Danny Ings scored a penalty, but Philippe Coutinho missed another, as Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa edged Leeds United 1-0 in a high-intensity clash of English Premier League teams marred by 16-year-old Archie Gray being stretchered off on Sunday.
England international Ings converted in the second half after his teammate Coutinho was denied by a fantastic double save from Leeds’ young French keeper Iilan Meslier.
There was plenty of niggle and tough tackling during the pre-season tour match in front of nearly 41,000 fans at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium, which boiled over when Scottish midfielder John McGinn flattened Gray.
The nephew of Leeds legend Eddie Gray and son of former Elland Road striker Andy Gray had only been on a few minutes when he went down clutching his ankle, with a leg brace fitted before he was carried away on a stretcher.
“Really good workout, a win and a clean sheet and a lot of positivity to take away,” said former Liverpool and England midfielder Gerrard.
“I was really happy with large parts of the first half, parts of the second half were a bit scrappy.
“There was a few spicy challenges, it’s a contact game,” he added when asked about Gray. “Hopefully the damage isn’t too bad and he’s back.”
Villa finished 14th in the Premier League last season, only 10 points clear of the drop zone, and Gerrard has made it clear he believes they belong in the top 10.
‘Spirited and physical’ –
The former Rangers boss has made some marquee signings, making Coutinho’s loan deal from Barcelona permanent and bringing in Boubacar Kamara from Marseille and Diego Carlos from Sevilla.
Both Kamara and Carlos made their debuts Sunday in the second successive win for Villa, after they beat Walsall 4-0 to start their pre-season programme last weekend.
Leeds kicked off their preparations for the new campaign on Thursday with a 2-1 win against Brisbane Roar.
They only just survived in the English top flight last season and, like Gerrard, manager Jesse Marsch expects better.
While Brazil winger Raphinha is on his way to Barcelona, Marsch has also brought in new players, notably Colombia winger Luis Sinisterra and American midfielder Tyler Adams.
“It was spirited and physical and I think both teams got something out of it,” said Marsch.
“We just heard that we hope he’s OK, it seems like an ankle sprain,” he added of Gray.
Leeds made the better start and Dan James had the best early chance with his half-volley forcing a fine reaction save from Swedish goalkeeper Robin Olsen.
Minutes later, Adams gave away a penalty after a needless handball.
Coutinho stepped up, but Meslier went the right way and pulled off a superb save then quickly reacted to block the rebound.
Villa kept pressing and Coutinho played Ollie Watkins through on goal, but once more Meslier produced an outstanding stop.
They went to the break goalless and Villa made wholesale changes.
Ings came on and thought he’d put Villa ahead on 49 minutes only to be ruled offside.
He finally made the breakthrough on 63 minutes when Villa again earned a penalty from a handball and this time Meslier could do nothing.