Aston Villa 1 Olympiakos 0: Burke fires dominant Villans in to NextGen semi-finals
21:56 GMT, 20 March 2013
23:41 GMT, 20 March 2013
The present may be somewhat rocky for Aston Villa but the future is looking bright and rosy.
Graham Burke’s first-half goal was enough to see the U19s through to the semi-finals of the NextGen Series at Lake Como over Easter.
But it took a brilliant late save by Brad Watkins from a ridiculously long-range free kick by Leandro Pinto to make sure in a nervy finale.
On target: Graham Burke of Aston Villa (centre) celebrates after firing his side through
Denied: Jack Grealish has his shot saved by Eleftherids Choutesiotis of Olympiacos
Last year Villa went out at the quarter-final stage and the defeat against Marseille has clearly rankled ever since.
A season on, the side skippered by Sami Carruthers has come on in leaps and bounds. So much so that Sporting Lisbon, PSV Eindhoven and Ajax number among the Villa scalps.
Villa owner Randy Lerner is a big believer in the homegrown system so would have been delighted to see a healthy crowd in the upper tier of the North Stand.
Surprisingly there were also a fair few Olympiakos supporters too, who generated plenty of noise on a freezing night. Hardly Greek weather, though.
The visiting players did not give them much to cheer in the first half as Villa pretty much took control from the first moment.
Carruthers, who has already had a fleeting introduction to the first-team squad, was a steady influence while striker Callum Robinson made quite a nuisance of himself.
The Olympiakos fans even booed when he was in possession, a major compliment to any player.
It was Robinson who fired the first shot in anger, a routine effort which still had Eleftherids Choutesiotis scrambling to block.
A couple of minutes later and Villa were in the lead through Burke, who took advantage of a bouncing ball in the area to poke it past the keeper.
That signalled a spell of superiority when Villa could easily have increased their lead and should have. It would have saved a lot of worry later on.
Tussle: Jordan Lyden and Dimitrios Siopis of Olympiacos compete for the ball
Carruthers fed Josh Barton, whose shot was batted away by a less than sure-gloved Choutesiotis.
Robinson also had a couple of openings but had his first shot cleared for a corner and the second one, after a wonderful turn, rolled wide of a post.
Whether it was the temperature, the stadium or just nerves, Olympiakos took an age to get into the tie but, once they did, they caused a few scares.
It meant that an under-worked Watkins in the Villa goal suddenly had something to do. He did it well, too, gathering Dimitrios Siopis’s low shot and pushing the same player’s next attempt wide.
That set the scene for the start of the second half. This time it was Klodian Gino who twice held his head in his hands after clipping woodwork and seeing the ball drift just wide.
Midfield battle: Konstantinos Rougkalas fights for the ball with Burke
Just as the one-goal lead was beginning to look somewhat fragile, Villa’s Republic of Ireland U17 player of the year, Grealish showed what a prospect he could be.
One jinking run sliced through the Olympiakos defence and should have been capped with a goal. Sadly for Grealish, he hit the post instead.
Minutes later the previously uncertain Choutesiostis proved that when it comes to reflex saves he is a master. Somehow he kept out Grealish’s close-range header, which meant his team-mates stayed in the hunt.
With a minute to go Pinto from 40 yards out forced Watkins into a flying save and Villa were on the plane to Italy.
Leap: Villa's Callum Robinson is challenged by Leandro Climacci Pinto