As quick as this stalemate will fade from the memory, Wolverhampton Wanderers were happy enough with an outcome that brought them a second brief taste of life at the top of the Premier League. They made no apologies for the tactical adjustments that shut up shop when Aston Villa were going for the kill in the second half of a low-key derby.
Following the enthusiasm generated by the clubs' respective starts, this was subdued fare, overseen on the touchline by former national managers and watched over by two current international bosses.
Fabio Capello and Giovanni Trappatoni will have left with mixed feelings about the form of the players they came to see – Roger Johnson, Gabby Agbonlahor and Stephen Ward doing most to catch the eye – but there was satisfaction for Wolves through their surprise standing and for Villa from their unbeaten first fortnight under Alex McLeish.
Not only were Wolves seeking to register a third Premier League victory out of three for the first time but also claim a fourth successive scalp on their travels, having won at Sunderland in May and overpowered Northampton Town in the Carling Cup in midweek. In the first half they offered further evidence that they are an evolving side at this level; compact at the back and possessing of an occasional bit of attacking thrust that was not matched by a killer ball. For most of the second, they were consumed by a survival instinct.
Ward surprised Villa more than once with his dashes from left-back and, from his far-post cross, Stephen Hunt produced a bouncing header that was blocked by Shay Given at the expense of Wolves' fifth corner of the opening 20 minutes. Jamie O'Hara also clipped a shot off target following a prolonged exchange of passes between Ward and Matt Jarvis but the more incisive attacking moments came from Villa.
Emile Heskey hooked a foot wide when Agbonlahor outpaced Richard Stearman to pull back from the left, Wayne Hennessey dived bravely at the feet of the former England forward after Stiliyan Petrov escaped into yards of space in the area and Chris Herd was slightly off balance when glancing a header over from Petrov's excellent corner.
It was in the second half that Villa produced an onslaught. Hennessey dealt with efforts from Agbonlahor and Charles N'Zogbia, and was grateful when Kevin Doyle nodded Richard Dunne's 59th minute header off the line. In the same burst, Hennessey comfortably tipped over Herd's header from an Agbonlahor centre and N'Zogbia cut in to blaze too high.
McCarthy opted for containment as he sacrificed his two wingers in the pursuit of defensive strength. The move worked, although Bent looped a late header on to the roof of the net.
On the day Luke Young completed his move to Queens Park Rangers, McLeish was delighted with the showing at right-back of Herd, a young Australian who has come through the Villa Park ranks. McLeish said: "We're a bit short of experienced players in that position with Luke leaving and I thought Chris was excellent. It was a terrific second-half display by us. We controlled the game."
Aston Villa (4-2-1-3): Given; Herd, Dunne, Collins, Warnock; Petrov, Delph (Albrighton, 85); Heskey; N'Zogbia (Bannan, 74), Bent, Agbonlahor.
Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Hennessey; Stearman, Johnson, Berra, Ward; Hunt (Elokobi, 67), Henry, O'Hara, Jarvis (Foley, 67); Doyle, Fletcher (Vokes, 89).
Referee Martin Atkinson.
Man of the match Ward (Wolves).
Match rating 5/10Reuse content