NextGen Series quarter-final match report: Villa 1-2 Marseille [AET]
It was pulsating, it was courageous but it just wasn't meant to be for Villa's young guns.
The European adventure is over for this season after a night of high drama and entertainment at Villa Park.
But the club's rising stars will have a host of memories to take with them from this run to the NextGen Series quarter-finals.
A gripping last eight tie against Marseille saw skipper Gary Gardner pull Villa back from the brink with an equaliser deep into stoppage time to cancel out Chris Gadi's first-half strike.
The home side's fate was sealed, though, by Bioff Omrani's goal in the first period of extra-time.
There were mixed feelings for the crowd of around 3,500 as they made their way out of Villa Park.
Those who came to see the future generation of claret and blues stars will have been buoyed by a night of thrilling football, but baffled at how their side didn't advance to the semi-finals.
All eyes were on Gardner after his first Barclays Premier League start against Wolves last Saturday, as well as his five goals in the group stages of this tournament.
It didn't take long for the midfielder to get into the thick of things.
He called Marseille goalkeeper Ibrahima Sy into action after 10 minutes; Gardner's shot being pushed away after a neat one-touch build-up involving Daniel Johnson, Michael Drennan and Samir Carruthers.
The French side's keeper had a busy first-half with angled drives from Johnson and Graham Burke to contend with.
But Villa's best chance fell to Burke who did well to control compatriot Drennan's left-wing cross before seeing his close-range attempt deflected over.
However, the visitors delivered a hammer blow eight minutes for the break when Gadi diverted Kevin Pommier's inswinging cross from the right past Calum Barrett with a glancing header.
It appeared to knock the wind out of Villa's sails. The French side continued to press and goalkeeper Barrett had to be alert once again to push an Omrani shot around the post.
Normal service was resumed after the break, although Kevin MacDonald's team may have started to wonder if it was going to be their night as a plethora of chances came and went.
Gardner headed wide from Burke's corner, Johnson curled an effort wide of the post after receiving a through ball from Carruthers and Burke rifled a half-volley into the side-netting.
Jordan Graham teed up fellow substitute Jack Grealish to force a late save from Sy but not before Omrani's curling free-kick struck the post.
Cue Gardner. By his usual standards, the England U21 international was having a quiet night.
But never has the phrase cometh the hour, cometh the man seemed so appropriate.
In the fourth and final minute of stoppage time, Drennan raced clear of the defence and Sy dived to his left to save the Irishman's low shot.
Gardner pounced to tap home the equaliser and send Villa Park into raptures.
Unfazed by the late blow, Marseille began extra-time with purpose.
Keeper Barrett was at his best to tip Emanuel Loicono's long-range thunderbolt onto the bar, before scrambling across goal to keep out the follow-up.
However, the Coventry-born custodian could do little about Omrani's 101st minute winner, which arrived when Loicono's cross deflected off Gardner and fell nicely for his strike partner to fire into the net.
The outcome could have been much different had Drennan's late strike counted, but the 17-year-old was wrongly flagged offside.
It was oh so nearly one of those great Villa Park European nights.
VILLA: Barrett, Lewis, Webb, Williams, Kinsella, Carruthers, Gardner, Johnson, Cameron, Burke, Drennan. Subs: Watkins, Nelson-Addy, Caira [for Kinsella, 26], Graham [for Carruthers, 82], Robinson, Grealish [for Burke, 62], Melvin.
MARSEILLE: Sy, Abergel, Andonian, Aloe, Charles, Azouni, Abdullah, Gadi, Omrani, Loiacono, Pommier. Subs: Cesarini, Santiago [for Pommier, ET], Bonelli [for Omrani, ET], Enukidze, Fabri, Anam, Kouch [for Abdullah, ET].
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