Aston Villa and the positive touch

Villa’s win over Wolves takes them into the Carabao Cup quarter-finals. Dave Woodhall reports.

I was talking to a fellow anorak at half-time about the biggest crowd to watch a Villa reserve game. It was either Pongo Waring’s debut or when he came back for a farewell appearance alongside a couple of young players he’d recommended and Villa were giving a trial to.

Whichever was the biggest crowd, that record has gone now after 34,962 turned up to see that Villa’s squad has better strength in depth than Wolves’. A win’s always welcome, but we have to be honest – this game was played for the most part with all the intensity of a pre-season friendly. With twenty changes made between the two sides it was primarily an opportunity for some of the squad players to get some game time or continue a comeback from injury, and on that score it served its purpose.

Villa dominated the first half, although the only goal came when Henri Lansbury’s through ball split the Wolves defence and Anwar El Ghazi slotted home a shot that keeper John Ruddy really should have saved.

Maybe because the first half had been so easy, Villa failed to switch on after the break. Keinan Davis going off injured five minutes after the restart seemed to unsettle the rest of the team and Douglas Luiz was knocked off the ball far too easily for Wolves to break for the equaliser. Luckily a free kick three minutes later was flicked in by Ahmed Elmohamady and that was just about it for the rest of the game.

Jed Steer did well to save from another Wolves break but apart from that the only things to stir the crowd from their increasing torpor was the announcement of the crowd – seven thousand seats most have been empty but I couldn’t see where – and six minutes of stoppage time being found from somewhere. Villa managed to see them out without incident and now move into the quarter-finals of the League Cup for the first time since 2013 – and we all know what happened then.

Of those hoping to impress Dean Smith, Douglas Luiz was easily the most accomplished player on the pitch. That one mistake apart, he looked to have time on the ball and know how to find his man with ease. Henri Lansbury shone in flashes and as it seems Dean likes him I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lansbury starting on Saturday if Jack Grealish isn’t fit.

I was also impressed with Ezri Konsa, who formed a good central defensive partnership with Kortney Hause, Davis did well holding the ball up before going off and Jonathan Kodjia looked lively. Villa should have wrapped the game up well before the final whistle but in the end it was the most straightforward win we’ve enjoyed at home for a good while.

The quarter-finals are now a bit of a win-win. Either we get a lower divisions team that will give us a good chance of getting into the semis, at which point anything can happen, or else the team who have played the last two ties should get the chance on a bigger stage. And being three games from Wembley can’t be underestimated, either. It was a good night, if not a particularly memorable one. Bring on Liverpool.