Aston Villa 4 Wolves 1

They wanted it more.

Hardly the most original sentiment to summarise a derby but one that neatly explains the result.

A scrappy old opener bundled over the line by sheer force of will following a Danny Batth error was eerily symbolic of everything to follow.

There was a brief window of opportunity after Wolves found the leveller when it looked like they might start twisting the knife.

But chances never really materialised, the passing became loose on a suspiciously poor Villa Park surface and the contest drifted away. There wasn’t anything like the focus or precision we saw at Elland Road days before.

Batth was repeatedly targeted and his inability to cope in and out of possession was so excruciatingly  obvious I’m still in a state of shock he wasn’t hooked at half time, particularly on a yellow card.

If Nuno was prepared to drop the dependable Ryan Bennett after one miscued pass at Fulham then surely the Wolves skipper is set for another stint on the sidelines following this horror show?

Bonatini should also fear the axe on Tuesday after another frustrating night of indecision in front of goal. Several times he could have pulled the trigger but instead opted for the extra touch that took the opportunity away. He also failed to occupy the centre halves meaning the ball repeatedly boomeranged back.

With one defender unable to play the ball out from defence and one center forward unable to make it stick when it came long, that didn’t afford Wolves significant margin for error.

Still, the ever industrious Ivan Cavaleiro came close to opening up their back four with the scores level in the first half but both Jota and the confidence shot Bonatini were too static or wasteful when receiving the pass.

Sloppy set piece marking, the aforementioned Batth frailty and a Villa team that grew in confidence as their opponents failed to land meaningful punches meant this ended up being the most routine of victories.

It’s a heavyweight blow and even with a healthy seven point buffer to absorb the impact, this felt like a watershed moment.

With the fixtures that remain and the quality Wolves possess, it alone cannot derail our top two ambitions.

But the response must now be swift and decisive.

Hold onto your hats.

Aston Villa Vs Wolves Preview

Back in October after Wolves deservedly won the first encounter between these sides, Steve Bruce stated there was a long winter ahead.

Despite being otherwise magnanimous in defeat, the implication of that comment was obvious.

Fast forward to March and whatever happens from here on out, nobody, including Bruce, can accuse our imports of wilting in the arctic weather.

In fact, despite Villa’s impressive rise from play-off hopefuls to genuine top two contenders, they come into his game further behind their opponents than they were after the 2-0 defeat at Molineux.

A big victory on Saturday though could still bring about a shift in momentum down the final stretch, so it promises to be a wonderful occasion inside a packed out Villa Park.

Aston Villa

Like Wolves, Villa lost 2-0 at Fulham and could only muster a 1-1 draw with Preston. But out of their last 11 matches, those are the only two they haven’t won. That’s 28 points from 33, which is incredible.

I’ve seen a few of their games and even though they blow hot and cold for me, they do possess tremendous resilience.

They should have lost against Sheffield United in that 7 game winning run but dug in and then won it with a moment of brilliance from Snodgrass. Twice they fell behind against Sheffield Wednesday last week but ran out 4-2 winners.

I don’t think they’re the most fluid or technically adept team, but they have strong characters and a number of match winners in the group.

It took Bruce a long time to get to grips with his squad and I did wonder if he’d ever get the balance right, but they’re now a very dangerous Championship side.

Wolves

The biggest question is probably who makes way for Ruben Neves? And for me it’s a complete coin toss as both Saiss and N’Diaye had stormers against Leeds.

But I think we saw at Fulham that better opposition may restrict their opportunities to get the ball through the lines and for that, there’s nobody better than Neves.

Given it’s a derby, I’d probably lean more towards N’Diaye for his sheer power, but if the plan is domination of the ball, Saiss would be the better bet. I’m glad it’s not my decision.

Despite Afobe getting on the scoresheet I’d stick with Bonatini up top. His link up play was a key component of the team performance at Elland Road and a repeat would do nicely. Benik will get his chance at some stage.

Predictions

If Wolves win this game, I would say promotion goes from ‘highly likely’ to ‘foregone conclusion’. Victory over Leeds has alleviated a good amount pressure in the event of defeat.

Villa on the other hand, depending on what Cardiff and Fulham do, will probably feel like they have to get the win.

What will be interesting is whether Bruce sets his team up to attack or contain in the early exchanges. That decision may ultimately decide how this pans out.

I think if Wolves are allowed to get a foothold as they did at Elland Road, they will win the game. But I’m expecting Villa to press higher and harder and ask a lot more questions of our back three.

However, with Neves back and the midweek performance lifting morale, I’m backing us to secure a seismic victory – 2-1.

Up The Wolves!

Wolves 2 Aston Villa 0

The series of road closures around Molineux couldn’t have been more incongruously timed, with Wolves so utterly brilliant that Highways England and the council combined couldn’t divert Nuno’s men from what appears a relentless journey.

In automotive terms, that was a Bugatti Veyron performance at its most exhilarating, sending the pulses racing, the goosebumps tingling and even the most morbid of fans thinking that our destination might just be reached – with some spare fuel in the tank on last night’s showing.

At various points of this game you felt blessed to be there, alive in the moment and you sensed you could look back on it like you still do for the likes of Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup or Bully’s winner against the Blues. That Waterloo Road was coned off afterwards made it even better, as an inadvertent fan zone formed, flooding the street afterwards with supporters singing and bouncing back into town in a scene I’ve not seen in 30 years.

The worry, as always with Wolves, is that something will go wrong. Jota will get crocked, Neves will break down, or Miranda will get homesick and the wheels will fall off. Under Nuno’s watch, you sense he’s got a spare tyre in the boot and won’t panic anyway, as we carry on clocking up the miles on our journey to the place we daren’t mention just yet.

‘We are back in work on Monday and have a tough game on Saturday,’ reflected the boss, at his knowing best.

With the mesmeric Jota and co lighting up the Molineux and a 30,000 strong crowd in full voice, it feels like we’re the sort of formidable force that even Hurricane Ophelia’s couldn’t budge.

The game itself was a joy to watch, as an in-form Villa were swept aside with ease. The defensive three of Coady, Miranda and Batth were first to every ball and stifled every single attack before offloading intelligently. From there, our creative players worked their magic with Neves looking every inch the £15 million man in the middle.

Cavaleiro put in an incredible performance, interchanging with Costa and Diogo, with the twin turbo engines of Douglas and Doherty again knitting it all together. Then Bonatini came on and made us even better.

It sounds so straightforward to explain, so easy to watch and so simple in practice…

The way that football should be played.