Villa U21 1-1 Stoke U21: Cole/Okore step up fitness in draw
Joe Cole and Jores Okore stepped up their match fitness as Villa began the Barclays U21 Premier League campaign with a 1-1 draw against Stoke.
Okore completed the full 90 minutes of the clash at Bodymoor Heath, while Cole and fellow first-teamers Jack Grealish, Chris Herd and Callum Robinson also got some match action under their belts.
It was Robinson who scored Villa's goal as they hit back following Oliver Shenton's early strike.
The visitors took the lead after just four minutes when Shenton's deflected shot found a way past Craig Hill.
But from there on Villa took charge of the contest, with Grealish and Cole linking up well in midfield.
The best chance of the early part of the contest saw Cole feed Tom Leggett with a clever ball into the right channel. Former Southampton full-back Leggett sent a low cross towards Robinson who was denied by the feet of Stoke keeper Dale Eve.
But Robinson made no mistake with a similar effort on 36 minutes. This time Grealish patiently held up the ball before releasing captain for the afternoon Michael Drennan, who fired a left-foot cross into the six-yard box for Robinson to convert.
After the break, the claret and blues pushed for a winner but Robinson was left frustrated by the heroics of Eve twice in quick succession. The keeper pulled off a superb double save, firstly keeping out a Robinson volley before getting up to claw away his follow-up.
At the other end, Hill's shot-stopping exploits were equally impressive - the Villa custodian getting down quickly to tip away Brek Shea's bullet diving header.
Drennan thought he'd won it for Villa in the dying seconds when he tapped in a cross from substitute Jerell Sellars, but the Irishman was flagged offside.
VILLA: Hill, Leggett, Kinsella, Herd, Okore, Toner, Robinson, Cowans, Drennan, Cole, Grealish. Subs: Watkins, Lewis, Calder [for Herd 63], Sellars [for Grealish 73], Graham [for Cole 73].
STOKE: Eve, Shotton, Barber, Lecygne, Coulson, Watkins, Parry, Shenton, Shea, Adam, Taylor. Subs: Skapetis, Gyolai, Thomas [for Taylor 76], Ward, Strong.