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Danny Murphy played for 69 minutes on his return and Lee Barnard marked his first start of the season with a goal as our reserves completed a thoroughly-deserved 2-1 win against Aston Villa on Tuesday night.

Danny Murphy played for 69 minutes on his return and Lee Barnard marked his first start of the season with a goal as our reserves completed a thoroughly-deserved 2-1 win against Aston Villa on Tuesday night.

Back after a two-month absence due to Achilles trouble, Murphy appeared to come through his stint unscathed and set-up Barnard’s fine strike in the final minute of the first half – the reserves’ top scorer for the last two seasons back in Clive Allen’s starting XI for the first time of an injury-ravaged campaign.

It was an impressive display from the lads at Villa Park against an in-form Villa side that had gathered 19 points from the last 24 on offer.

Murphy started on the left of midfield with McKenna central – no doubt relishing a match-up with Northern Ireland compatriot Steven Davis – alongside Jamie O’Hara and David Hutton wide right.

Our first move of note led to the first half-chance, Barnard’s link-up play the key as he controlled and rolled a pass wide to Hutton who ran at Lowry and Ridgewell before drilling a low cross to the near post that Barnard got first but couldn’t quite guide his effort on target.

Barnard’s persistence led to the next chance after 15 minutes, his run was ended abruptly by a Ridgewell foul on the edge of the box and O’Hara curled the free-kick a yard over. At the other end, Archibald-Heville made an important header away as O’Halloran dived in for Herd’s cross.

The opening goal arrived after 28 minutes as the lads refused to allow Villa to properly clear their lines following a corner. Archibald-Henville, Lee and Murphy were all involved in that pressure before O’Hara turned away from Lund and hit a low drive from 20 yards that deceived Henderson in flight and crossed the line in the centre of the goal.

Villa’s response was instant but Alnwick was up to it as Herd played a one-two with Stieber to open us up, the keeper out quickly to narrow the angle and save diving to his right from 12 yards.

Barnard went close with 39 minutes on the clock, lashing just wide from the right corner of the box after a quick break from a Villa attack, passes from Murphy and Hutton creating the opening that Henderson looked to have touched wide, although no corner was given.

Barnard’s fine performance in the first half was rewarded with a fine goal in the final minute. It started all the way back with Alnwick and involved a number of passes before Mills played it up to Barnard, 40 yards from goal, he played a one-two with Murphy, controlled and placed a firm drive beyond the diving Henderson into the bottom corner.

We almost stretched the lead inside three minutes of the second half. It was another quick break forward this time led by O’Hara, whose thunderbolt from 25 yards was parried away by Henderson, Hutton nodded back into the danger zone where Barcham slid in with the keeper and couldn’t quite get enough on the ball to nudge to over the line, Henderson able to dive on it a yard out. O’Hara soon tried his luck again, a 30-yarder into the North Stand.

Alnwick was alert to slide out and save at the feet of Angel as he went for a one-two with Steiber and the striker should have done better a minute later, 56 minutes on the clock, when he had time to pick his spot from 16 yards but placed his effort wide.

Tomas Pekhart entered the fray for Hutton on the hour and took his place up front alongside Barnard with Barcham reverting to right midfield.

Villa carved out the next chance when Lund spotted Lowry’s run from deep but the left-back completely missed his shot.

Barnard hammered just wide from 25 yards following another quick passing move centrally before Murphy was replaced by Jake Livermore after 69 minutes. Another chance followed soon after as Barcham’s pace took him away from O’Halloran but with Pekhart and Livermore in the box, his final touch let him down and Henderson gathered.

Lee did well on the slide to deny Angel at the near post with five minutes left but the home side gave themselves a lifeline with 89 minutes on the clock as O'Halloran tried his luck from all of 35 yards, his low skidder intercepted by substitute Ciaran Clark, who controlled and fired past Alnwick from close range.

That was the final action and anything less than a Spurs win would have been a travesty on the night.