By Dan Harrison at Bodymoor Heath
Villa got off to a winning start in the new Barclays U21 Premier League with a comfortable win over Stoke City.
Manager Paul Lambert watched on from the sidelines at Bodymoor Heath as second-half goals from Michael Drennan, Daniel Johnson and Josh Barton gave the boys in claret and blue three points.
The new competition format allows clubs to field three over-age players, so Villa took the opportunity to give Eric Lichaj, Chris Herd and Enda Stevens some match action.
Gary Gardner was also named in the starting line-up for Gordon Cowans' team.
The home side edged a tight first period, with skipper Daniel Johnson forcing Stoke keeper Daniel Bachmann into two saves.
Bachmann held an early shot from Johnson before making a fine stop with his feet when the Villa midfielder unleashed a fierce drive.
Courtney Cameron, who impressed on the left hand side of Villa's midfield, also let fly with a well-struck half-volley which just missed the target.
Boss Lambert was on hand to offer the Young Lions some words of advice at the break and his half-time pep talk paid dividends as the home team instantly stepped things up.
Within three minutes of the restart, Michael Drennan headed home a left-wing cross from Enda Stevens to open the scoring.
The Irish forward was also instrumental in the second goal on 58 minutes.
His knockdown teed up Johnson, who powered a stunning left-foot volley into the bottom corner from 18 yards.
It was a relatively quiet afternoon for Benjamin Siegrist in the Villa goal, although the Switzerland U21 goalkeeper stood strong to block Jordan Richardson's close-range effort.
Barton wrapped up the points on 78 minutes with a fine solo effort.
The Northern Irish winger raced on to a through ball from substitute Janoi Donacien, cut back inside on to his left foot and curled a delightful shot into the far corner of the net.
VILLA: Siegrist, Lichaj, Herd, Williams, Stevens, Barton, Gardner, Johnson, Cameron, Grealish, Drennan. Subs: Devine [for Herd, HT], Barrett, Donacien [for Lichaj, HT], Graham, Ward [for Gardner, 75].
STOKE: Bachmann, Glasgow, Clarkson, Dawson, Parry, Keane, Hall, Rigg, Thomas, Richardson, Musungu. Subs: Eve, Rossi [for Musungu, 76], Campbell, O'Reilly [for Keane, 84], Scott [for Dawson, 69].