-final. The Young Lions held their opponent off for the entirety of the 90 minutes and then some. The Swans U23 set-up are not be taken lightly as a team, however. The young Swans team was looking to win the Premier League Cup for the 2nd year in a row, but the talented Aston Villa starlets had other ideas. While some Villa supporters watched the match on the Swansea website, here is an extended report of the match:
Early in the contest, Aston Villa winger Corey Blackett-Taylor attempted to drill a cross into the box. The ball wound up hitting Swansea defender Ben Cabango in the head and almost drifted in the net. Shortly after both teams shared a fair amount of the possession, Swansea striker Kenji Gorre found an adventurous through-ball in the penalty area. As Gorre went to shoot, Villa right-back Isaiah Bazeley-Graham threw everything he had into a slide tackle that prevented the threat to the Aston Villa net. It was truly an inch perfect tackle that can not be understated. Quickly after, Swansea tried yet another through ball in the penalty area to Daniel James, but was also snuffed out by Villa centre-back Mitchell Clark. Both tackles by Bazeley-Graham and Clark set a tempo that Villa were not going to be bested in an easy fashion on the night.
Villa came out for the second-half looking like they had somewhat of a chip on their shoulders. A very good sign for such a young and talented squad of players. Corey Blackett-Taylor was again skilfully generous with his crosses and found Rushian Hepburn-Murphy right outside of the 18-yard box. Hepburn-Murphy found wide-man Andre Green in close proximity with a pass, and Green curled the ball just wide of the far post. The attempt definitely had shades of Greens’ magical strike earlier in the year for the senior Aston Villa team in a 4-2 win against Norwich City. A promising sign for a talented young player who has spent much of the season rehabbing an injury.
Hepburn-Murphy continued to try and get his teammates in on goal in the second half, showing off his passing prowess in the process. After seeing Callum O’Hare in on goal with a right footed through ball, Swansea keeper Steven Benda made a great save to deny an Aston Villa goal.
Swansea would start to get their wits about themselves shortly after the O’Hare chance. Daniel James found Kenji Goore all by himself in the Villa penalty area, but his second touch on the ball let himself and his teammates down. The ball safely rolled into the gloves of an outstretched Matija Sarkic. You could tell by the body language of the Swansea players that it was indeed a wasted opportunity. Swansea would push on as midfielder Adnan Maric sent a side-ways pass into the feet of fresh Swansea substitute Courtney Baker-Richardson. Baker-Richardson would put the ball wide, but it was for certain that Swansea were giving it all they had to find the back of the net in the second-half. Maric would again find some space to create soon after, this time placing a shot that was caught and held onto by Sarkic.
Hepburn-Murphy sensed that Villa needed an offensive spark as the second half was coming to a close and his determination was shining brightly. The young Villa striker went on an adventurous run through the final third of the pitch and placed a world-class ball into the path of teammate Jordan Cox. While the delivery was great, the finishing by Cox was not. The industrious winger tried to swing a left foot at the ball, but it went wide. Cox was seen with his head on the pitch, knowing that such a late goal would have sealed the deal for himself and his Aston Villa teammates.
Extra time was just as entertaining, which saw chance after chance for both teams. Sarkic would make a few key saves for Villa while Swansea would blow a seemingly simple finish courtesy of Ben Cabango putting a shot over the bar. Hepburn-Murphy would continue to be an absolute menace, seeing his shot deflect off of a defender and painfully close to finding the back of the net. Alas, the fate of the Young Lions in Cup competition would be settled by penalty kicks.
Jordan Lyden netted first for Villa with a cool penalty kick. The first penalty taker for Swansea, George Byers, sent a shot directly into the chest of Matjia Sarkic. The roars from his Villa teammates and supporters were heard loud and proud throughout the ground. Villa hearts sunk a bit when Kelsey Mooney’s shot glanced off of the keepers right hand, but trickled into the net. Next up for Swansea was defender Aaron Lewis who powered a strike past Sarkic with ease. Villas’ Hepburn-Murphy was the next man with the ball on spot and slyly placed his chance into the bottom corner of the net, leaving the goalkeeper watching the ball go in the opposite direction. Jack Evans was the next man up for the Swans, but didn’t do himself any favours with a pace-less attempt that Sarkic saved with ease. This put Villa in the driver seat to win the match, and win the match they did after Jack Clarke sent a goal past Benda.
The rest of the Villa squad trampled their way towards Clarke in celebration. It was quite the performance from a team that has shown and continues to show real promise. If this season is any indication of the future of Aston Villa and their production of young talent, every single Aston Villa supporter should be smiling ear to ear. The skill, determination and heart on display through this Premier League Cup run could set down a marker for the standard of excellence that Aston Villa deserves as a club. It will be happy days for all of those youngsters to lift a trophy, but it will be even happier days if they can all ply their trade in the senior team for many years to come.
Words by Mark Jirobe (@VillaMarkPGH) // Follow us on Twitter (@claretandview)