ASTON VILLA 2
Downing 6, Heskey 88
Gerard Houllier marked his return to the Premier League with hard-fought 2-1 victory over Wolves in a lively Midlands derby. Houllier’s faith in Emile Heskey – a player he signed for Liverpool in 2000 – was repaid when the striker rose majestically to head home a Stephen Warnock cross in the 88th minute.
Aston Villa, under new boss Houllier, played in a similar fashion to the system employed by former caretaker manger Kevin MacDonald. Villa lined up in a 4-4-1-1, which when in possession looked more like a 4-2-3-1, with both Mark Albrighton and Stuart Downing looking to push forward at any given opportunity. Ashley Young continued playing off a lone striker and remained Villa’s most dangerous player.
The match itself was a quintessential derby game – very open, played at a high intensity with a multitude of hard tackles and half chances. The Villains started out as the better side, playing at a quick tempo, looking to sting Wolves with fast, direct breaks. Heskey led the line well, with his physical presence and hard work creating space for the likes of Albrighton, Downing and Young. Villa’s opening goal was forged by their two wide players, a fast flowing move broke down on the edge of the Wolves’ penalty box and the loose ball fell to Albrighton, who whipped in a dangerous ball which Downing duly met at the far post to make it 1-0. However, as has been a feature of most of Villa’s games this season, having taken the lead the Villains struggled to capitalise on the advantage. They dropped deeper, struggled to maintain possession and were increasingly ineffectual on the counter attack.
In the second half Wolves were largely the better side, as Villa struggled to find a foothold in the game. Wolves’ aggression and drive paid dividends when Matt Jarvis’ dangerous in-swinging cross from the left found the net. For much of the second half Villa were disjointed. Ashley Young often found himself furthest up the field as Heskey came deeper to compete for long balls. Young cut an isolated figure as service to him was poor and support from midfield was rare.
As the game progressed, Villa found more fluency but remained second best, yet they were able to resist the determined Wolves assault, thanks largely to some dogged defending and a couple of great saves from Brad Friedel. As it happened Aston Villa produced the moment of quality that was enough to take all three points. In the 88th minute, Stephen Warnock, who could consider himself lucky to still be on the pitch after making two careless challenges having already been booked, conjured a good cross from the left flank that was met but a towering Heskey header to win the game.
Wolves may feel a little unfortunate as a draw would probably have been a fairer result, however, it proved to be a winning start for Houllier. His challenge is to instill more poise into this Villa team which again having taken the lead struggled to maintain control of the game.
2 L. Young – 24 Cuellar– 29 Collins – 3 Warnock
12 Albrighton – 20 Reo-Coker – 19 Petrov – 6 Downing
7 A. Young
67 min: Agbonlahor on for Albrighton
86 min: Sidwell on for Petrov