Aston Villa (2) vs Wolverhampton Wanderers (3) – Villa had Wolves Down but Not Out

Wolves pulled off something on Saturday that our Villans have yet to do this season and we had better learn how soon.  That is how to come from behind and win.  While we are at it, we had better relearn how to hold onto a lead.  Keeping a clean sheet is the way we have prevailed so far this season and we should make that a habit.

When the game started, few would have guessed the strange trajectory the game was to follow.  Most would have guessed that goals would be hard to come by and whoever scored first was odds-on to win.  That was the case last season when Villa’s lone goal at Molyneux was the sum total of goals in both games.  So, when Villa started with more élan and imagination than we are used to, the home fans were loving it.

It certainly helped that Emi Martínez and Douglas Luiz were both able to start, with the duo having returned from international duty for Argentina and Brazil respectively, and arriving in the early hours of Friday morning.

Dean Smith did make two changes from the defeat at Tottenham Hotspur, Emi Buendía and Axel Tuanzebe coming in for Jacob Ramsey and Kortney Hause.  Both were not surprising as Smith tries to balance the playing time of the squad.  What was disappointing was the unavailability of Leon Bailey and Bertrand Traore, both to injury.

Wolves, on the other hand, had to keep Raul Jimenez on the bench having played three international games for Mexico, relying on South Korean Hwang as a lone striker.  Podence and Silva who have both been having trouble scoring were left on the bench in favor of more defensive players.

The managers seemed to have made the right choices based on what transpired in the first half, though a sloppy freekick by Tuanzebe immediately put him under the microscope.   A Wolves interception and a quick feed to Hwang, and a first-time shot, had the ball heading for the far corner of the Villa goal.  Martinez may have been able to push it around the post, but we’ll never know as Mings performed another excellent block as he slid over.

Next, it was Villa’s turn with a lively Buendia taking a first time shot from distance but pulling it wide of Sa’s right-hand post.  A robust, but fair, tackle by Targett left Neves in some discomfort for a couple of minutes (something Neves gained revenge for much later in the game).  The Villa fans were even more excited when, in the 13th minutes, Luiz cushioned a headed pass to his compadre and John McGinn stung a shot on the volley that might have easily beaten the Wolves’ goalie if a few inches inside Sa’s left post instead of a few inches outside. That was in the 14th minutes.

Sa’s first actual save came in the 27th minute when McGinn found Buendia who slid a perfect pass for Danny Ings to split the defense before rifling a shot, low to Sa’s right, only for the keeper to save brilliantly.  Shortly after, Wolves got their first shot when AdamaTraoré went on an impressive zig-zagging run, bouncing multiple Villa defenders on the way and, with only, Martinez to beat went for power rather than direction and Emi used his legs to turn the shot away.

Add to that excitement was the sight of Cash racing down the right wing and creating a couple of speculative opportunities for himself before feeding Buendia heading down the inside right channel.  The Argentinian did well to turn the cross into a first-time strike towards the near post.  Like McGinn’s it was also a touch wide. By this time the Villa fans must have felt that they had too many good goal scorers in the squad not to score.

When the second half started, they did not have to wait long.  Cash threaded a pass down the right for McGinn to run onto.  Saiss could not prevent the skillful Scot from squeezing enough room to arc a perfect cross into the box.  Ings was lagging the play as Ollie dragged both Coady and Kilman to the 6-yard box and the experienced Ings had no trouble heading down towards Sa’s right-hand post.  The ball hit the turf well in front of the diving keeper and bounded up just inside the post.  The ideal completion of an excellent all-around play.  Even better, Ings had got himself back on the scoreboard after some weeks of frustration.  Aston Villa 1. Wolves 0 in the 48th minute.

The goal added another gear to an already energized McGinn, and he seemed to be everywhere.  It was no surprise that when poor Hwang gifted the ball to Watkins on the edge of the area, his shot rebounded to an open John McGinn. The Scot immediately added to his season’s goal tally.  As challenging as the low blast would have been for Sa, by deflecting off Neves, it gave him no chance at all. Aston Villa 2. Wolves 0 in the 68th minute.

What immediately followed was game management by both managers.  Number one priority for Wolves was getting a goal soon so they could get back into the game with enough time to tie, or even win, the game.  For Villa, it was lead protection.  On came Podence and Silva for Moutinho and Marcal.  Smith reciprocated with fresh legs to meet the onslaught.  Ramsey and Young were sent on to replace Buendia and Cash (Nakamba already having been added for Luiz prior to Ings’ goal).

As noted in the game summary, this did nothing to add to Villa’s stability or composure.  When Traoré set off down the left wing from his own half in the 76th minute, Ramsey had been pressing to keep Wolves from mounting an attack.  By the time Traoré reached the Villa goal line he had attracted all three of Villa’s backline while Podence was waiting, alone, in front of goal.  Targett was racing to get back.  Ramsey might have been expected to track back but he was not game alert and lagged.  Did he not see Traoré run through Villa’s backline in the first half?

Even the usually reliable Konsa made a half-hearted tackle that Traoré shrugged off before he added another 30 yards and a corner to his travels.  With every Villa player in the penalty area, Ings’s clearing header came to the dangerous Ruben Neves. Nakamba, in his rush to tackle, fouled the Portuguese international and gave up a freekick in a dangerous area.  Podence’s kick required Mings concede another corner and another chance for Podence to find a target.

A clearance of this corner came back to him and his cross was headed clear by Ollie Watkins to Neves, again, only this time the midfielder immediately found a gap to slip in Podence behind the claret and blue line. The talented sub instantly redirected between the retreating defenders and Martinez.  Beyond them, at the back post, Saiss was sliding, and the ball bulged the back of the net. Aston Villa 2. Wolves 1 in the 80th minute.  Still, 10 more minutes plus stoppage time to go!

Our Villans looked stunned.  Maybe they were wondering why Ings was marking Podence and Targett was positioned behind Saiss and Young was not to be seen.  That should have been a wake-up call, but it seemed not to work.  Over the next four minutes Villa used their multiple possessions to hit long balls into the heart of the Wolves defense.  This allowed the visitors more opportunities to mount attacks.  Mings added to their woes by an unnecessary foul as he crashed into Silva and Nakamba who were competing for a header.

That allowed Wolves to bring up their rearguard and mount another assault.  This one led to a scramble in the 6-yard box and a header by Kilman that crashed into the crossbar.  The ball came out to Traoré who froze the Villa defense before dinking over a cross that Watkins could have cleared behind but let it go, not knowing what was behind him.  It was Dendoncker who poked the ball through the crease where Tuanzebe, facing his own goal, had a chance to overhead kick and clear.  Once again, a Villan fluffed his lines, and Man U loanee skewed the ball onto the thigh of Connor Coady from where it rolled into the net.  Aston Villa 2. Wolves 2 at exactly 85 minutes.

While Wolves celebrated with their fans, our Villans looked desolate and lost.  This was a Wolves team that had scored all of 5 goals from their first seven Premier League game and Villa had let two center backs each score from set-plays in five minutes.  This, against a team that has made set-plays part of their playbook.  Presumably, avoiding set-plays and defending against them is not part of the program.

At 90 minutes, Villa had an excellent chance to erase all their mistakes when McGinn’s corner was met by Danny Ings, 10-yards from goal and inexplicably unmarked.  Just as inexplicable was why he headed over the bar.  Then, with the game in balance, Tuanzebe took his eye off a long clearance by Wolves and conceded a throw-in in Villa’s half.  Wolves managed to get the ball to Podence who Ramsey attempted to block but could not handle.  His chip into the penalty area fell to Martinez and Villa had another opportunity to work the ball up the field, but, once again hit a speculative pass that Wolves intercepted.

Almost inevitably, Traoré found himself in possession with just a couple of minutes on the clock.  He carried towards the penalty area with Ramsey chasing his heels.  How could this be happening, just outside the penalty area in the Premier League?  Sure enough, the toe caught the heel and Traoré was down.  The wall was formed and who got to take the shot?  Ruben Neves, who had had a remarkably eventful game, already.  It was Neves who was clattered by Matt Targett and looked like he might be heading to the dressing room.  It was Neves who redirected McGinn’s shot into his own net.  It was Neves whose pass cut open the Villa defense for their first goal.

Not only did Neves score from the freekick but he did so at the expense of Targett whose slightly turned torso provided the perfect plane to deflect the shot 90 degrees into Martinez’s right hand corner while he was diving towards his left.  Game, set, and match.  Villa 2. Wolves 3. Wolves took the all spoils in the 95th minute!

Aston Villa: Martinez, Mings, Tuanzebe, Konsa, Targett, Luiz (Nakamba 67′), McGinn, Buendía (J Ramsey 74′), Cash (Young 79′), Ings, Watkins.

Subs: Steer, Hause, Sanson, Philogene-Bidace, El Ghazi, Archer.

Wolves: Sá, Saïss, Coady, Kilman, Marçal (Podence 74′), Moutinho (Silva 74′), Semedo, Neves, Hwang (Jiménez 88′), Dendoncker, Traoré.

Subs: Moulden, Ruddy, Aït-Nouri, Cundle, Boly, Hoever.

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