Clinical Wolves Scythe Down Cynical Villa
At the end of a Saturday afternoon in the Midlands, there could not have proven a greater contrast than the image of the traveling Wolves fans jumping and singing for joy and a home crowd voicing genuine hostility towards their own.
Wolverhampton Wanders scored there first Villa Park victory in more than three decades to haul themselves ever closer to those spluttering above them, and plunge Aston Villa into the deep depths of a relegation battle.
Earlier in the week, Gabby Agbonlahor insisted he had not heard the word relegation mentioned at his club, but everyone of the Claret & Blue will be staring at the table this evening with grim concern.
Wolves, who still languish in 18th despite a tremendous victory, will be full of optimism after stretching an unbeaten run to four games and having taken ten points from the last eighteen available.
Whilst there were a few moments towards the end of the game more typical and expected of a local derby, some stupid lunges, the pushing and the shoving this game never really felt like a typical derby from the off and I tilt my cap of admiration to Mick McCarthy and our side for dealing Villa a dose of clinical application.
Whilst Ashley Young smashed against the under side of the bar in the 79th minute, Wolves had already had two goals disallowed and opening the scoring with a Matt Jarvis gem to cherish.
Whilst Referee Halsey had infuriated Wolves fans with two dismal decisions in our draw against Tottentham, the decisions against us today stood correct- Christophe Berra was offside before heading home, and the Jarvis cross had clearly gone out of play before Doyle nodded home. Replays were shown without need, Wolves keep their heads and stuck to the task at hand.
The game appeared particularly flat for long periods, and despite the home crowd trying to rally their side on several vociferous occasions, the players were not fit for the challenge and with ten minutes left, sections of the home crowd were heading for the exit.
Gerrard Houllier came in for particular criticism, no greater than when he made a double substitution replacing Reo Coker and Albrighton with the optimistic Agbonlahor and Pires- "you don't know what you're doing' ringing around the ground.
In the mean time, as Villa looked flat footed and short on ideas Wolves looked to peg their opponents back and force errors, which they achieved, and as the game hit the twenty minute mark had already began to stamp a form of authority in midfield with some dogged tackling and chasing, the nature of which has come to epitomize the spirit of our modern day heroes.
Far from spectacular, Henry and Milijias busied themselves around the middle throughout the game, whilst Jamie O'Hara played a deeper role, looking the most comfortable on the ball from all three, turning left and right before choosing the sensible pass.
At the back, Wayne Hennesssey showed how far he has come over the past two years. Always a brilliant shot stopper we always lived in fear of crosses because he would never come out for them- these days I almost smile when a cross comes in fairly certain he has come for it, and will take it- on occasions the ball is hitting area's outside of his command, Christophe Berra and Richard Stearman are getting on the end of seemingly everything in the air and improving still by the game. For two of still such young years, they may just be showing us what the future may hold; one of security based on natural ability, determination, concentration, and a will to continue learning from the training ground.
Whilst fan favourite Ronald Zubar is always missed, I think we reaped the benefits today of the steady and reliable Kevin Foley at right back- Villa appeared for most of the game to attack our left back position and let's admit it remains a cause for some concern.
As I flip through my notes they are littered with references to the game falling flat, but once again I credit us for marshaling the game, especially having taken the lead, and what a way to take it.
Nenad Milijias, often the architect of provision, was the one to win the free kick today that led to the goal.
Out on the right, not far in to the Villa half it certainly should not have been one of grave concern for the home defense but following a launched delivery, Christohpe Berra managed to nod down for Jarvis and what happened next passed by in a blur; a split second of instinctive brilliance.
Last week we saw Tottenham score three outstanding goals against us, but Jarvis' effort stands alongside them for me; despite an outstanding season Jarvis still comes under some criticism and does tend to waster chances when he has too much time to decide what he is going to do with the ball. Today he showed not an inkling of reluctance, driving the ball with spectacular conviction, speed and direction that no goal keeper would have saved it.
When we look back at the season's end, which we can only grow more confident will prove reflections of a happy nature, this goal will be up there amongst the other great memories such as the big wins over the big clubs.
There was worry ahead of this game, and heading into our final run in to meet those expected or not, to be within or around us, that we would not take the points based on our poor returns against such sides in the first half of the season.
Over the course of the past six games we have beaten two sides we needed to beat, Blackpool and now Villa, drawn with Albion and Tottenham, become the first team to beat Manchester United in the Premiership, and lost just once, to Arsenal.
We are taking close to two points per game, scoring very nearly an average of two per game, and if you take the Tottenham game out of the equation, had conceded just four goals from five games.
We won today and whilst this may come as more worry to Aston Villa fans, we did it without playing anywhere near as well as we have done on other occasions. Mick McCarthy must take huge credit for his tactical approach to this game today, the instructions so clearly laid in front of his players, and their collective ability and focus to execute them.
The Tottenham game took some getting over but the key was being able to do just that and the spirit within the squad that the players have now been talking about for three or more years is before our very eyes week in week out.
We have proven a different animal this side of Christmas and whether it comes through putting Blackpool to the sword with attacking swagger or mastering a win over a local rival, we are showing signs that across the board we just continue to get better.
I have always respected Aston Villa and I hope they stay up; I can't help but cast my mind back to The Battle for Survival article series when Jonathan from Vital Villa painted a picture of gloom at his beloved club that made our gripes seem almost worthless.
The proof was in the pudding today. In fighting amongst the club, fans in despair, a manager apparently clueless; what a fall from grace for a club on the back of three 6th placed finishes in a row.
Villa fans are well within their rights to be cynical, but let's not take anything away from us today.
Clinical is the word that begins the article and I will remember the fashion of this victory just as vividly as the manner of our performances and wins against the likes of the Manchester's and the Liverpool's.
Today we can be very proud of Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Tomorrow and beyond are beginning to show signs we can shine ever brighter.
New York City Wolf