The leaders' debate wasn't the only show in town in rain-lashed Birmingham last night.
The young hopefuls of Aston Villa and Chelsea produced several carefully rehearsed routines of their own in the first leg of the FA Youth Cup final at Villa Park, and plenty of gaffes to boot, but Jeffrey Bruma's emphatic riposte to a home goal by Daniel Devine means they will start next Tuesday's second leg on level terms.
Chelsea, for whom Jacopo Sala struck a post from long range in the closing minutes, will feel they have the quality to end a wait of nearly half a century to recapture the prestigious prize. Villa, though, are a well-organised outfit and drew warm applause at the end from a crowd that included the England duo of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Stewart Downing.
A taller, more powerful Chelsea side, striving to take the trophy to Stamford Bridge for the first time since Terry Venables and Ron Harris were fresh-faced, hair cream-topped teenagers in 1961, featured no fewer than eight nationalities, reflecting the club's ability to cast their net globally for the finest talent.
Dermot Drummy's side was drawn from Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone, from Italy, Germany and Sweden as well as from Slough and Gravesend – and it included one player, the Dutch defender Bruma, who has appeared in Carlo Ancelotti's senior team.
Villa, coached by the former Chelsea captain Tony McAndrew, contained a less exotic blend. The heart of the team were from the Midlands, with the only overseas element coming from two defenders from the Republic of Ireland and a Swiss goalkeeper, Benjamin Siegrist.
Fittingly, when Villa went ahead midway through the first half – either side of efforts against their woodwork from Marko Mitrovic and Josh McEachran – it was with a very British goal, albeit by an Irishman. Sam Walker, an orange-clad man-mountain in Chelsea's goal, punched away a corner. When another cross came in from Richard Blythe, Devine rose above a posse of blue shirts to perform the impressive feat of looping a header over the 6ft 5in Walker.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Siegrist; Berry, Devine, Williams, Deeney; Carruthers, Nelson-Addy, Blythe, Roberts; Poyser (Darkin, 79), Simmonds (Halfhuid, 83). Substitutes not used Barrett (gk), Clifton, Johnson.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Walker; B Clifford, Ince, Bruma, Aziz ( Sampayo, 90); C Clifford (Lalkovic, 71); Sala, McEachran, Djaio, Tore; Mitrovic. Substitutes not used Haxhia (g), Saville, Rodgers.
Referee K Friend (Leicestershire).Reuse content