NextGen Series report: Villa U19s 3-0 Ajax U19s
Gary Gardner stole the show with a stunning hat-trick as Villa powered in to the NextGen Series quarter-finals.
A last eight tie against Barcelona, Marseille or Celtic awaits the claret and blues following a terrific performance against Dutch giants Ajax at Villa Park.
The result sent Villa to the top of Group 3, meaning Ajax will now need to beat Rosenborg next week to secure first place.
Captain marvel Gardner led the way as the hosts completed a clean sweep of home victories in this competition - and took their goal tally to an impressive 11 from the three Villa Park encounters.
On paper this tie always looked to be the most intriguing of Villa's three home fixtures and so it proved.
The opening exchanges were tense although Ajax created slightly better chances.
Sven Nieuwpoort found an opening down the right before shooting in to the side netting, while he also tested Benjamin Siegrist with a low drive.
An early opportunity fell to Villa's Daniel Johnson but the midfielder miscued with his header from Courtney Cameron's cutback.
However, the best move of the first period resulted in the opening goal.
Samir Carruthers motored down the right hand side and chipped a perfect cross towards Gardner at the near post.
The England U21 international made no mistake in guiding his header in to the bottom corner to give Villa a 25th minute lead.
It could have been 2-0 five minutes later when Johnson hooked a close-range effort over the bar after some fine link-up play between Gardner and Graham Burke.
The visitors ended the first-half with hopeful long-range shots from Ouisim Buoy and Rowendey Schoop which didn't trouble keeper Siegrist.
There was far less goalmouth activity in the second period but Gardner took centre stage to give Villa an emphatic win and take home the matchball.
On 53 minutes, the skipper doubled his tally by drilling a free-kick through the wall and wrong-footing Ajax keeper Mickey Van der Hart.
Substitute Sheraldo Becker called Siegrist in to action with a turf-trimming shot but Villa had total control over proceedings.
Another encouraging NextGen Series display from the Young Lions was rounded off seven minutes from time when Gardner surged through the middle and curled home a delightful finish from the edge of the box.
VILLA: Siegrist; Nelson-Addy, Webb, Donacien, Kinsella; Carruthers, Johnson, Gardner, Cameron; Burke, Robinson. Subs: Barrett, Caira [for Nelson-Addy, 64], Drennan, Ward, Grealish [for Kinsella, 81], Graham [for Carruthers, 84], Taylor.
AJAX: Van der Hart, Nieuwpoort, Sporkslede, Denswil, Dijks, Fennich, de Bondt, Bouy, Schoop, Keskin, Gravenberch. Subs: Leewenburg, Van den Boomen, El Abed, Anderson [for Gravenberch, 68], Tete [for Fennich, 75], Becker [for Keskin, 56], Armah.
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