This was a game that spiraled into an ill-tempered contest between rivals 12 miles apart but by then Wolves had already wounded Aston Villa and they eked out victory to climb into seventh and maintain their hopes of achieving a European berth.
The Wolves support delighted in doing the double over Villa this season, smarting about the 13-point gap between the teams, Steven Gerrard acknowledging anything but victory here would end their hopes of superseding their rivals this season.
At full time the Wolves captain Conor Coady jumped into Jose Sá’s arms after his goalkeeper prevented Villa scoring a late equalizer. Wolves collapsed against Leeds last time out and Ollie Watkins ensured an anxious finish after winning and then converting a late penalty but the hosts held on to leapfrog West Ham, who play Everton on Sunday.
Bruno Lage had conceded that whether Wolves could cope without both the suspended Raúl Jiménez and the injured Rúben Neves was a question unanswered in his head but the first half provided compelling evidence that he need not fret.
Wolves should have had a three-goal advantage at the interval, Leander Dendoncker skewering painfully wide after a counterattack from an Aston Villa corner and Trincão’s unusually poor touch putting pay to his hopes of converting Fábio Silva’s center on the brink of half-time. Lage was apoplectic but compared to Gerrard, arms folded in the dugout, his complaints from him would have been relatively trivial.
Wolves had to settle for a two-goal lead at the break, Jonny Otto leathering home at the back post on seven minutes before Ashley Young, who replaced Lucas Digne 13 minutes into his return from a hamstring injury, inadvertently converted Marçal’s teasing cross past Emiliano Martinez in the Villa goal.
The opener stemmed from Silva knocking John McGinn off balance on halfway, allowing the typically authoritative João Moutinho to drive upfield and float a pass towards Daniel Podence, who seemed to make the most of an untimely slip by Ezri Konsa.
But while Podence was guilty of overcomplicating things, McGinn was able to block his shot before Silva was denied, the ball dropped kindly for Jonny to arrow into the corner. Forty seconds later, Villa were wayward and Silva got the better of Tyrone Mings but his tame shot of him represented comfortable pickings for Martínez.
Villa’s waywardness made a mockery of Gerrard’s early gesturing for calm. Wolves, by contrast, were enjoying themselves. The Sir Jack Hayward Stand rejoiced as Young’s own goal was replayed in slow motion on the big screens. Marçal, a reliable outlet down the left flank, galloped forward and his cross bounced dangerously on the edge of the six-yard box, luring Young into heading past Martinez under pressure from Trincão at the back post.
The Wolves substitute Hwang Hee-chan went close to adding a third with 20 minutes to play but pulled his shot wide after Moutinho moseyed forward before a back-pedaling Mings intervened, while Silva, the teenager who grew in confidence, forced Martínez into a fine save with a curled effort late on.
Aside from Leon Bailey, one of three changes from last time out against Arsenal, prompting a fingertip save from Sá from distance the Wolves goalkeeper was untroubled in the first half but he should have been fishing the ball out of his net on 56 minutes.
A Wolves counterattack broke down and Young fed Watkins in on goal with a wonderful through pass but the England striker fluffed his lines. Watkins attempted to caress a shot into the far corner beyond Sa but dropped his shot wide of a post. Watkins would get on the scoresheet, sending Sá the wrong way from the penalty spot with four minutes to play, but Villa departed empty-handed.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism