Glensider at The Molinuex
Life has taught me many things, and the one thing that stood out above all others on this bright and brisk early autumn afternoon, was that nothing whets the appetite like a local derby. Wolverhampton Wanderes versus Aston Villa certainly falls into that category. O.K., so its not on a par with the Brummagem derby, or for those of us who were around in the sixties, seventies, and early eighties, the meetings with our friends from Sandwell, but Villa vs Wolves is a rivalry that goes back a long, long way. A meeting between arguably the West Midlands all-time two most successful clubs. Well, not arguably, more actual fact.
We’ve enjoyed some decent meetings with the Wolves down the years, both at Brummagem B6 and at The Molinuex, and we have some great memories of tussles dating back to the sixties. Who could forget Peter Withe’s late winner at The Molinuex in our League Championship winning campaign, or Sid Cowans’ delightful chip in a League Cup tie second leg meeting at the same venue, a superb effort that even had the Molinuex faithful applauding.
Great memories, but as we enjoyed our pre-match refreshments before heading off to Wolverhampton (yours truly being the designated driver this afternoon, so tonic water for I), we held high hopes for some more memories to be made this afternoon, memories that would be savoured and cherished in the years ahead, and we were confident that we’d be journeying home post game in celebratory mood, following us clinching our first away success of the new campaign. After disappointments up on Tyneside and in the potteries, we away supporters needed a lift, and pocketing the three points on offer today would certainly appease. The feelings amongst the four of us were that we should have too much quality for Mick McCarthy’s lads if we performed to our potential, and hopefully also, the new manager syndrome should work in our favour, with players giving it that little bit extra as they strive to impress. Wolves though certainly look a stronger outfit than they were last season, and with McCarthy doing a tremendous job there, we were going to have to be at our best to return home with the bragging rights.
We all agreed that it would be very interesting to see how we approached the game. A lot of Houlliers critics claim that he is too defensive minded, yet his charges at Anfield, no less than Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard, remember him to be extremely tactically astute, and what with plenty of talented individuals within the claret and blue ranks, we expect him to allow the lads to fully express themselves, without neglecting their defensive duties. At least he’ll have a Plan B at the ready commented friend Neil, and the other three of us nodded in agreement. In our little betting pool I’d gone for a 3-1 Villa win, believing that the twenty quid on offer was as good as mine, two others went for a draw, 0-0 and 1-1, while the fourth guy went for a 1-0 win for the claret and blue boys.
And so off we headed for the very short run up the M6, Buddy Holly serenading us from the car cd player, four happy, excited little Villans looking forward to an afternoon of entertainment and success. Is there a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?
No real surprises with Gerard’s first premier league team selection since 2004, the good guys lining up as follows:-
Brad Friedel, Luke Young, Carlos Cuellar, James Collins, Stephen Warnock, Stewie Downing, Marc Albrighton, Nigel Reo-Coker, Stan Petrov, Ashley Young, and Emile Heskey.
On the bench we had Stephen Ireland, Eric Lichaj, Brad Guzan, Barry Bannan, Steve Sidwell, Gabby Agbonlahor, and Curtis Davies.
We got the game underway, and made quite a bright start. Three early attacks on the Wanderers goal, all of which unfortunately came to nothing with Hahnemann in the home goal collecting the ball on each occasion. At the other end Edwards was played through by Kevin Doyle, but he shot wide following a challenge by Stephen Warnock. It was a decent start by both teams, and it looked like developing into a typical high tempo local derby.
We saw a good surging run from Nigel Reo-Coker, who carried the ball from the half-way line to the edge of the Wolves penalty area, but he failed to notice Stewart Downing unmarked to his left, and the chance was lost. Then Marc Albrighton swung in a teasing cross from the right, the ball found Big Emile a couple of yards beyond the far post, but the centre-forward was unable to connect cleanly, to what was in a truth a difficult chance.
Stephen Warnock received the first yellow of the afternoon, following a late challenge on Edwards, but we continued to push forward, with Nigel Reo-Coker prepared to support Emile and Ash at every opportunity.
Hahnemann stopped a goal bound header from James Collins following a right wing corner, and within a couple of minutes we had taken the lead.
Big Emile carried the ball across the Wolves penalty area, found young Marc Albrighton wide right, and his superb low cross was turned in by Stewie Downing at the far post. A quality goal, and a deserved scoreline. Cue celebrations amongst the traveling diehard Villans. Great work by Emile to find Albie, and a superb cross by our England under 21 international winger. Stewie finished well too, with his weaker right foot. I’ve seen us miss those before.
To their credit though the Wolves lads really came back at us. Ex-Burnley man Fletcher let fly with a lovely left-foot volley that flew towards our goal. Brad was able to push it away, only for Fletcher to send the ball back into the mix. Kevin Doyle turned it goalwards, only for Brad to again make a decent stop to keep our lead intact.
Half-time arrived, and things were looking pretty good. We were ahead, playing some decent stuff, and although the home team had had their moments, we were looking comfortable.
No changes made by either manager at the break, and it was easy to understand why. Neither side looked out of it, and both managers surely had to be pleased with what they had seen from their players throughout the first forty-five.
Wolves certainly looked the brighter side though as the second half got underway, while Stephen Warnock received a talking to from referee Halsey at the fifty minute mark, following a challenge on Doyle near the half-way line.
We had really lost our shape, couldn’t string two passes together, and as soon as we gained possession, we couldn’t wait to give it straight back to an old gold shirt. Our worries and concerns became reality on the hour, when Jarvis, out on the left wing, checked onto his right foot, and swung in a hopeful cross towards Doyle. The Wolves striker couldn’t get a touch, but he did enough to distract Brad Friedel, and before we knew it, the ball was in the back of our net, and the score was tied. Groans all round. The goal had been coming though, we had completely lost our way.
Gerard Houllier sent on Gabby in place of Marc Albrighton, and slowly but surely we began to get our game back together again. Ash sent in a 20-yard effort towards the top corner, drawing a fine one-handed save from Hahnemann, and Emile flashed a header wide following a Stewie free kick.
The game had turned decidedly scrappy, and it looked to be heading towards a draw, a result that probably neither manager really wanted, yet neither team appeared capable of creating the opportunity that would allow them to take all three points.
Steve Sidwell came on for Stan Petrov after eighty-five minutes, and within a couple of minutes we were back in front, Emile Heskey rising like a salmon to steer Stephen Warnock’s left wing cross past the despairing dive of Hahnemann. 2-1 to the claret and blue boys, and party time amongst the traveling support.
We negotiated the last three minutes of normal time, plus some lengthy added time, fairly comfortably, although Steve Sidwell did manage to get himself booked for a challenge on the Wolves substitute Guedioura.
So, first premier league win for Gerard Houllier, and our first away success of the campaign. Quite an enjoyable afternoon.
Did we deserve it? Well, you’re asking the wrong guy that question, because my response would be, ‘Of course we did’. Actually, considering the extent of their second half possession, the Wolves lot might claim themselves to be somewhat unlucky, but in truth they didn’t really create too much, and lets face it, dominating possession without creating and converting chances isn’t going to win you any points.
A victory for us of course, was all important. We’ve got a tricky run of games ahead of us, and this result will hopefully set us up very nicely. It gives Gerard Houllier and his staff a little more breathing space to work with the lads and get their ideas across, and hopefully we’ll arrive at White Hart Lane next weekend, with a little more confidence restored, as we prepare ourselves to face Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham.
Have yourselves a great week my friends. And don`t work too hard!
Glensider at The Molinuex
Glensider at The Molinuex