Angel lifts Villa spirits as hopes fade for Wolves

Aston Villa 3 Wolverhampton Wanderers 2
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The Independent Football

Wins become all the more vital when they have been coming along only once every five games, which is why nervy Villa had cause to feel considerable relief after edging yesterday's Premiership basement squabble with their West Midlands rivals. The result bounces David O'Leary's side out of the bottom three while leaving Wolves grimly to contemplate the ominous prospect of reaching Christmas in last place.

No team occupying that position when the turkey is served have escaped relegation since the Premiership began and, on the balance of evidence so far, there is a suspicion that Dave Jones's side are already stuffed. Jones clings to the hopeful prognosis that the lower reaches of the top flight are still so closely knit that two or three wins might change the pattern of his side's season, yet it is hard to see which teams are going to concede Wolves points, especially when they give goals away as cheaply as they have lately.

Yesterday's three followed five at Tottenham and five at Arsenal in the Carling Cup, and while both managers agreed Villa were hanging on desperately in the closing stages here, Jones had to reflect that Wolves have developed a potentially fatal tendency to hand opponents a head start. "We are giving away stupid goals and by doing so we give ourselves mountains to climb," he said. "We've done it today, handing Villa a goal that should have been prevented, getting ourselves back in it at 2-1 but then giving away another bad goal at the start of the second half."

Villa have found scoring as difficult as Wolves, despite being able to call on three international strikers. The two sides shared the lowest goals-for tally in the Premiership with 11 each before yesterday, so when Juan Pablo Angel scored twice in the space of three first-half minutes the Holte End must have felt Santa Claus was a Villa fan.

The first came when Gareth Barry wheeled away from Oleg Luzhny and Colin Cameron with surprising ease before crossing from the left for Angel to slide home at the far post; the second from a cross by Mark Delaney on the right, Angel making space cleverly to pivot and score.

Wolves' positive response was rewarded when Alex Rae swept home his third goal in as many games, but slack defending cost them dearly again three minutes into the second half when another Delaney cross found Barry unmarked to score his second goal of the season.

Again Wolves hit back strongly, Stefan Postma - who replaced an injured Thomas Sorensen in goal 10 minutes into the second half - making fine saves from Paul Ince and Rae before Mark Kennedy slipped Delaney to cut the deficit again, setting up a frantic finale for a nervous home side.

"We were hanging on at the death and I have to applaud Wolves for their fighting spirit," O'Leary said. "We're going to need some of the same."

Goals: Angel (20) 1-0; (23) 2-0; Rae (36) 2-1; Barry (48) 3-1; Kennedy (79) 3-2.

Aston Villa (4-3-1-2): Sorensen 6 (Postma 7, 51); Delaney 7, Mellberg 6, Dublin 6, Samuel 6; McCann 8, Hitzlsperger 5, Barry 6; Vassell 5; Allback 5 (De la Cruz 5, 58), Angel 7. Substitutes not used: Crouch, Whittingham, Johnsen.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Oakes 6; Luzhny 5, Craddock 5, Butler 6, Irwin 6 (Naylor, 82); Rae 7, Ince 5, Cameron 6 (Silas 5, 59), Kennedy 7; Camara 5, Sturridge 5 (Miller 6, 59). Substitutes not used: Marshall (gk), Gudjonsson.

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire) 6.

Bookings: Villa: Delaney, Samuel, McCann. Wolves: Cameron, Ince, Luzhny, Rae.

Man of the match: McCann,

Attendance: 36,964.