STOKE CITY'S Under-21 side succumbed to an undeserved 3-2 defeat against Aston Villa at Nantwich Town's Weaver Stadium on Monday evening . . . in front of the watching first team bosses Tony Pulis and Paul Lambert.
Both managers took to the stands to witness an entertaining affair, which was eventually won by the visitors courtesy of a sterling second half comeback.
Dave Kevan's side kicked the encounter off in perfect fashion thanks to James Alabi's sublimely taken strike, however, a quick-fire double from Michael Drennan turned the game on its head shortly after the half-time
Stoke were made to rue a series of missed first-half opportunities to extend their lead when Andras Stieber hit home a third late on, and whilst Ben Heneghan halved the deficit in stoppage time it proved to be too
little too late for the hosts.
The hosts, who came in to the encounter on the back of a 5-1 defeat against Newcastle United, included two first team fringe players in the starting line-up, Uruguayan Diego Arismendi and former Manchester City stopper Carlo Nash.
The visitors' handed Ashley Westwood a start on what was a return to Cheshire for the 22-year-old, after making a £2 million summer move to Villa Park from Crewe Alexandra.
Villa, who started the game three points above the Potters, actually looked the brighter of the two sides during the initial exchanges with winger Jordan Graham proving to be a constant menace to the hosts
The youngster displayed a sublime piece of individual skill in the sixth minute to leave full-back Michael Clarkson for dead, however, his finish wasn't quite as impressive as he drilled wide of Nash's goal when he
really should have hit the target.
They were made to pay for that missed opportunity as Stoke opened the scoring for the evening a minute later thanks to a polished finish from striker Alabi.
The big forward linked up superbly with Karim Rossi to forge a sight at the Villa goal, and he made absolutely no mistake with his finish by expertly rifling into the roof of the net beyond the helpless Benjamin
The goal helped the hosts establish a firm foothold on the encounter as they began a heavy bombardment of the Villa 18-yard box, with Alabi the man at the centre of each meaningful City attack.
Jordan Richardson showed his strength and determination in the middle by winning the ball and freeing Alabi out on the right flank, and he did well to sting the fingertips of the young Villa stopper with a ferocious
Swiss youngster Rossi went equally as close to doubling the advantage for Dave Kevan's side soon after by meeting a teasing Richardson corner, but thankfully for the visitors Daniel Devine managed to divert his
goal-bound effort over the bar.
Richardson was beginning to have a greater say on the game as the half wore on and he tested the 'keeper with a 20-yard strike of his own 30-minutes in, before delivering a dangerous ball across goal which was
hacked away by Mason Watkins.
It wasn't until the final 15 minutes of the first half that Villa began to have any kind of impact on the encounter, but the chances they did manage to calve out should have culminated in a leveller for them.
Stieber twice looked to have caught out Nash with clever efforts from the left flank, but on each occasion the ball drifted agonisingly wide of the post.
Nash did superbly well to thwart Michael Drennan on the stroke of half-time with a good save down to his left, but he had no answer to the question asked by the young Villa striker soon after the restart as his
thunderous strike drew the visitors level.
Drennan almost reproduced a carbon copy of his strike 90 seconds later after cutting inside, though this time Nash was on hand to block his effort.
A frantic start to the second culminated in a second goal of the evening for the rejuvenated striker with Nash unable to get enough behind him to keep out a stinging free-kick from just outside the 18-yard box.
To their credit Stoke pushed forward in search of a leveller, one which nearly came courtesy of Alabi, but with the goal gaping he somehow managed to head over Andy Musungu's teasing centre after some slick
interchange down the left hand side.
Rossi skewed an effort wide soon after, whilst at the other end Nash again had to be alert to deny the hat-trick chasing Drennan.
With proceedings drawing towards its climax, Stiebler prodded home a third for the visitors after good work from Graham, before Heneghan had the final input to the game with a close range effort in stoppage
STOKE CITY: Nash; Glasgow, Heneghan, Keane, Clarkson; Richardson, Arismendi, Dawson, Musungu; Alabi, Rossi. Subs: Eve, Parry, Nardiello, Lecygne.