By Adam Clark
On a freezing night at the Bescot Stadium, Arsenal Reserves were frozen out by the ice-cool finishing of an experienced Aston Villa side.
Luke Moore, who scored the winner when these two sides met at Barnet FC just three weeks ago, was again the main tormentor. The striker hit a brace either side of Craig Gardner's emphatic penalty to ensure a comfortable victory over Arsenal's youngsters.
The Gunners, who included nine of the side that defeated Manchester United in the FA Youth Cup Semi-Final first leg last Wednesday, also finished the game with 10 men after Armand Traore received his marching orders late on.
Coach Neil Banfield had first-team experience at his disposal in defensive duo of Traore and Matthew Connolly. The Arsenal teamsheet was eclipsed however by that of their hosts. Goalkeeper Stuart Taylor, who made 30 appearances for Arsenal as a youngster, started alongside defender JLloyd Samuel, midfielders Isaiah Osbourne and Craig Gardner and striker Luke Moore who have all featured in the Premiership this term. The latter also has two top-flight goals to his name.
As the game kicked off the pitch was still showing signs of the earlier sleet storms that had torn through the Midlands skies. In places it was more ice rink than football pitch.
Villa were by far the brighter side early on. Both Gardner and Marc Albrighton had chances in the opening stages but failed to test Arsenal keeper Vito Mannone.
Then on 10 minutes a mistake from Mannone gifted the hosts the lead. James Dunne played the ball back to the Italian keeper who botched his attempt to control under pressure from Moore. The ball rolled away from the keeper's clutches and gave the Villa striker the simple task of stroking into an empty net.
Four minutes later Stephen O'Halloran crashed a header against the post and a Villa walkover appeared to be on the cards.
Jay Simpson had Arsenal's first meaningful effort soon after though and, on 25 minutes, a powerful drive from Randall deflected just wide.
Yet Villa tightened their grip on the game on 27 minutes when Gavin Hoyte brought down Moore, seemingly on the edge of the box. Referee Mr Evans deemed the challenge had taken place inside and awarded a penalty. Gardner dispatched it confidently into the roof of the net.
Arsenal's best chance came on 37 minutes and it spawned a succession of chances before the break. The young Gunners were awarded a free-kick 20 yards out which Randall touched to Traore. The 17-year-old Frenchman drilled through a crowded box but with Taylor beaten his effort thumped off the post. Taylor then saw a clearance ricochet over off Simpson's shin and Connolly looped a header over from the resulting corner.
Simpson and Cypriot midfielder Giorgos Efrem had further chances and although the half-time whistle brought a respite from the cold Arsenal would have been happier to continue.
Two minutes after the break Hungarian striker Zoltan Stieber headed over for Villa and from there the hosts went about bossing the game as they had for much of the first half.
Therefore it was little surprise when Albrighton's 55th-minute cut-back provided Moore with the opportunity to wrap up the game from eight yards. Mannone got an outstretched palm to the ball but had little chance of keeping it out.
O'Halloran sent another header over for Villa and Moore fluffed a gilt-edged chance for his hat-trick. But a game that had been so open in its infancy was closing out with a whimper.
In fairness to Arsenal's youngsters they continued to work hard despite the inevitability of defeat. There were no clear chances to speak of but their insistence on closing down and full-hearted commitment to keeping the scoreline respectable was evident.
Unfortunately their work ethic earned them little. And in the dying seconds the Gunners were reduced to 10 men when Traore's reaction to a fierce challenge from David Bevan earned him a second yellow card.
- Ogogo 77 Yellow Card
- Hoyte Yellow Card
- Traore Red Card
- Efrem 77
- van den Berg 63
- Rodgers 77
- Emmanuel-Thomas 63
- Steer 77