Pre-Season Friendly

Hednesford Town

McQuilkin (70), Tilt (72), Cuff (83), (88)

Aston Villa XI

El Ghazi (13), Chukwuemeka (19) (penalty), Ealing (36)

(0) 4

(3) 3



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Joe Cuff



Kidderminster Harriers (H) 16.7.22

An incredible final twenty minutes of action sees the Pitmen overturn a three-goal deficit to beat Aston Villa this evening at the RACE Stadium and record their third win in a row in their pre-season programme

Having beaten Vanarama National League North outfit Hereford 1-0 on Saturday, manager Keenen Meakin-Richards expected today's game to be the last of the pre-season programme where different XIs were named for each half. Meakin-Richards included his first triallist of the pre-season programme for tonight's game, with the un-named player lining up on the right flank for the opening forty-five minutes

The Aston Villa XI was a mixture of some of their U23 squad and U18 squad, although there was one notable name in the Clarets' starting XI in the form of Anwar Al Ghazi, with the Dutch International remaining in the UK whilst the remainder of the first team squad had jetted off to Australia

Despite an overcast day, the game kicked off in glorious warm sunshine, with over 800 people turning up to watch the Pitmen's most glamorous pre-season fixture on their calendar. The Pitmen started well, pressing the young Villa rearguard and working the ball around the pitch well. Giant Villa striker Caleb Chukwuemeka - scorer of a hat-trick in their 8-2 mauling of Chasetown on Friday night - headed an early chance wide of the target on four minutes after good play from El Ghazi

The Pitmen's first opening of the evening fell to Andre Landell in the ninth minute as the striker won the ball from Tommi O'Reilly just outside the Villa penalty area and drove into the penalty area before seeing his shot take a nick off the boot of Aaron O'Reilly and end up in the hands of goalkeeper James Wright

The visitors showed their extra class in the thirteenth minute as they took their lead with a lightning breakaway and finish from El Ghazi; Todd Parker's corner kick was cut out and picked up by Declan Frith, who showed fantastic skill to turn past Kyle Bennett and take the ball out of his own penalty area before playing the ball out to Chukwuemeka on the right. The striker's through ball found El Ghazi, who neatly sidestepped Lewis Gwilliams' challenge before slotting the ball into the empty net

The visitors doubled their lead six minutes later as the tricky Frith earned his side a penalty kick; neat play down the right from the away side saw the ball played into the path of Frith, whose trickery was too much for fellow teenager Harvey Portman, who tripped the midfield man inside the box. Chukwuemeka took the resultant penalty and easily fired past Gwilliams from twelve yards out to make it 2-0

The Pitmen were not to be dishearted by the scoreline and continued to play their brand of patient, passing football through midfield. On twenty-two minutes, the triallist in the number seven shirt picked up a pass from Bennett down the right flank and played the ball back to Josh Webb, whose angled ball into the box was controlled well by Bennett before the talented midfield man tried his luck with an acrobatic scissor kick from the edge of the box that flew just wide of the target

The Pitmen's high press continued to bear fruit for them on twenty-five minutes as Landell won the ball in midfield from Tommi O'Reilly and gave Bennett the chance to break through the centre of the pitch. His ball out to the triallist saw him link up with Webb once more to cross low into the penalty area, where Landell arrived in front of Bennett to turn his shot wide from twelve yards out

Just before the half-hour mark, Bennett forced a good save out of James Wright once more as his curling, dipping free-kick from just outside the penalty area was saved by the goalkeeper down to his right-hand side

Two minutes later, a deep corner kick from Carter Lycett was met by the head of Portman at the far post, only for the young centre-back to divert his effort wide of goal from six yards out

Villa made their first change of the evening before play restarted as defender Myles Sohna was replaced by the versatile young Dutch defender Sil Swinkels

Despite the Pitmen having plenty of the play and chances, Villa continued to show their class and cutting edge as they seemingly put the game beyond their hosts on thirty-six minutes. Working the ball from left to right and into the path of El Ghazi, the Dutchmen slipped the ball into the path of Frankie Ealing, with the right-back firing home from a tight angle despite Webb's best efforts to keep the ball out at the far post

Still the Pitmen refused to accept the scoreline and continued to press for a goal; on forty minutes, the triallist and Webb combined once more to cross for Bennett, who headed wide in an unmarked position just eight yards from goal. In hindsight, Bennett should have done better from the position he was in

Two minutes later, Wright was called into action once again to protect his clean sheet as Webb's deep cross was tipped over the crossbar by the stopper to deny Cameron Ebbutt, who arrived late at the far post to head towards goal

It had been a fine workout for both sides so far, with Villa showing their killer instinct in front of goal to take their chances, whereas the Pitmen had not with the several openings that had fallen to them in the first period. Half-time saw the hosts make ten changes to their side, with only Landell remaining from the first half team at the start of the second period

The tempo of the game dropped considerably at the start of the second half as Villa were content to sit on their lead and allow the Pitmen to chase to ball down. It took ten minutes of the second period before there was a chance at goal at either end as Joe Cuff made a run down the left, leaving Ealing behind and sending over a cross that was headed away by Seb Revan before Landell found pounce

Chay Tilt was looking to get into the action after replacing the impressive triallist on the right at half-time probing and making forceful runs down the flank. A great run from the former QPR man on fifty-eight minutes saw him burst into the penalty area and pull the ball back towards Landell from the byeline, only for Wright to claim the bouncing ball at his near post

Villa made a raft of changes just after the hour mark, with goalscorers El Ghazi and Ealing both replaced as part of a quadruple change of personnel for the visitors 

Veteran defender Martin Riley had a great chance to get the Pitmen on the scoreboard on sixty-six minutes as he arrived late at the far post to meet a James McQuilkin corner kick but headed narrowly over the crossbar from close-range

Two minutes later, Numair Rashad looked to add to his goal against Hereford on Saturday as he picked up a lay-off from Landell and struck a firm right-footed shot at goal from the edge of the penalty area that was punched away by Wright; the ball landed at the feet of the incoming Cuff, who struck his rebound high over the crossbar from twelve yards out

Landell's longer-than-expected run-out ended three minutes later as the striker was taken off and replaced by Bennett, who came back on to play the final twenty-one minutes of the game

The Pitmen grabbed themselves a lifeline a minute later as they reduced the deficit through a superb McQuilkin strike; Tilt's cross was not cleared by substitute Chisom Afoka, allowing Cuff to pick his pocket and set up McQuilkin for a crisp low drive beyond the reach of Wright from eighteen yards out

The momentum was starting to swing the way of the hosts, who now had a foothold in the game and something to chase down in the remaining minutes. Two minutes later, they reduced the deficit further as a long kick forwards from substitute goalkeeper Rhys Williams bounced over the head of Afoka and into the path of the marauding Cuff down the left wing, whose low cross into the near post was fumbled into the path of Tilt by the dive of Wright, allowing the winger to turn the ball home from close-range

It was all Hednesford now, as the Aston Villa heads started to dip with their once-commanding lead now down to a solitary goal. Rashad went close to an equaliser on seventy-five minutes as Carter Lycett's angled ball into the penalty area from the left found the youngster running in on goal, with Rashad flashing a low shot across the face of goal and wide of the far post

The Pitmen were handed a free-kick just outside the Aston Villa penalty area on eighty-three minutes after Tilt had been flattened by a challenge from Afoka. Cuff stepped up to take the resultant free-kick and curled the ball around the Villa wall and into the far corner of the net for his first ever goal for the club, making it 3-3 and setting up a grandstand finish

The amazing turnaround was complete with two minutes remaining as the Pitmen's pressure told on the young and tiring Villa legs; Bennett on the ball back to the left of the penalty area and played Rashad in on goal. He, in turn, laid the ball off to Tilt, who was denied a clear shooting chance by a last-ditch challenge from Finlay Munroe. The ball ran kindly to Cuff, who took the ball wide before turning it beyond the reach of Wright and poking the ball home with a deft right-footed shot back across goal to send the home support wild with joy

It had been a thoroughly entertaining ninety minutes of football that the hosts can take plenty of positives from, least of all the fighting spirit shown to come back from three goals down against a professional outfit to win the game. They face Vanarama National League North big-hitters Kidderminster Harriers at the RACE Stadium on Saturday, which will be another different type of game and a more realistic benchmark of where the Pitmen are in their pre-season preparations

Hednesford Town: Gwilliams (Williams 45), Webb (Hayden 45), Lycett (Manton 45), Portman (Byrne 45), Ison © (Riley 45), Parker (L. Rowe 45), Triallist (Tilt 45), Seraton (McQuilkin 45), Landell (Bennett 66), Bennett (Rashad 45), Ebbutt (Cuff 45)      Subs Unused: None

Aston Villa XI: J. Wright, Ealing (Munroe 63), Revan (K. Young 66), A. O'Reilly (Afoka 45), Sohna (Swinkels 31), Lindley © (Pierre 66), El Ghazi (T. Rowe 66), Raikhy, Chukwuemeka, T. O'Reilly, Frith      Subs Unused: Young, T. Wright, Smith, Katsukunya