Aston Villa were one of the worst teams – or rather put in one of the worst performances – I have seen at Molineux this season (our own lacklustre fumblings included). Wolves, on the other hand, produced by far their first half performance. This game should have been won but for three things; Berra’s clumsiness, Henry’s stupidity, and Robbie Keane’s brilliance; and the greatest of these was, inevitably, Robbie Keane.
Plenty of people might have suspected it was written in the stars that Keane would get a goal today, but I suspect few foresaw what a pivotal part he was to play. I’ve not been bothered for years about seeing him back at Molineux, but this was certainly the worst-case scenario for any Wolves fan his second coming.
The first significant action of the game happened when Berra dithered over a Jarvis backpass into the penalty box, allowed Bent to dispossess him, and then clumsily felled the attacker on the road to nowhere in the back corner of the penalty box. A completely indisputable penalty and a completely unnecessary one.
Bent slotted away a poor penalty and Villa were ahead. As seems to be the way with this Wolves team, going behind stirred them to show that they could attack, and as they proved on this occasion, in spectacular fashion too. First on 21 minutes, Frimpong skillfully set up Kightly who produced a perfect shot from the edge of the penalty area to beat several players and the keeper and to level the game. Kightly and Frimpong in particular continued to delight, with Jarvis also proving a headache for his opponents as we have so regularly seen.
It was unfortunate that the ever-energetic Edwards didn’t show the same composure and we had seen moments before, hitting a great opportunity unmarked from the centre of the penalty box tamely straight at Given. Moments later he was able to atone by flicking Johnson’s header past the keeper from a few yards out. Wolves continued to dominate, with the bad guys surviving another goalmouth scramble to go in at half time only one goal behind.
It was inevitable in the second half that Villa would improve: They’re not a bad team I hear, but actually they didn’t look up to much at Molineux. Neither, unfortunately did Wolves after such a promising first half. It could be argued that bringing on Warnock after the break stifled Kightly, but realistically he already looked tired, but was mainly isolated by Wolves’s insistence that attacking via Jarvis on the left was suddenly the only way forward. While he was still often able to beat the pair of Villa players who were able to concentrate their energies on him, the tactic was predictable, and the quality of crosses in the circumstances inevitably variable.
Four things conspired to break this dull deadlock. First Keane produced a brilliant quickfire strike from outside the penalty area. Hennessey may well think he could have done better, and it was worrying to see the otherwise excellent Welshman beaten again from long-range, but there’s no disputing the quality of the strike. Then Henry, slightly backheeled Albrighton who had been hanging onto his other leg resolutely for a few seconds while the referee watched on. A completely indisputable sending off and a completely unnecessary one, although never a dangerous move, just a silly, frustrated one. Granted it was frustrating that a foul should already have been called, and granted Albrighton made an embarrassing meal of the incident, but it was the worst way for Henry to end an otherwise excellent game for him. Albrighton is the only Villa player I would have taken into our team based on their showing yesterday, but were he a Wolves player I hope I would still have had the sense to be ashamed of his behavior.
Then Frimpong, such a key driving force until then, was carried off with an eye injury after an unfortunate collision with Petrov’s boot. I wish him a very swift recovery – apart from anything else, it looks like we’re really going to need him.
Then from long range again Robbie Keane produced surely the best strike we’ll see from him in the remainder of his career, and the rest is history. With 10 man Wolves had a frantic last eight minutes, but it was too little, too late.
So there we have it, in 90 minutes, Villa mustered an undisputed, but completely Wolves self-inflicted penalty and two brilliant goals. This would not have happened on another day and we would have won the game. This loss was not down to ill-luck, as McCarthy implied in his otherwise spot on post-match interview, but to both genius (of the type I’m prepared to bet we won’t see from Keane again) and of stupidity from Henry and, particularly Berra (of the type I’m prepared to hope we will not see again) and therefore, while trying not to read too much into a good 35 minutes of play, can be considered a freak result.
Devastating as the second half was to witness, the selection was right, Kightly and Frimpong both showed themselves to be game-changing additions to the starting line up, and I’m sticking with the whole team, management and all, to turn around this sinking ship. Just.