Sorry looking Villa slump against non-league Luton in pre-season loss
By Oliver Wilson
Paul Lambert will have plenty to worry about this pre-season if things don’t change quickly as his Aston Villa side slumped to a lacklustre 2-0 defeat away at Conference side Luton Town.
The home side broker the deadlock midway through the first half when Jon Shaw provided an easy finish to Mark Cullen’s pull back before a late strike from substitute Jake Howells sealed an impressive victory for the non-league side.
On a warm humid night just north of the M25 Aston Villa brought a handful of starters Kenilworth Road for their second UK game of the pre-season against Luton.
For the opening five minutes, Villa showed their class with crisp, sharp, short passes, with Gary Gardner and January signing Yacouba Scylla acting as a safety net in the heart of the midfield whenever a forward ball couldn’t be found.
Last season, Villa, for all their positive play going forward, were thwarted by mistakes and lapses of concentration in their own final third, and old habits appear to die hard for the Midlanders. Gary Gardner’s volleyed back pass five minutes into the opening period managed to dodge every claret and blue shirt on the pitch but luckily for Jed Steer in the Villa goal, Dave Martin’s strike flew wide of the near post.
Villa suddenly looked shaken, their neat passing replaced by sketchy, nervous touches. Luton, on the other hand, sparked into life.
The Conference side matched their Premier League counterparts for heart and desire - the pre-season, it seems, can still fuel the burning desire of a non-league side to scalp on of England’s elite. Scylla finally tested Mark Tyler for the visitors with a shot from range, the Frenchman’s strike flying straight down the Conference keeper’s throat, but after 23 minutes it was Luton who opened the scoring.
Cullen’s darting run to the near post caught a flat-footed Villa defence off guard. Before Chris Herd and Nathan Baker knew what to do, Cullen cut the ball back to Shaw, who finished with an easy tap in. The traveling fans hung their heads while Luton’s confidence reached boiling point.
Villa struggled to recover the initiative, although a Gary Gardner freekick that flashed across the Luton goal put a few hearts in mouths, but Villa couldn’t find a way to change the game before the interval.
Benteke, who’d made little progress weaving through the Luton defence, was replaced by Callum Robinson at the break, as Villa began the second period with renewed vigour.
The substitute wasted his side’s first chance of the half as he broke away and tried to curl a solo effort into the far corner. The shot, however, was straight at the legs of a defender and had the youngster looked up, he could have picked out a wide-open Samir Carruthers on the edge of the box.
Gardner continued his enthusiastic attempts from range but never found the target. Villa, though, were at least posing a threat.
A complete overhaul came from Lambert on the hour mark as he made ten changes, with regulars Brad Guzan, Ciaran Clark, Ron Vlaar and Mathew Lowton all looking to add some key minutes to their pre-season preparations.
The mass switch injected a much-needed burst of energy into proceedings but Luton’s gritty defending proved difficult to break down. Daniel Johnson saw a pair of efforts cannon off a host of orange shirts before eventually drawing a good save from the Luton keeper when an effort finally did penetrate the solid defence but Tyler’s night was, all things considered, an easy one.
Luton sat off and appeared happy to soak up the pressure before optimistically striking on the counter, luckily the additions of Clark and Vlaar ensured little troubled Guzan in the away goal.
When the American keeper was called upon his display was reminiscent of his performances against Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea at the end of last season, as he produced a world class save down to his left to deny Jon Shaw Luton’s second of the night for the time being.
A few minutes later, it came.
Villa began to lose intensity once again as Luton began to find momentum. A misguided pass to Shaw caused problems for the Villan’s centre back pairing and, as Clark poked the ball away from the Luton #9, the Irishman’s intervention pushed the ball past the wrong footed Vlaar and into substitute Jake Howells. A deft flick into the far corner past Guzan was enough to sink Villa’s buoyant mood with ten minutes remaining.
Last season’s Premier League relegation survivalists never came close to finding a conciliation goal, while the home side were happy to whittle away the remaining minutes to secure a comfy 2-0 win.