Club Focus – Aston Villa – Wolves dent Villa’s Champions League hopes

John Carew’s two goals salvaged a draw for the Villains on Saturday, but the manager will be wondering whether the draw was a valuable point earned or a valuable two points lost. Every club’s season reaches a significant turning point, and come the end of term, Martin O’Neill will not want to identify this result as one of the reasons why the Champions League spot slipped away from their grasp. While the Midlands side still remain unbeaten in the Premier League in 2010, out of nine games only three have been victories. At this stage in the campaign, draws can be as costly as defeats – at both ends of the league.

With Fabio Capello watching in the stands and John Carew opening the scoring early on in the match, it seemed as though it was going to be a comprehensive and routine win for the home side against a struggling Wolves team. The Norwegian gave Villa the lead after 16 minutes with an assured side-foot finish from a centred ball by Ashley Young. Seven minutes later, the visiting side had equalised after Villa failed to defend David Jones’ free-kick which found its way to Ronald Zubar, whose mistimed shot fell to unmarked Jody Craddock to slot home. Just before the first half came to a close, Jones was instrumental once more for Wolves after he fed the ball to Matthew Jarvis on the left-flank, for his cross to be bundled into his own net by no other than James Milner. Wolves held on for much of the second half but eight minutes before the end Emile Heskey worked well with Steve Sidwell whose shot was directed into the back of the net by Carew.

The Villans never once looked like the team with the best defensive record in the Premier League after conceding two cheap goals to the league’s lowest scorers. The Villa faithful expressed their distress at Carlos Cuellar in particular who had a less than impressive performance at right-back, allowing Jones to step inside him in the build-up to the second goal. Brad Friedel lacked his usual decisiveness after staying on the goal line when the free-kick was floated in by Jones for Wolves’ opener. Heskey was also targeted by the Villa fans as they chanted Nathan Delfouneso’s name in the hope that O’Neill would introduce another striker into the fray to provide more potency upfront. With Gabriel Agbonlahor injured, his pace was sorely missed up front and Carew and Heskey failed to significantly test Marcus Hahnemann – Ashley Young constantly delivered crosses into the box but neither striker could find the target. With eight attempts on goal in comparison to Heskey’s two, the Norwegian was a constant threat to the Wolves backline while the England international was not half as effective as his partner in the area.

The Villa manager was quick to defend his side when questioned on the half-time boos, “In the opening 20 minutes of the game, it was as good as we have played in recent times, I thought it was really scintillating. You should have got long odds on us being booed off at half-time. I suppose Carling Cup final, semi-final of the FA Cup and still battling here with nine games left in the league, maybe that should happen here every year. I expect [the boos] now. It’s the nature of the game, more so nowadays than ever before.” Despite only finding themselves in seventh place in the league, the expectations of Villa as a football club have increased dramatically and this was evident on Saturday. Villa are still on course for their second final appearance in a season and their chances of reaching fourth place are not out of reach, especially with nine more games to play. On Wednesday the Villains host an improving Sunderland side and with Manchester City in a difficult fixture against Everton, the Midlanders will need to obtain three points to keep the pressure on Roberto Mancini’s team. O’Neill still believes fourth place has not been decided yet, saying: “The race is well and truly on. We are not out of it.” Carew continues his impressive goal scoring form, while Young had an exceptional game with darting runs and dangerous crosses which would have surely impressed Fabio Capello who is still contemplating someone for the right-midfield spot.

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