Norwich City Reserves 1, Aston Villa Reserves 1
Grant Holt led from the front with a typically robust display in tonight's Premier Reserve League 1-1 draw against a youthful Aston Villa at Carrow Road.
Holt played the full 90 minutes in an experienced home side that also included Man United loanee Ritchie De Laet and the likes of fringe first teamers Chris Martin and Andrew Surman. Holt was denied by a smart first half save from Villa keeper Ben Siegrist who also foiled Martin and skipper George Francomb twice in quick succession after the interval. Aaron Wilbraham sidefooted home from close range on 56 minutes but Connor Taylor's deflected strike looped over England U21 keeper Declan Rudd a minute later. Martin and Simon Lappin struck the woodwork as Ian Culverhouse's side probed for a deserved winner.
'Especially for the older ones it was 90 minutes that was very much needed for a few of them,' said Culverhouse. 'They all came through unscathed – a little bit of cramp in some cases – which shows you they all needed the game time.
'Villa have a good young side at this level and they have been in the Premier League for a good while now. They are accustomed to it and they have a reputation for developing good young players and you could see that. They are all technically good and they pass the ball at pace so it was a good game. We needed it.
'It's not about results of course but I think we shaded it in terms of the number of chances we created. We should have won the game, but for a fitness exercise it was well worth it. We're going to need everyone because it is going to be a hard slog of a season and we need to keep them ticking over. It showed tonight that a few of them did need it.'
Culverhouse was pleased with Holt's performance following on from the striker's second half cameo at the weekend in the 3-1 win over Swansea. Steve Morison has been preferred in the lone front-running role that has brought three Premier League wins in the last four games – but Culverhouse insists Holt can force his way back into the picture.
'His attitude was first class and to be fair he has been a little unfortunate to be out of the side at the moment,' he said. 'He is chomping at the bit to play and him going out and playing like that and putting a hard shift in gives the gaffer something to think about. We need not just him but everyone and Holty's chance will come again.
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'That's why these type of games are important because if he is not on top of his fitness then he will be found wanting when his opportunity comes. It's always hard. I had it myself as a player, when you come in its hard to get yourself motivated. But all the first team players showed a good attitude towards the game.'
De Laet partnered Adam Drury in central defence with captain Francomb deployed at right-back. Holt partnered Wilbraham in a muscular looking front two with Martin operating just behind the duo in the same role he occupied against Man United's reserves last time out at Carrow Road.
Drury picked out Wilbraham with a wonderfully precise raking crossfied pass but the overlapping Matt Ball was unable to latch onto the ex-MK Dons' striker's flick. Holt threw himself into two typically committed challenges inside the opening minutes to the delight of the hardy turnout situated in the Jarrold. Graham Burke hammered a long range effort at Rudd on 11 minutes then Holt was inches from connecting with Harry Barker's driven cross on 24 minutes with an attempted trademark close ranger header after the young left back and Lappin cut Villa open.
Siegrist denied Holt with a fine reaction stop to parry the big man's half volley on 28 minutes from Wilbraham's knockdown. Holt's flick on then fashioned a chance for his strike partner who lobbed wide with Siegrist off his line.
Villa right-back Ebby Nelson-Addy was booked in the closing stages of the half for a rash lunge from behind on Martin. Holt bustled past two Villa defenders in the final minute of the opening period but miscued his intended chip for Wilbraham.
Burke tested Rudd with a stinging strike on the restart which the City youngster did well to grasp.
Siegrist denied City twice in a minute with a fingertip save to push Martin's free kick around his post before an instinctive tip over to foil Francomb from the edge of the area. City's mounting pressure finally told on 56 minutes when Wilbraham sidefooted Martin's deep cross home from an acute angle via the underside of the bar.
Taylor drew Villa level barely a minute later when he controlled Nelson-Addy's cross to smack a deflected shot from the edge of the area that looped over Rudd. Gary Gardner was inches from putting the visitors in front when he planted a towering header inches wide from Courtney Cameron's centre. Surman's curler cracked Siegrist's bar with the young stopper beaten. De Laet had words in passing with Burke after the Villa striker tumbed theatrically inside the penalty box before Culverhouse switched the United loanee with Francomb for the final 20 minutes.
The Belgian produced a peach of a cross from his more advanced position down the right that Holt directed over under pressure.
Martin drilled at Siegrist on 81 minutes from Wilbraham's knockdown with Ciy pushing for a late winner before Lappin's free kick hammered the post and ricocheted back into play.
• Norwich: Rudd, Francomb (McKenzie 78), Barker, Lappin, Drury, De Laet, Ball (Clunan 88), Martin, Holt, Wilbraham, Surman. Subs (not used): Matthews, Loza, Florence.
• Goal: Wilbraham (56)
• Aston Villa: Siegrist, Nelson-Addy, Kinsella, Gardner, Donacien, Williams, Robinson (Drennan 70), Burke (Caira 87), Taylor, Johnson, Cameron. Subs (not used): Barrett, Bryan, Barton.
• Booking: Nelson-Addy (foul on Martin)
• Goal: Taylor (57)
• Referee: N Hair
• Attendance: 934