By Declan Taylor
Aston Villa won the Reserve League South last season and they looked every inch the champions as they recorded a 4-1 victory over Arsenal on Monday night.
After a week that saw Arsenal’s youngsters receive justified praise for their Carling Cup performance, it was the young Villans who impressed at Underhill to keep Neil Banfield’s side without a point at home this season.
In truth, the visitors were out of sight within 30 minutes after a Mark Albrighton brace and a goal from Zoltan Stieber. Arsenal rallied briefly at the start of the second period with a real gem from Mark Randall but Stieber added his second to put the result beyond doubt 10 minutes later.
Vito Mannone and James Dunne both saw red in last season’s equivalent fixtures and Henri Lansbury joined the list when he was dismissed deep into stoppage time.
Only seven of the starters against Portsmouth were chosen in Banfield’s first 11 and it was the defence that bore the brunt of the changes. Captain Gavin Hoyte shifted over to right-back and Tom Cruise, making his first reserve start, came in on the left. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas was paired with Kyle Bartley in the centre.
Jack Wilshere, after missing the trip to Westleigh Park because of Champions League duty, joined fellow 16-year-old Emmanuel Frimpong in the midfield quartet. Two other Carling Cup stars, Lansbury and Randall, filled the remaining slots. Arsenal’s match-winner against Portsmouth, Jay Simpson, led the line alongside Rui Fonte.
The opening exchanges were even enough but within three minutes, the visitors were ahead. Albrighton rode a challenge just inside the area before slamming the ball inside Vito Mannone’s near-post.
The goalscorer doubled his tally a little under 10 minutes later after bursting in off the right-hand touchline. With Weimann lurking in the centre, Albrighton took the task upon himself to flick the ball across Mannone with the outside of his boot into the bottom-corner.
Arsenal threatened briefly with a flurry of corners but it was Villa who had the next clear-cut chance. Steiber swung a free-kick effort well-over from 20 yards but made up for it moments later as Villa made it 3-0 before the half-hour.
The goal was once again crafted down the right-flank. Albrighton turned provider this time as he picked out the unmarked Steiber who had drifted away from his marker at the back-post. The Hungarian needed only one touch to steer the ball past Mannone.
The closest the hosts came to salvaging something before the interval came in the 43rd minute when Fonte muscled his way into the area. Unfortunately for the Arsenal, Elliot Parish in the Villa goal got his chest in front of the Portugese’s prodded effort.
Arsenal started the second half brightly and it was Randall, who turned 19 yesterday, that gave the hosts a glimmer of hope 11 minutes after the restart. Twenty yards from goal and with a barrage of bodies in his way, Randall shaped to blast, but delicately lifted the ball into the top-corner instead.
Just as Randall’s strike looked to have provoked an unlikely Arsenal comeback, Steiber doubled his tally and put the result beyond doubt. The Hungarian stepped up 25 yards from goal and curled his free-kick past Mannone.
Randall could have added a second five minutes from time, but his free-kick was palmed to safety by Parish.
As the match wound down Lansbury was given his marching orders to cap an unhappy night for Banfield’s boys.
- Bartley Yellow Card
- Cruise 81
- Randall Goal!
- Wilshere 61
- Emmanuel-Thomas Yellow Card
- Lansbury Red Card
- Fonte 61
- Ayling 81
- Murphy 61
- Freeman 61
Aston Villa Res
- Eric Lichaj
- Stieber Goal! Goal!
- Ciaran Clark Yellow Card
- Gary Gardner
- Sam Simmonds
- Barry Bannan
- Mark Albrighton Goal! Goal!
- Andreas Weimann 77
- Thomas Dau
- Calum Flanagan
- William Grocott
- James Collins 77
- Harry Forrester