By Dan Harrison
Villa's first European assignment in the brand new NextGen Series ended in defeat at the hands of Dutch giants Ajax.
The opening Group 3 encounter at the Amsterdam club's famous De Toekomst headquarters was settled by goals from Nick de Bondt and substitute Viktor Fischer, who scored either side of the break.
Although it was a tough start to the Champions League-style U19 competition for the claret and blue young guns, they put up a brave showing against an outfit whose youth set-up has been regarded as one of the best in world football for several decades.
Connor Taylor, Samir Carruthers and Daniel Johnson all went close for Villa, while striker Graham Burke had a late effort controversially ruled out.
Kevin MacDonald described the inaugural clash in this elite European tournament as "a step into the unknown" for his players.
So it was hardly surprising that the two teams spent a tense opening quarter of an hour feeling each other out.
But the hosts made a breakthrough on 17 minutes with the game's first meaningful attack.
De Bondt reacted quickly to a ball in behind the Villa defence and made no mistake in finding the bottom left corner from 12 yards.
The early setback provoked a response from the claret and blues youngsters, with Ajax keeper Mickey van der Hart pushing away Taylor's header after some fine trickery and a cross from exciting wideman Jordan Graham.
England U16 international Graham continued to cause the home team problems with a series of mazy dribbles.
Just before the break he beat two defenders before crossing to Carruthers who forced van der Hart into another terrific save.
Ajax also went close towards the end of the first period, skipper Davy Klaassen shooting wide after taking a great touch to control a ball in from Lesley de Sa.
From there on, the boys from Amsterdam stamped their authority on the game.
Fischer cut in from the left and fired past Benjamin Siegrist to make it 2-0 with just four second-half minutes played.
And de Sa hit the post from a rebound having forced the Swiss goalkeeper into a fine save.
However, the brave Villans refused to throw in the towel. Burke fashioned an opening with some neat play on the left hand side, though nobody could meet his cross.
With 15 minutes remaining, skipper Johnson was desperately unlucky not to pull a goal back when his free-kick cannoned off the underside of the bar and bounced to safety.
Ebby Nelson-Addy ventured forward from right-back position on 85 minutes and sent Burke clear. But, as the Irishman rounded van der Hart and tucked the ball into an empty net, the referee blew for an earlier infringement.
Villa's NextGenSeries campaign continues on Wednesday September 28 when Turkish side Fenerbahce come to Villa Park [ko 7pm].
AJAX: Van der Hart, Nieuwpoort, Storkslede, Denswill, Schnek, de Kamps, de Sa, Douy, Schoop, Klaassen, de Bondt. Subs: Leeuwenburg, Fischer [for de Bondt, HT], Rosheubel, Fennich, Roxheubel [for Douy, 62], Lazic [for Schoop, 79], Busse, Gravenberch.
VILLA: Siegrist; Nelson-Addy, Bryan, Williams, Cameron; Carruthers, Johnson, Juan Serrano, Graham; Burke, Taylor. Subs: Robinson [for Taylor, 55], Barrett, Darkin [for Graham, 74], Webb, Caira, Bateman, Grealish [for Juan Serrano, 55].
Picture courtesy of www.ajax.nl & Gerard van Hees.