WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Gary Gardner of Villa in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa at Molineux on January 21, 2012 in Wolverhampton, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Despite bossing things for most of the game, an inability to finish and trouble with set-piece defense (where have we heard that before) combined to give Marseille a 2-1 victory of the Villa youngsters. Villa had much of the play and most of the chances in the first half but it was the visitors that went to the locker room ahead after Chris Gadi headed in Kévin Pommier's free kick. Villa would continue to threaten for the rest of the game, but it wasn't until the 90th minute that they would equalize thanks to a goal from Gary Gardner. Marseille would be the only club to score in extra time, the winner coming from Billel Omrani in the 101st minute.
The loss marks the end of Villa's NextGen run, and it was a dispiriting way to go out; still, the kids performed quite well over the course of the competition and played well enough to win today if only for a bounce here or there. It will be interesting now to see whether Gardner becomes more of a first-team fixture, as well as whether some of the other key Villa players can figure with the first team. Samir Carruthers has drawn a lot of praise, while Derrick Williams and Daniel Johnson have already been included in the 18 on several occasions this season. While it would have been excellent to see how Villa's kids stacked up against Inter, Barca and Liverpool, Villa's overall performance in the tournament is a reminder that there are some very talented players waiting in the wings. It's a huge part of my belief that, as bad as things might be with the first team at times, there's always a glimmer of hope on the horizon.