We twice battled back from a goal down in the first half before driving at Villa’s defence time and time again in the second in search of the lead, only to end up conceding at the other end with just over 20 minutes left when the ball was knocked from goalkeeper Brandon Austin’s grasp and Tre Pemberton gratefully took advantage to ram home the loose ball.
It was our first defeat in five outings in the merit group stage of the Under-18 Premier League, but lessons will have been learned and positives taken from the game, with a handful of Under-16s players taking the chance to acclimatise to this level.
We made a slow start at Villa’s Bodymoor Heath training ground and fell behind after only two minutes, Harvey Knibbs picking out Jozef Pastorek on the edge of the box to send a rising drive through our last line of defenders and beyond Austin, high into the net.
Without a recognised striker in the starting XI, we soon started to find our rhythm with Samuel Shashoua buzzing around at the centre of a front three.
Kelsey Mooney headed over the bar for Villa but after Phoenix Patterson dragged a shot across the face of goal, we grabbed a deserved leveller on 21 minutes when the same player got to the byline down the left and drove the ball into the danger zone, Villa defender Josh Williams turning home at the near post under pressure from Jamie Reynolds.
Above: Nick Tsaroulla and George Marsh compete for the ball.
Eight minutes later, though, the hosts were back in front as Jack Clarke lofted in a cross from the left and Mooney controlled expertly with his first touch before firing in at the back post.
A second equaliser arrived on the stroke of half-time as Shashoua was tackled in the box and the referee pointed to the spot, Shashoua dusting himself down to fire the resulting penalty into the bottom corner, just beyond the fingertips of goalkeeper Kieran Boucher.
The second period saw wave after wave of attack from us, with full-backs Nick Tsaroulla and Matt Lock terrorising the Villa defenders by taking them on and beating them at will. Unfortunately, though, clear chances weren’t forthcoming. Jamie Bowden, Oliver Skipp and Patterson all tested Boucher from range, while the keeper saved well twice in a minute – first from Patterson on the right and then Shashoua on the left – in what turned out to be our best opportunities of the half shortly after the hour mark.
We were undone on 69 minutes, though, as goalkeeper Austin – back from his first taste of international duty with USA Under-18s – rose to catch a cross from the left but, as he fell, collided with a combination of Pemberton and George Marsh and the ball was consequently knocked from his clutches, allowing Pemberton to convert from close range.
Marsh produced an excellent clearance at the near post to prevent Pemberton from making the most of a rapid counter-attack in the closing stages and although Knibbs hit the underside of the crossbar for Villa a minute from time, we continued to produce some eye-catching football, albeit without being able to salvage a point.
JOHN MCDERMOTT, HEAD OF PLAYER DEVELOPMENT, SAID
“We showed the ability and technical excellence to win the game and so it’s frustrating that we leave without any points. For a relatively young set of players, I thought we were exciting but naïve, creative but not clinical. If they’re to apply themselves, the future looks bright for some of these boys. At the moment they’re showing lots of potential but with a vast amount of work to do, just to understand how to hone their skills to become more effective and be better game-changers and game-winners. They’re an exciting group to work with but with an awful long way to go before they reach the standard that we expect at professional level. If the boys apply themselves and believe in what’s being said, I think they’re capable of getting to the next level.
“We want that go-for-it mentality – the full-backs were exciting today, lots of our players were exciting but the next level now is if you’re a full-back, be exciting going forward but make sure you stop your crosses or as a centre-half, can you be creative on the ball but make sure you do the basics of your job and stop the ball when it’s in our box? It’s the two sides of the game that these players have got to learn and with that in mind, I was particularly pleased with Samuel Shashoua today, who in the absence of an orthodox centre-forward played as our number nine and was eye-catching both in possession and out of it. Oliver Skipp, as well, showed guile and quality in possession but also a real desire and toughness out of possession. Today we had lots of good players but I thought those two were stand-out performers and that’s the standard we’re looking at here at Tottenham – it needs to be stand-out rather than good.”
Spurs U18s: Austin, Lock, Tsaroulla, Skipp, Omolabi, Marsh (c), Patterson, Hinds (Lyons-Foster 85), Shashoua, Bowden (Roles 69), Reynolds (Richards 78). Substitute (not used): Whiteman (GK).
We travel to Everton in midweek for a re-arranged Under-18 Premier League fixture, looking for a quick return to winning ways. Finch Farm is the venue on Tuesday, May 9, with kick-off at 11am.