An injury time penalty proved decisive as Boro’s Under-23s made a winning start to the new season.
Ben Liddle was the man who scored from the spot in the second minute of stoppage time as Boro recorded a deserved victory against Aston Villa.
Graeme Lee had called on his young players to follow the example of the first team by passing, pressing, and creating chances, and they were unfortunate not to be rewarded for a dominant first half performance.
Hayden Hackney hammered one early shot high over the bar before the lively Stephen Wearne fed Rumarn Burrell, a summer signing from Grimsby, who just couldn’t get his shot away. Wearne was a threat down the left and some quick-thinkinh led to him teeing up Paddy Reading, who fired just wide.
Djed Spence offered good pace down the right and he forced a good save after some decent hold-up play by Roberts. At left-back Reading has also enjoyed a good pre-season his pin-point cross saw Burrell have a header blocked.
It took the visitors almost 40 minutes to finally test Zach Hemming in the Boro goal, but he had to react quickly to deny Cameron Archer after Villa’s best move of the game.
But it was Boro who came out of the traps well again in the second half and looked to put the pressure on.
Villa had rarely threatened and when they did carve out an opening Lewis Brunt fired straight at Hemming, and the Boro keeper also had to get down well to a free-kick.
The mother of all downpours arrived as the game headed towards its final quarter, and conditions became increasingly difficult for both sides.
Villa did go close again, but Boro carved out the best opening of the second half when substitute Sam Folarin fed Burrell, but he couldn’t apply the finishing touch.
The game shaped up into being something of an end to end finish. Reading headed away a Villa chance on the goal-line while Isaiah Jones fired wide for Boro after the visitors failed to clear a corner.
Villa spurned another half-chance and Hackney was the victim of a crude challenge as he looked to inspire Boro to a late winner. A 90th minute free-kick appeared to provide Boro with one final opportunity, but Ben Liddle’s effort was over the bar.
But there was still time for drama and when Jones was felled in the Villa box, and Liddle stepped up to convert the penalty. It should even have been two in the final minute of stoppage time, but Burrell was denied by a great save.
Boro: Hemming, Spence (Hood 57), Dale, Wood, Reading, Roberts, Liddle, Malley (Jones 63), Hackney, Burrell, Wearne (Folarin 77). Subs: Robinson, Flatters
Villa: Sinisalo, Graham, Walker, Suliman, Bride, Brunt, Tait, Ramsey (Guy 63), Archer, Vassilev, Odutayo (Clarke 55) Subs, Marschall, Birch, Revan.
Ref: A Kitchen