Peace Cup - Aston Villa 3 Atlante 1
It was with more than a hint of irony that Aston Villa finally prospered in the Peace Cup despite manager Martin O’Neill being sent from the field for warring with the Mexicans.
O’Neill’s dismissal towards the end of the first half seemed to have summed up another frustrating evening for Villa during the anti-climactic pre-season tournament. However, Marc Albrighton’s equaliser cancelled out Curtis Davies’ own-goal opener before second-half strikes by John Carew and Ashley Young completed a remarkable Villa victory.
Despite the prospect of a money-spinning semi-final against Porto or Besiktas tomorrow, a dislocated shoulder injury to captain Stiliyan Petrov took some of the gloss off the win.
Villa entered their second Group C match needing to win by two clear goals after losing 1-0 to Malaga, who themselves were beaten 3-1 by Atlante.
That task looked unlikely when Curtis Davies unwittingly turned a dangerous cross from the left into his own net on 20 minutes and even less so when Petrov departed wincing and clutching his arm minutes later.
The Mexicans should have put the match out of Villa’s reach just before the half-hour when Giancarlo Maldonado met Christian Bermudez’s deflected pass but misfired from close range.
O’Neill clearly wanted more from his players and injected the type of passion he demands during a furious flashpoint late in the first half, although the referee ruled the Villa manager over-stepped the mark as well as his technical area. The animated Irishman felt the opposition were trying to have Ashley Young cautioned by making too much of the winger’s challenge in front of the dug-out and responded by shoving the ball into the chest of an Atlante player.
O’Neill was promptly sent to the stands with his dismissal announced over the tannoy, although his foul mood was lifted by the unexpected equaliser which arrived against the run of play from Villa’s first attack of note on 38 minutes.
It came courtesy of an Albrighton volley with the young substitute lashing the ball high into the net from six yards after Atlante goalkeeper Federico Vilar’s brilliant save kept out Carew’s far-post diving header from Young’s cross.
While the competition might not matter all that much to Villa despite the lucrative prize-money on offer, it matters to Albrighton who eagerly retrieved the ball out of the net to get on with the match, as if it were a Champipns League final rather than a glorified friendly.
Fortunately, for the first time in pre-season, his Villa team-mates shared his enthusiasm after the interval as they completed an impressive turnaround.
Carew kept the flame of Peace flickering when he rattled in a loose ball to put Villa 2-1 up only three minutes into the second period after the Atlante defence made a complete mess of dealing with an aimless ball from the right.
Young finished off the Mexican takeaway when he capitalised upon more hopeless marking to stoop and head in a dangerous right-wing delivery from Albrighton just after the hour.
Villa were forced to hang on and Davies and Carlos Cuellar produced timely blocks to deny Gabriel Pereyra before Brad Guzan, the only change from the Malaga game and replacing Brad Friedel, produced a fine tip-over to keep out Daniel Arreola’s header.
ASTON VILLA: Guzan; Lichaj, Davies, Cuellar, Shorey; Reo-Coker, Sidwell (Herd, 86), Petrov (Albrighton, 21), Young (Weimann, 77); Carew (Lowry, 65), Heskey (Osbourne, 60). Substitutes: Parish, Clark, Bannan, Hogg, Harewood.