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Development Squad

PL2: Aston Villa 4 Rovers 0

31 October 2016

Rovers' development squad were on the end of heavy 4-0 defeat to Aston Villa on Monday night.

But that didn't tell the whole story at Walsall's Banks's Stadium as Damien Johnson's side dominated the match for large periods, but as has been the case in recent weeks, they were unable to find the back of the net.

Had Rovers had taken their early chances it could have been a different match as Connor Mahoney, Lewis Hardcastle, Willem Tomlinson and Lewis Mansell all went close, but instead it was the hosts who were ruthless in front of goal.

Aaron Tshibola fired Villa in front on 25 minutes, before Gabby Agbonlahor crossed for Rushian Hepburn-Murphy to add a second soon after.

Rovers had more than enough chances to reduce the deficit in the second half, but Villa were much more clinical in front of goal as further strikes from Hepburn-Murphy and Andre Green meant a disappointing night in the Midlands.

Rovers named a familiar looking line-up for the Premier League 2 clash with just the one change from the side that lost away at West Bromwich Albion seven days ago. Connor Thomson in from the start with Joe Rankin-Costello dropping to the bench.  

In contrast, the hosts had several first team players on show as Gabby Agbonlahor, Jack Grealish and Aaron Tshibola all started for Villa.

With a hint of fog in the air at the Banks's Stadium, it was a frantic opening with the pace of the Villa forwards proving problematic for the Rovers in the early exchanges.

However as Rovers grew accustomed to their surroundings it was Johnson's youngsters who started to impose themselves.

On 14 Mahoney cut in from the right to shoot left-footed, but Matija Sarkic got down to  at his post, before good work from Lewis Travis saw the midfielder win possession and feed Jack Doyle, but from distance the full-back fired over.

Lewis Hardcastle was then wide after Willem Tomlinson and Connor Thomson combined, but despite those opportunities, it was the hosts who took theirs just past the midway point of the half.

Breaking forward from a Rovers' attack, Agbonlahor raced to the byline to cut the ball across the box, but as it was cleared it only went as far as Tshibola who from 20-yards out found the back of the net with a sweet strike.

A second goal arrived just three minutes later as Tshibola and Agbonlahor combined once more, before the ball was crossed for Hepburn-Murphy who headed home at the back post.

Suddenly Rovers looked suspect at the back with Andre Green almost grabbing a third on 29, cutting in from the left the winger let fly but Wharton made an important block.

But to their credit Rovers regrouped and came at Villa once more. Lewis Mansell racing through before teeing up Tomlinson but he fired just beyond the far post.

Then good hold up play from the Rovers striker saw Mansell tap it back for Mahoney who drilled the ball hard across the box, but Hardcastle couldn't divert it home with an outstretched boot.

Rovers were then denied on the stroke of half-time as Hardcastle robbed substitute Jake Doyle-Hayes, but Mansell saw his effort touched wide.

Trailing by two goals at the break, Rovers started the second half very much on the attack, urgently looking to reduce arrears.

Mansell showed great strength to brush off his marker on 47 minutes, but after making room for the shot he fired narrowly over.

The Lancashire club continued to force the pace, pinning their opponents back in their own half for long spells, but Mahoney dragged an effort wide whilst Sarkic claimed a Mansell header.

The chances kept on coming but Rovers couldn't get the goal their dominance deserved. Sarkic saved a near-post Mahoney shot, Mansell's downward header was kept out, before substitute Rankin-Costello fired agonisingly wide as play opened up for the midfielder.

It wasn't until the 68th minute that Aston Villa offered any forward threat in the second half. Hepburn-Murphy worked the ball to the edge of the box but Jack Doyle was alert to block Tshibola's shot.

But despite winning a host of corner kicks in the final 15 minutes Rovers couldn't make any of them count and they paid the ultimate price for their profligacy in front of goal when the hosts added a third on 81.

A ball over the top saw Hepburn-Murphy beat the offside trip and his shot across goal went in off the far post for his second of the match.

That third goal knocked the wind out of Rovers' sails and further poor play saw them punished as Villa added fourth goal. Fisher saved brilliantly with his legs to deny a hat-trick for Hepburn-Murphy, but Andre Green snapped up the rebound.

Rovers pressed until the end, but the story of the night was they were unable to take their chances whilst Aston Villa did.

ASTON VILLA: Sarkic, Hale, Leggett, O'Hare, Suliman (c), Clark, Green, Tshibola (sub Blackett-Taylor 75 mins), Hepburn-Murphy, Grealish (sub Doyle-Hayes 39 mins), Agbonlahor (sub Davis 63 mins).

Subs not used: Johansson (GK), Linley.

Goals: Tshibola 24 mins, Hepburn-Murphy 27, 81 mins, Green 85 mins.

Booked: None.

ROVERS: Fisher, Nyambe, Doyle, Travis (sub Rittenberg 73 mins), Platt, Wharton (c), Mahoney, Tomlinson, Mansell, Hardcastle, Thomson (sub Rankin-Costello 56 mins).

Subs not used: Magloire, Powell (GK), Howarth.

Goals: None.

Booked: Hardcastle 74 mins.

Attendance: 238

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