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Academy feature: Coach Petty on season, Davis, Lyden and progress

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Academy feature: Coach Petty on season, Davis, Lyden and progress

Our U18 side capped off their 2015/16 Barclays U18 Premier League Division South season with a hard-fought win over Leicester in testing weather conditions earlier this month.

The claret and blues showed a high level of performance throughout their 22 matches and look set for a mid-table finish with a number of teams still to complete their fixture schedule.

Ben Petty's young guns were unfortunate to just miss out on a place in the coveted 'top four', where the highest placed teams from the north and south leagues contest a play-off.

They will still compete in the second group consisting of the teams placed fifth to eighth from the north and south sections - fixtures will be announced soon.

Forward players Callum O'Hare and Andre Green are among those to have secured professional contracts while a number of the club's young hopefuls have featured for our U21 side in their campaign to date.

We caught up with U18 coach Ben Petty who declared himself more than satisfied with his team's showing.

He said: "We've just missed out on qualifying for the top four which is obviously a bit of a disappointment.

"Overall I've been delighted with the progress of the players.

"We've seen lot of the lads gain some experience with the U21s.

"We've also had a lot of players playing for us so development-wise I'm delighted.

"The level of performance has been really, really good.

"The performances away at Fulham and Tottenham are probably standouts.

"The one at Spurs was when Keinan Davis played his first game, where we found Keinan really which has been a real plus for the academy.

"Fulham are probably one of our toughest opponents we've faced this season and the 1-0 win away there was pleasing.

"There's not one game where we said we didn't show up so from that point of view consistency's been really good."


The aforementioned Davis' quick rise has been impressive to say the least.

The young forward, 17, arrived in B6 in December 2015 from non-league Biggleswade Town, linking up with Petty's academy side.

Injuries to first team strike pair Rudy Gestede and Libor Kozak coupled with his U18/U21 showings, including in the former's 3-2 win over Arsenal has seen him take a place on Rémi Garde's substitute's bench in Villa's previous two Premier League outings.

And Petty believes Davis is another example of the talent on offer in the lower reaches of the football pyramid.

He explained: "Keinan came in on a week's training trial initially.

"We really liked what we saw.

"He played a couple of games and we made a decision really quickly.

"I think Keinan's progress has been accelerated with the injury to Rushian Hepburn-Murphy which is unfortunate for Rushian.

"Keinan offers something a little bit different.

"He's a bit more of a target player, good at holding up and he's got a knack of scoring goals in important games.

"He's on a roll at the moment and it's great for a young lad.

"It shows there are those rough diamonds in the non-league set-up so that's where we want our scouts to be scouring as well as the academy boys.

"He's coped with everything that we've thrown at him, we're delighted."


And Davis is not alone.

Villa are renowned for their development system and still regarded as one of the very best in English football.

One of the latest in the line of production is midfielder Jordan Lyden.

Since making the bench in the claret and blues' home match against Arsenal in December, Lyden has been a regular in Garde's matchday 18 and made his first start in the FA Cup replay win over Wycombe and Premier League bow as a second half substitute in last Sunday's defeat to Liverpool.

And Petty is pleased, if unsurprised by the 20-year-old's recent progress.

The coach explained: "Over the last three or four years Jordan's been one, like Jack Grealish, who you look at as a potential first team player.

"His attitude and his mind-set have always been very good.

"He's always been an outstanding young academy player.

"We're delighted for him.

"He's worked very, very hard.

 "He had a period out injured for six months last year which he found tough.

"He's very focussed and his work ethic is outstanding.

"It doesn't surprise me to see him flourishing in that environment.

"We're big fans of Jordan here in the academy.

"We've had him here for a long time since he came over from Australia as a young lad.

"When we look at our recent graduates, it makes us proud.

"Our job is to keep their feet on the ground and keep them working.

"All you want is a chance for them and these lads are getting that so now it's over to them to do the hard work."

Green 640

As well as their league games, the youngsters enjoyed a memorable FA Youth Cup run bowing out at the fifth round stage after suffering late heartbreak against Blackburn at Villa Park.

Tre Pemberton's 90th-minute winner sealed a 2-1 victory for the Lancashire side after the hosts had taken the lead.

Yet, it's important to remember this followed eye-catching wins in early rounds.

Highly-rated Hepburn-Murphy's late goal secured progression against Everton at Goodison Park while a thumping 5-1 win over Crystal Palace at their Selhurst Park home will live long in the memories of those of a claret and blue persuasion.

Petty believes the youngsters will learn from the experience of playing in the prestigious competition and is already looking forward to their next campaign.

He added: "On reflection over the three games we'll have got a lot out of it as a group.

"We were very disappointed with our performance against Blackburn, we didn't feel we did ourselves justice.

"As a group, we didn't see that coming as our consistency has been excellent this year.

"I think the performances at Everton and Palace are ones we're proud of and I think the lads have had opportunities to play at three Premier League stadiums - they were valuable experiences for them.

"Hopefully it's instilled them with confidence.

"In the Blackburn game there were seven first years on the pitch at the end of the game so all those boys can play again next year.

"We look forward to that and having another go."

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Emily Liles
By @emily_liles 17th February 2016
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