Aston Villa were unable to find the breakthrough in an evenly fought scoreless draw at home to local rivals, Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Both sides had guilt-edged chances and all in front of the North Stand as the Villans seemed to dominate the first half, while the visitors had the better of things in the latter stages.
Ollie Watkins hit the crossbar in the opening moments from a well-taken shot from range before Ezri Konsa did the same after getting the ball in the box from a corner.
In the second half, Romain Saïss was unable to bundle the ball over the net from less than a yard out; the ball instead deflecting over the top of the goal and Conor Coady, who had assisted that earlier chance, saw his own close-range effort magnificently thwarted by a well-timed reaction save by Emi Martinez.
Villa again rue missed chances
It feels all too familiar to say that Villa have been denied by the woodwork and certainly none other than Ollie Watkins will have that feeling of deja vu.
It is the seventh time this season that he’s been denied by the goal frame; more than anyone else in the league and it’s also the second time in a week, as an excellent headed effort against Sheffield United was also thwarted in similar fashion.
Ezri Konsa also found himself denied at close range twice in this encounter to add to his misfortune on Wednesday night.
Once again, it’s missed chances going forward that seem to hold Villa back - rather than defensive woes (you’ll note the addition of yet another clean sheet this evening!), even with the forced change at the back of Ahmed Elmohamady for Matty Cash.
The positive side is that it’s not that these chances aren’t being created, it’s simply the tale of an inch or two either side of the post that is stopping Villa from progressing up the table.
Assured midfield credited with strong start
Morgan Sanson was declared ‘Premier League ready’ by Dean Smith in his pre-game interview and was included in the starting XI alongside John McGinn and Douglas Luiz.
The trio made a strong start, making a conscious effort to press high where possible and cause issues with Wolves’ passing game, particularly inside their own half in which helped create a handful of chances for the home side.
However, Sanson’s eagerness caught him out with an early yellow card and a cautious early substitution as the game grew more tense down the stretch.
The midfield was eventually overrun somewhat in the second half, unable to continue their intensity as the whole team sat deeper inside their own half, but performed well to limit the opportunities to those wearing gold.
It seems that Dean Smith now has a number of options and tactics for the middle of the park, allowing him to change styles depending on the opponents moving forward.
A testament to the squad building and depth Villa now have in midfield, as well as the patience of the team in bleeding in new and youth players alike to build a wider range of options.
Villa face a Friday night trip to Newcastle United where it is hoped that Matty Cash and Jack Grealish could be both available.
In any case, there will be no better time to get the shooting boots back on before the next international break, scheduled for after Villa’s next home game against Spurs (Sunday 21st March, 7.30pm KO).
It’s possible that after that break, we could see the reintroduction of Wesley who has resumed full contact training with the team and the Villans can experiment more with the two man strike-force attempted once again in hope more than expectation when Keinan Davis was brought on late this evening (but more on that in an in-depth post very soon!).