Wolves spent the second 45 minutes of this game clinging on for dear life as Aston Villa threw everything they had at Mick McCarthy’s men, to no avail. In a game with relatively few on chances on target, it was the Villans who took the game by the scruff of the neck, testing Wayne Hennessey in the Wolves goal a few times, but nowhere near as much as Alex McLeish would have liked. Wanderers held on for a good point however, moving up to the top of the table in the process for the second time in two weeks.
It is testament to the erratic nature of the opening weeks of the Premier League that this derby, usually a mid table affair, was contested by two teams in the top four; Wolves and Aston Villa starting the game in 3rd and 4th place respectively.
The short journey for Mick McCarthy’s men promised to be a difficult one at the best of times, but after a convincing 3-1 win over Blackburn a week ago and Gabriel Agbonlahor in particular looking very dangerous, it was a very tough prospect indeed. The Villans haven’t lost at Villa Park in the past five games, since the defeat at the hands of Wolves of all teams in March. Mid-week two goal hero Sylvain Ebanks-Blake was ruled out for a month after sustaining a knee injury against Northampton Town, but apart from that McCarthy’s side had a clean bill of health.
Wolves were in great form themselves, also beating Blackburn and going on to beat Fulham too to claim an 100% record in the opening two games. It had been 31 years since the Black Country side had won three top-flight games in a row, and McLeish’s side were looking to stop them. Gabriel Agbonlahor and Emile Heskey were passed fit, and with Luke Young in London completing a move to Premiership new boys QPR, 22-year-old Australian Chris Herd was handed a start in right back.
There were precious few chances in a cagey opening 10 minutes, as both sides attempted to feel each other out. Stephen Hunt curled in a free kick but Shay Given was equal to it, and Wolves centre back Christophe Berra had a tame effort that also didn’t trouble the Irish ‘keeper.
Aston Villa’s Chris Herd then had a nasty incident as he caught his head on the post whilst challenging for a corner, but he was luckily unharmed and re-entered the fray moments later. Wolves had a good chance 20 minutes in, Ward floated the ball into the back post where Stephen Hunt was waiting, but his header was straight at Given.
N’Zogbia showed his attacking threat by cutting inside from the right to get a shot away with his favoured left foot, but the ball swerved well wide. Wolves would have to stay close to the Frenchman at all times though as he was starting to show flashes of his devastating pace and skill.
Wolves were then under pressure again as Agbonlahor – brimming with confidence after his performance last Saturday – flew past right back Richard Stearman and put in a low cross. Emile Heskey was on his way down as he took the shot under pressure from Ward and couldn’t quite direct it on target, shooting just wide from close range. A good chance for Villa in a very close game.
Wolves hit back, a fantastic run by Stephen Hunt as the Irishman left Stiliyan Petrov in his wake before crossing to Steven Fletcher. He couldn’t get a proper connection but the ball was swung in again by Jarvis. Jamie O’Hara went up for the header but was challenged by James Collins and the ball sailed harmlessly over the bar. Wayne Hennesey did well to deny Villa as Petrov stayed onside to latch onto a long ball by Stephen Warnock before crossing low, but the Welsh ‘keeper was out bravely at the feet of Emile Heskey to claim the ball.
The half was bookended with boredom as the last 10 minutes were similar to the first – no real chances to speak of for either side, and with only three shots on target the whole half it hadn’t exactly been full of life at the best of times.
The home side started the brightest in the second half with Chris Herd heading over from a corner in the opening minutes. It was Agbonlahor who came closest though; Villa hit Wolves on the counter attack with N’Zogbia switching to Agbonlahor who picked the ball up just inside his own half before sprinting forward, skinning Roger Johnson and getting a shot away across goal that prompted a very good save by Wayne Hennessey.
Hennessey was called into action again as Charles N’Zogbia fired in a free kick after James Collins was brought down, but it was straight at the Welshman.
Villa were piling on the pressure, and a deflected N’Zogbia effort stayed in the Wolves six-yard-box as Roger Johnson held onto possession for too long. Agbonlahor took the ball and got away a cross-come-shot that Heskey couldn’t get on the end of. Chris Herd then provoked a good save from Hennessey with another header, before Charles N’Zogbia – shooting on sight at every opportunity – lashed it over.
Gabriel Agbonlahor had another chance, after being played in by Fabian Delph the striker fired low and wide of the left post.
Mick McCarthy signalled his intention by bringing on man-wardrobe George Elokobi for Stephen Hunt, and Matt Jarvis left the field after a quiet game by his standards, replaced by Kevin Foley. It didn’t immediately stem the tide though as Charles N’Zogbia came short for a corner and fired just wide. He had been getting shots away from all angles but hadn’t really come close to scoring and was replaced by Barry Bannan after a frustrating afternoon for the Frenchman.
Darren Bent had also been virtually non-existent, but proved he can spring into life at any time as he almost gifted Agbonlahor a goal, putting in a fantastic cross from the right side but Hennessey was alert again to beat it out.
The striker then came close himself, beating Elokobi with a great leap before heading just over after a brilliant cross from substitute Barry Bannan.
Martin Atkinson called time on the fixture after a fairly uninspired 90 minutes of football.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Aston Villa: Given, Warnock, Dunne, Collins, Herd, N’Zogbia (Bannan, 74), Delph (Albrighton, 85), Petrov, Bent, Agbonlahor, Heskey
Wolves: Henessey, Stearman, Ward, Johnson, Berra, Henry, Hunt (Elokobi, 67), Jarvis (Foley, 67), O’Hara, Fletcher (Vokes, 90), Doyle
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