Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa had won five matches in a row before being comfortably defeated at the hands of promotion favorites Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday. The hosts were frustrated in a scoreless first half, but Wolves’ attacking ferocity culminated in a dominant and decisive second half.
The first half was defined largely by penalty appeals and injury stoppages. Villa were forced to put the ball out of play multiple times for injured Wolves players, which contributed to the overall lack of flow in the first half. Both sides appealed for penalties, with a high boot from Jonathan Kodjia almost giving one away to Wolves and an Albert Adomah tackle similarly tempting the referee. For Villa, Kodjia tumbled over in the box as he received a pass from Keinan Davis, but his appeal was half-hearted and flatly refused. Besides for the stoppages and penalty appeals, the first half yielded few clear openings, but Wolves were the more dominant side. Alan Hutton made a remarkable last-man challenge to deny Wolves an early scoring opportunity, and Ruben Neves had the only shot on target of the half with a stinging volley well saved by Sam Johnstone. Hutton held his own competently on the lefthand side, a serious concern of many Villa fans before the match because of Neil Taylor’s suspension. Albert Adomah also provided much needed defensive support on the left.
Wolves’ pressure was rewarded soon after the break, when Ahmed Elmohamady slipped at the back post and Diogo Jota smashed the ball past Sam Johnstone to give Wolves a deserved lead. Steve Bruce brought Scott Hogan on for Keinan Davis in an attempt to reinvent Villa’s attack, but as more numbers were thrown forward, Villa became increasingly vulnerable on the counter-attack. Alan Hutton made two (!) more last man challenges, but Leo Bonatini, a halftime substitute, latched onto the rebound of Hutton’s second tackle and beat Johnstone at his near post to put Wolves 2-0 up.
Sam Johnstone made a remarkable double save to keep the score at 2-0, but it proved futile. Josh Onomah and Callum O’Hare were also brought on, but Villa failed to fashion any clear chances on goal besides for a Robert Snodgrass free kick that pinged off the crossbar. Callum O’Hare showed good energy in his brief appearance, but Villa’s other attacking options were profoundly disappointing.
Wolves look like the real deal, as their young Spanish and Portuguese speaking attackers will continue to strike fear into defenders in the Championship. Hopefully Villa will be able to salvage their derby record for the first half of this season with a victory over Birmingham City in two weeks.