Not even the most optimistic Wolves fan would have envisaged the paroxysms of glee that engulfed the away section when, with 10 minutes to go, their team trailed 2-0 to their nearest Premier League rivals. But in the fifth minute of stoppage time, Rúben Neves’s deflected free-kick completed a remarkable recovery as Aston Villa somehow let this West Midlands derby slip from their grasp.
The Wolves players were at the right end to run over and share the celebrations with their fans after their manager, Bruno Lage, went for broke with his attacking substitutions, elevating his team into eighth place. How fortune favoured the brave.
Lage explained that he wanted to get Daniel Podence and Fábio Silva in between the lines, and as the game’s momentum reversed, the visitors’ penetration did increase with Raúl Jiménez, on as a substitute, sending the Villa defensive line into retreat and Adama Traoré causing problems in more advanced areas.
“I’m happy because we made the right decisions, not [just] because we won the game,” Lage said. “These are the kind of days I want to live in my career, I want to have as a manager. I’m not a big emotional guy [but] this is a special game we will remember.”
Villa, having led through goals from Danny Ings and John McGinn, lost their composure after Romain Saïss converted Podence’s low cross. Five minutes later Conor Coady bundled home the equaliser. The collapse was complete when Traoré was tripped just outside the penalty area by Jacob Ramsey and Neves’s free-kick left Emiliano Martínez diving the wrong way after a ricochet off Matt Targett. As Villa lost at home for the first time this season, this was Wolves’ fourth win in five games, yet they were second best for most of the game.
The Villa manager, Dean Smith, said the home dressing room was “pretty silent” afterwards. “I’m still trying to process it,” he said. “I don’t think the momentum changed, I don’t think it was anything tactical. I thought the performance today was good but unfortunately the last 10 minutes we didn’t defend our box as well as we should’ve done.”
Wolves have been the better team on paper this season but the home side dominated for much of the game and deserved their lead, wrought early in the second half.
Villa’s non-penalty expected goals before this game would have had them in 17th place but the chances they created in the first half offered a truer representation of their decent form. McGinn struck a superb left-foot shot just wide from 25 yards before Matty Cash’s superb cross invited Emiliano Buendía to clip a neat volley which went just wide. It looked a matter of time before Villa would score and José Sá, the Wolves goalkeeper, had to make a brilliant save from Ings, sent in by Buendía’s cute diagonal pass.
Wolves regained a foothold in the game in the 15 minutes before half-time after Traoré, the former Villa winger, beat four players in an amazing burst through the middle before striking his shot too close to Martínez, allowing the Villa keeper to save.
But at the start of the second half, Wolves kept Villa waiting as their dressing room was on the second floor and when they did emerge, they were still behind the pace. The home team ripped into them with a renewed energy and gained their due reward within three minutes.
Cash played the ball down the right for McGinn to hold off then turn Saïss with some ease and cross right-footed for Ings, who arrived late to head home his first goal in six games.
McGinn continues to provide the heartbeat of this Villa side and midway through the second half he appeared to have sealed the victory when his left-foot shot deflected heavily off Neves to leave Sá wrong-footed.
Wolves delayed introducing Jiménez but in changing shape to something like 4-2-3-1 gained a semblance of hope when Saïss scythed home Podence’s low cross following Neves’s superb diagonal pass. Then came the scrambled equaliser as Coady nudged the ball over the line five minutes from time from Leander Dendoncker’s low centre after Max Kilman had thundered a header against the bar and Traoré recycled the ball.