Aston Villa U23 2-3 Sunderland U23
Will Harris’ second hat-trick of the season in the space of 10 second-half minutes helped secure a remarkable victory for Sunderland Under-23s against Aston Villa at Bodymoor Heath.
A close-range finish, successful penalty and excellent first-time hit from the in-form striker made the difference in the West Midlands, in between Keinan Davis’ opener and Jaden Philogene-Bidace’s penalty.
Mike Dodds and John Hewitson took the side in the dugout for the evening due to Elliott Dickman and Michael Proctor self-isolating, and the Lads put in a second-half display that will have brought a huge smile to their faces.
Villa showed their threat early on, with Davis and Carney Chukwuemeka both denied by solid Jacob Carney saves.
Davis then struck wide when put clean through, with Declan Frith volleying wide and Philogene-Bidace seeing a shot blocked.
The Lads played in a determined fashion, but were limited to few chances, mainly forcing numerous set-plays.
And Villa swung the pendulum their way 35 minutes in, as Davis worked himself some space inside the 18-yard box before finishing smartly into the bottom corner.
As the hosts looked to build on their advantage, Carney was forced into impressive action once more, diving to his left to keep out Aaron Ramsey, after Ollie Younger had put in a crucial challenge to stop Davis just moments before.
Kenton Richardson, captain for the night, then made a last-gasp block to deny Frith on the cusp of half-time.
Harrison Sohna came closest in the first half for the young Lads, taking aim with a left-foot shot outside the area which Filip Marschall claimed. Ellis Taylor’s free-kick was also not a bad effort, sailing just off target.
The second half began in the best possible fashion for the Black Cats who changed to a back five, who capitalised straight away on getting in behind the Villa defence for the first time.
Nathan Newall found himself with a golden opportunity on the left-hand side of the area, fizzing over a cross-shot which Harris tapped home with ease for 1-1.
And almost immediately, the youngsters notched in front. Taylor was fouled in the box and the referee showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot – the Lads’ number nine tucking away his second into the bottom-right corner.
And an unbelievably rapid hat-trick was completed in the space of 10 second-half minutes just before the hour, when Harris latched onto a superb straight ball and finished first-time beyond the onrushing Marschall.
Villa were not settling lightly and clawed a way back when a controversial penalty was given, Ethan Kachosa appearing to win the ball in a challenge with Philogene-Bidace – the referee judging it in a different manner. The home side’s winger converted the kick himself to make it 3-2.
The Lads continued to battle hard to see out the win at Bodymoor Heath, with Kachosa withdrawn late on after taking a stray elbow.
And it was a fantastic graft towards the end, securing three most welcome points against an in-form Villa outfit; a stunning game of two halves.
After the victory, Dodds said: “It was a traditional tale of two halves, and the boys showed such excellent character and hard work to get the three points.
“They’re really good kids, something I’ve immediately noticed having only been at the club for two and a half weeks.
“Will is a really good player. He’s like that old-school classic number nine, and his hard work shows he deserves his success.”
SUNDERLAND AFC U23: Carney; Richardson ©, Younger, Almond, Dyce; Sohna, Scott; Kachosa (Johnson 84’), Taylor, Newall (Jessup 90+3’); Harris.
Subs not used: McIntyre, Bainbridge, Trialist.
Aston Villa U23: Marschall, Lindley, Ealing, Bogarde, Swinkels, Iroegbunam, Frith (Abledeen-Goodridge 67’), Chukwuemeka, Davis (Thorndike 76’), Ramsey ©, Philogene-Bidace.
Subs not used: Zych, Zito.