Having enjoyed their best start to a season for 10 years you might have expected Aston Villa to feel disappointed at not making even more emphatic progress after conceding an equaliser with seven minutes remaining yesterday. However, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake's penalty, his first goal of the campaign, was no less than Wolves deserved after the home side dominated lengthy periods of a hard-fought West Midlands derby.
Villa were on a high after taking seven points from matches against Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea in recent weeks, but they were on the back foot for most of the first half and never looked on top of their game, although they made a marked improvement in the last quarter. Instead, it was Wolves who took the eye, even if they failed to sustain their early excellence.
The outcome, moreover, could have been very different had Peter Walton, the referee, not missed what looked a certain penalty in the third minute when Richard Dunne pulled back Kevin Doyle. As Mick McCarthy, the Wolves manager, pointed out, it was not the first time this season his team have been denied an apparently clear-cut penalty. McCarthy, nevertheless, could feel proud of Wolves' display given their recent record against Villa, who have won seven and drawn one of the last eight League meetings between the clubs.
There was a pleasing balance to the Wolves team, particularly when going forward. Karl Henry and Segundo Castillo formed a powerful engine-room in midfield, while Michael Kightly, a lively box of tricks, provided excellent support for Ebanks-Blake (right) and Doyle, who were always a handful for the Villa defence.
Wolves had plenty of chances to make their first-half domination count. Christophe Berra and Ebanks-Blake headed wide from crosses by Henry and Kightly respectively, Doyle's close-range effort was cleared off the line by James Milner and Ebanks-Blake sent an overhead kick over the bar from five yards after finding space at a corner.
The home team's football in a rain-swept first half was as bright as the sunshine that greeted the teams at the start of the second, but as the match progressed Wolves went into their shell. Gabriel Agbonlahor had wasted Villa's only notable chance of the first half, shooting tamely at Wayne Hennessey in the first minute, but Martin O'Neill's team improved after the break as Ashley Young at last got into the game. The match, however, appeared to be petering out into a goalless stalemate until bursting into life in the last quarter of an hour.
Steve Sidwell, who had struggled to get a grip in midfield, saw a goalbound effort blocked by a colleague, Dunne before Villa scored after a flowing move that saw Young, Agbonlahor and Milner free Emile Heskey on the right of the penalty area. Heskey's cross found Agbonlahor, who turned Jody Craddock all too easily to score his sixth goal in eight games.
Wolves were level within four minutes after Sidwell brought down Kightly, who had latched on to a clever backheel by Nenad Milijas. Ebanks-Blake, who scored 37 goals for Wolves in the previous two seasons, gleefully drove the penalty into the top of the net.
O'Neill admitted his team had not played well in the early stages but said he had been expecting a difficult match. "I am disappointed," he said. "There was not a great deal of football played in the first half. I thought we improved significantly in the second. Having played so well in the last couple of games, having gone into this game with loads of confidence, and wanting to impose ourselves quickly, we didn't do that and that was the disappointment."
McCarthy was satisfied with a point. "When you go a goal down, teams often shut up shop," he said. "They didn't and we had chances. It was Villa who were hanging on at the end."
Referee: Peter Walton
Man of the match: Henry
Match rating: 5/10