Villa U21 1-3 Middlesbrough U21: Young guns slip to Boro loss
Villa began the second phase of the Barclays U21 Premier League season with a disappointing defeat against Middlesbrough.
The boys in claret and blue looked to be on course for a point after Daniel Johnson's penalty cancelled out a first-half goal from Boro skipper Christian Burgess.
But the visitors took control in the closing stages with substitute Jordan Jones and the impressive Luke Williams both finding the target.
Coach Gordon Cowans was unable to call on any recognised senior players for the first fixture of 2013, although three players boasting first team experience - Derrick Williams, Samir Carruthers and Graham Burke - were named in the starting XI.
It was Boro who made the stronger start and goalkeeper Calum Barrett had to be alert to save Curtis Main's low first-time shot early on.
The Villa custodian also pushed away a stinging 18-yard drive from Curtis Edwards.
However, there was nothing he could do about the opening goal which arrived just before half-time.
Williams swung in a free-kick from the left which was met by Burgess who headed home from close range.
Villa's best chance before the break fell to Drennan, whose angled left-foot shot flicked off a defender and up into the arms of keeper Connor Ripley.
But the home side looked a lot more threatening in the second period.
Andras Stieber cut in from the left and unleashed a fierce drive which Ripley pushed around the post, while the Boro stopper also kept out Burke's powerful strike.
The equaliser arrived on 72 minutes when Johnson won and then converted a penalty.
After racing on to Drennan's flick-on, Johnson continued towards goal before being tripped by Burgess.
Johnson stepped up to coolly slot past Ripley.
Boro continued to threaten and should have restored their lead when Jones failed to steer a cross-shot from Williams on target.
The substitute atoned for his miss six minutes from time, though, when his powerfully-struck shot from just inside the box sailed high into the net, leaving Barrett with no chance.
Williams, who caused Villa problems all afternoon, rounded off the scoring in the 88th minute by finding the bottom corner with a free-kick.
VILLA: Barrett, Donacien, Devine, Williams, Kinsella, Barton, Carruthers, Johnson, Stieber, Burke, Drennan. Subs: Bateman, Hill, Graham [for Kinsella, 86], Ward, Melvin.
MIDDLESBROUGH: Ripley, Bennett, Weldon, Oliver, Burgess, Jackson, Brobbel, Morris, Main, Edwards, Williams. Subs: Kneeshaw, Coddington, Jones [for Main, 59], Fewster, Atkinson [for Edwards, 73].