Leaving aside the speculation surrounding a Villa Park take-over, this fixture proved that Wolverhampton Wanderers, having recruited a manager, are short of players and that Aston Villa, without a manager, have a squad which is committed, hungry and producing results. It says it all that Steve Bull, who made a cameo appearance for the first seven minutes, was Wolves' most appreciated performer while, for Villa, three successive pre-season victories without conceding a goal, have spoken chapters, if not volumes, for their caretaker-manager Roy Aitken's potential. Aitken had led Villa to a 5-0 win over Walsall and a 2-0 win at Hull prior to this encounter. Goals from Liam Ridgewell, who ran through unchallenged after 23 minutes, Gareth Barry, who flighted in a free-kick after the interval and substitute Gabbi Agbonlahor in the closing stages ensured another comfortable passage, but it was not enough to persuade Villa's fans not to barrack their chairman.
"We want Ellis out," echoed from the Jack Harris stand from start to finish, only occasionally interrupted by baiting of the poor Wolves supporters who, along with the newly installed manager, Mick McCarthy, discovered the shallowness of their squad. A freak pre-match injury to goalkeeper Matt Murray and a knee injury suffered by Mark Davies after only eight minutes weakened a fragile outfit.
"I thought 'Welcome to Wolves! Somebody here must have shot an albatross,' said McCarthy, who has been in charge for five days and will take Wolves to Plymouth for their opening league fixture next Saturday. His verdict was "middling". He also said he wants a cluster of experienced new players and hopes his communication style will be a hit. "I have not inherited a Championship-winning squad," he added.
Aikten said he had been given no hint that he might be offered the manager's job on a full-time basis. "I spoke to the chairman yesterday," he said. "He was interested in the injuries and the team selection and that was it. As far as I'm concerned, I'll carry on till further notice and do the best I can and let the players do the talking for me on the pitch."
Ellis, 82, was at this match, but kept his usual low profile. "I've got no comment to make," he said. Villa sources confirmed further talks were scheduled to take place this week to appoint a manager and discuss the issue of the four declared consortiums which are interested in taking over.
These may now be three, given that the American Randy Lerner, who owns the Cleveland Browns and is said to be worth £640 million, was unimpressed by Ellis's desire to retain some influence at Villa Park. His spokesman, Bill Bonsiewicz, told American reporters on Friday that "his interest is over".
His place on the magic roundabout of bidders appeared yesterday to have been taken by the AV06 consortium represented by the deputy High Court judge and barrister Nicholas Padfield, a Chelsea fan who is unlikely to welcome the idea of joining forces with Villa fan Michael Neville's rival group, that has already offered £57 million to take control. The dark horse in this scenario is Athole Still, the agent who represents Sven Goran Eriksson. He visited Villa Park on Wednesday and has confirmed his multinational consortium's interest.
Ellis, in the end, may not budge at all and instead condemn Villa's supporters to another season of torpid mediocrity unless Aitken, if offered the job, proves that this win and their current form is not a case of a team peaking too early.