Aston Villa Under 23s continued their solid start to the new Premier League 2 campaign with a deserved victory over Sunderland at the Eppleton Colliery Ground on Monday Evening.
The young lions, coached by Kevin MacDonald and Mark Delaney, sit third in the second division just a point behind leaders Wolves having now won five of their opening seven matches. Unlike their senior counterparts, there seems to be no hangover from last season’s play-offs disappointment.
Indeed, the Under 23s seem to go from strength to strength and, watching this game, it’s not hard to see why. Villa played inventive football throughout and at times looked a class above (Sunderland are rock bottom of the league in fairness), and the 1-0 score line certainly didn’t do Delaney’s side justice. With their shooting boots on, Villa would have had four or five.
Harvey Knibbs scored the goal that sealed the victory in the 35th minute and the striker, who featured for the senior side in pre-season was unlucky not to have a hat-trick as he twice hit the post. The visitors controlled the game, having the lion’s share of possession, and created countless other opportunities after some lovely neat interchanges.
Captain Cal O’Hare, playing in a free role just off Knibbs, was so sharp and clever all night. With his socks rolled down and his confident swagger, he seems to have the attitude of a Jack Grealish – and he has the ability on the pitch to match. Displaying such guile and creativity, he almost looked out of place at this level, and he should surely be afforded more minutes with the first-team.
Jake Doyle-Hayes was his usual composed self in the middle of the park and Corey Blackett-Taylor gave the Black Cats backline a torrid time with his explosive pace.
O’Hare, Blackett-Taylor and midfielder Jack Clarke could all have doubled Villa’s advantage, but the second goal wasn’t needed in the end.
Villa were comfortable in truth and, although Jack Diamond was lively for Sunderland, the three points never really looked in doubt.
In short, it was a joy to watch. To see a Villa team play with such freedom and understanding provided some welcome respite in these difficult times.
Next up, the young lions face Newcastle United as they look to make it three wins on the spin.
Up the Villa.