Someone forgot to tell Aston Villa and Leeds that their Queensland Champions Cup clash was supposed to be a pre-season friendly.
The English Premier League came to Brisbane on Sunday, and more than 40,000 fans would not have left Suncorp Stadium disappointed as Aston Villa and Leeds showed they were in Australia for anything but a pre-season holiday.
With the start of the new season less than three weeks away, the sometimes brutal Queensland Champions Cup match – won 1-0 by Villa thanks to second-half Danny Ings penalty – was played at a top-flight intensity, even after the customary swag of second-half substitutions that sometimes take the sting out of friendly matches.
If anything the contest became more spiteful after all the changes, with 16-year-old Leeds substitute Archie Gray the unfortunate victim.
Having been booked just minutes earlier for his own late challenge on Villa’s Emiliano Buendia, Gray was stretchered off with what seemed to be a serious ankle injury after being on the wrong end of a crunching tackle from Villa captain John McGinn, who had also started the match on the bench.
While McGinn was given a yellow card for the foul, it didn’t placate a furious Leeds coach Jesse Marsch.
McGinn and Marsch soon became involved in a slanging match on the sideline as the Leeds mentor let the Villa hardman know in no uncertain terms what he had thought of the tackle.
However, Marsch later claimed he was in fact aiming his words at referee Adam Kersey, and that McGinn wrongly thought they were directed at him.
“He (McGinn) thought I was yelling at him so I told him not worry about me and play the game,” Marsch said.
“There were some hard tackles and maybe if the ref gets control of the match a little bit more throughout the game, it doesn’t lead to the aggressiveness, but it’s normal. It’s the Premier League and every player on the pitch wants to sends messages that they want to play and both teams send messages that they want to be good this year.”
Marsch said Leeds were “hopeful” Gray hadn’t suffered a broken ankle but just a sprain.
Villa coach Steven Gerrard – who also wasn’t afraid to vent his frustration at different times during the match – sympathised with Gray.
“It got feisty for a short period where there were a few feisty tackles from them, and a couple from us, but you’ve got two Premier League teams who want to win a game. It’s in your DNA to win.
“It’s normal that you get contact in games. John (McGinn) has got the ball but unfortunately he’s been unlucky in the follow through.
“We wish him (Gray) well. Hopefully it’s not a long injury.
“There was one just before it by the same boy on Buendia and my heart was in my own mouth so it was feisty for a period but in the main it was played in the right way.”
It wasn’t the only spat between the teams, with Leeds skipper Patrick Bamford and Villa substitute Diego Carlos also exchanging words in the heated affair whose result pleased Gerrard ahead of his side’s next Queensland Champions Cup clash with Brisbane Roar on Wednesday night in Townsville.
The margin could have been greater if not for the heroics of Leeds’ French goalkeeper Illan Meslier, who saved a first-half penalty – and the subsequent second-up effort – from the highest-profile player on the park, Villa’s former Liverpool and Barcelona star Philippe Coutinho.
And there was more to come from Meslier.
Desperate to make amends for his penalty miss, the supremely gifted Coutinho played a superb ball into the path of teammate Ollie Watkins, who seemed certain to score.
However, Meslier again came to Leeds’ rescue with another wonderful save.
But Meslier was finally beaten after Villa was awarded another penalty in the 63rd-minute, this time for a handball offence against Leif Davis.
With Coutinho having been replaced, it was Ings who slotted home the spot kick to secure Villa’s win.
Originally published as Teenager stretchered off in bruising all-Premier League Queensland Champions Cup contest