Aston Villa and the Class of ’21

Dave Woodhall watches Villa beat Liverpool to lift the FA Youth Cup.

A couple of weeks ago the season might have looked like it was fizzling out into disappointment but winning the last two Premier League games boosted spirits and on Monday night came yet more proof that the future is brighter than it has been for years.

Villa hadn’t so much arrived at the FA Youth Cup final in style as smashed their way there with the force of a juggernaut – nineteen goals in the three ties leading up to Monday night’s one-off with Liverpool showed that they’re a very special crop of youngsters indeed. Villa and Liverpool have a bit of history where playing youngsters in cup competitions is concerned so it was always going to be interesting to see what would happen when the youth finally played against each other.

Two up after twelve minutes was what happened, with Ben Chrisene opening the scoring before Brad Young was fouled and converted the resulting penalty with ridiculous coolness. Villa also hit the woodwork a couple of times and were unlucky with several more chances but two-nil at half-time was how it remained. Young was at the centre of Villa’s attacking danger, with Louie Barry out wide complementing him well and Carney Chukwuemeka dominant in midfield. As forty-fine minutes go, it was every bit as enjoyable and one-sided as the first team game earlier in the season.

They couldn’t hope to keep up such a pace throughout and as the game wore on Liverpool came more into the match. although never as much as the hopelessly biased TV commentary team claimed. A deflection from a corner put the visitors back in the game, and although a one-goal lead in a cup final is never anything less than tense, the defence held out with Sil Swinkels and Kaine Kesler particularly outstanding. The final whistle blew and Villa had won the FA Youth Cup for the fourth time. It was appropriate that we should win the junior version because 2022 is definitely our year for the FA Cup.

It was a pity that so few supporters were allowed inside – Villa Park would surely have been full had we been allowed to show our appreciation of the Young Lions. As it is, we’ll have to wait until their first team appearances. Not all will make the grade, and for many this will be the greatest night of their footballing lives but there are some who will surely become stars of the future. Villa players who won this trophy include John Gidman, Brian Little and Mark Walters; the likes of Barry, Young, Chukwuemeka and the rest have every chance of carving their names into Villa folklore alongside these legends.

It was a thrilling ninety minutes that somehow encapsulated Villa’s season – a blistering start, a bit of a hiccup towards the end and a resurge at the end. Successful clubs play in the same style throughout, from the first team to the juniors, and that was evident throughout. A few of the Academy prospects have already made the step up – tonight showed that there’s even more waiting to follow them. I look forward to that, amd to the premiere of the documentary Class of ’21.