Aston Villa and another advance

Villa draw at Wolves. Dave Woodhall reflects on a hard-earned point.

Many years ago, back in the mists of time when my football-watching was in its formative years, there was a local adage that said Villa couldn’t beat Blues, who couldn’t beat Albion, who couldn’t beat Villa and Wolves couldn’t beat anyone. Looking back it might not have been true, but it always seemed back then that no matter where each team was in the league, that was how the local results went.

Times change; Blues and Albion are in no position to win, lose or draw against the Villa now but Wolves have got a tendency to turn in their best performances of the season against us. They’d had a good win on the previous weekend, we’d scraped through in Europe on Thursday, so taking those factors into consideration, adding the inevitable additional injury courtesy of Jacob Ramsey’s foot relapsing and Villa never being at their best against the sort of quick start Wolves were bound to come up with, there was a feeling on Sunday morning that a point wouldn’t have been a bad result.

Villa had a boost when the teams were announced. Boubacar Kamara and Douglas Luiz, both of who were suffering from minor knocks picked up during the week, had been slight doubts, which to experienced Villa watchers usually means “See you in a month”. But there they were, fully fit and taking their places in a Villa side that featured three central defenders and Matty Cash further forward. It could have been 35-2, or 4-4-2 or any other permutation. With Unai Emery you can never tell.

You could look at seven bookings plus a sending-off and think it was a typically old-fashioned blood and guts local derby. You could have looked at the match and wondered what the referee was doing, pulling up some players for what others were getting away with throughout. Wolves seemed to have a main tactic of stopping Villa from playing and our chief fault was that we fell for it.

There weren’t many chances in the first half. Cash had one early on and John McGinn’s long-range shot was a lot closer than it seemed at the time. Early in the second half Watkins came even closer then Villa allowed Wolves to break far too easily and take the lead. Fortunately Villa didn’t lose their heads and Watkins’ ball into the box gave Pau Torres his first Villa goal.

Leon Bailey and Nicolo Zaniolo both came on and after Wolves had a player sent off with more than ten minutes of stoppage time left Emery might have been tempted to introduce Bertrand Traore, but he probably thought we’d seen enough inconsistent attackers for one match and besides, if Ollie Watkins’ header with the last touch of the match had been an inch closer we would have got another late winner anyway. As it was, he hit the woodwork for the sixteenth time in his Villa career, another Premier League Record and Anorakical Statistic.

In the end a potentially difficult game saw Villa get a useful point in a match that we’d have lost for most of the past decade. A few of the team are still not firing, or else not entirely fit, and the international break could be coming at a good time. As the table begin to take shape we’re fifth while rarely looking on top form and with an unending casualty list. You can’t really argue with that.