Five tackles, Seven duels won: Aston Villa youngster Kevin Toner impresses in defeat

The 19-year-old Irish centre-back made his first Premier League start in Saturday's 3-2 loss at Watford.

Aston Villa may have slipped to a club record-equalling 11th straight defeat with Saturday’s 3-2 loss at Watford, but there was one significant positive to come out of the match.

19-year-old Kevin Toner was handed his first Premier League start on the day after making his debut as a half-time substitute against Southampton last weekend and didn’t look at all out of place, producing a strong and composed performance as part of a three-man central defence alongside Joleon Lescott and Ciaran Clark.

The Republic of Ireland Under-19 international managed to put up some impressive statistics in the process, recording a match-leading five tackles, five clearances, two interceptions and three ball recoveries over the course of the 90 minutes, while also winning seven of out the 10 duels he contested.

He also completed 14 out of 20 passes – seven of which were long balls – and even came close to scoring in the second half with a set-piece header which went just inches wide.

Vs Watford Total TacklesTotal ClearancesDuels WonDuels LostInterceptionsTotal PassesPassing AccuracyBall RecoveriesTouchesUnsuccessful TouchDispossessedMins Played
Kevin Toner 5 5 7 3 2 20 70% 3 36 1 0 90

A late Troy Denney double after Aly Cissokho’s 74th-minute sending off for a cynical foul put an obvious dampener on what was an impressive afternoon for the left-sided centre-back, but he can still hold his head high knowing he showed caretaker manager Eric Black that he deserved his place in the side.

The Scot had previously been reluctant to throw any of already-relegated Villa’s youngsters into the first-team mix due to the “toxic atmosphere” surrounding the club, but he admitted ahead of the Watford clash that the eagerness and enthusiasm Toner had shown in training over recent weeks had made it impossible to ignore him.

“I think he deserved enormous credit for his mentality,” Black said about the Irishman at his pre-match press conference. “I’ve been really refreshed by his mentality and the desire to be a football player. I think it’s something that’s sadly missing at times these days.

“I think just to see a young man who’s so passionate about being a football player and will do anything to be a football player is wonderful.”

Whether Toner will see any more playing time over the final two games of the season ultimately remains to be seen, but his recent first-team involvement serves as an encouraging sign ahead of next term.

Several first-team players will inevitably be leaving Villa this summer as the club try to prepare for life in the Championship, and the promising stopper’s performances so far suggest that he can be relied on to step up and fill a spot in the senior squad.

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