Aston Villa 2-2 Wolves

Young impresses as Villa labour

March 20, 2010
By Richard Jolly, Villa Park
(Archive)

Pressure is a constant at this time of the season, but when an upright figure with designer glasses is in the stands, there can be still more. Attempting to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since they entered the European Cup as holders in 1982-83 may be stressful enough for Aston Villa; their English contingent had the further complication of Fabio Capello's presence at Villa Park.

Wolves
GettyImagesWolves celebrate the opener.

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The Italian can display a fine line in inscrutability. That may be as well for the five contenders for a place in his squad on a day to confound expectations - not least, perhaps, the England manager's own.

Wolves threatened an upset and emerged with a point to damage Villa's quest for a top-four finish. Of the quintet who prompted Capello's presence, the stellar display came from the individual, in Ashley Young, who is least likely to summer in South Africa.

The man who, judging by Capello's regular preference for pairing him with Wayne Rooney, has the greatest chance of a starting berth, Emile Heskey, produced another underwhelming display. His habitual failure to score means his tally for the campaign stands at five in 38 games. While the ultimate unselfish striker played a part in John Carew's equaliser, before then the Villa supporters had called for the introduction of the teenage ingénue, Nathan Delfouneso, at his expense.

Martin O'Neill did not heed those calls, providing a reminder that managers tend to appreciate Heskey more than most. He did remove Stewart Downing, however, who was overshadowed by the electric Young and as his replacement, Steve Sidwell, was another to contribute to Carew's second, it was a successful switch. Stephen Warnock, who was overlooked by Capello when Leighton Baines was preferred against Egypt, did little to elevate himself in the pecking order.

Meanwhile, Young suggested that, while David Beckham is sidelined, he is the most accurate crosser of a ball at Capello's disposal, and that, unlike Shaun Wright-Phillips, he can ally a turn of pace with consistent delivery.

"I thought Young was exceptional," said O'Neill. "I'm very, very pleased. He really was magnificent. He made the first goal but his overall game was top class."

Time will tell if Capello concurred. What is certain is that he is an admirer of Milner. After leaving his post on the right flank to move infield, the 24-year-old has revelled in his central role. He may have taken his ubiquity a touch too far on this occasion by accidentally providing Wolves' second goal but it showed a sense of responsibility that he materialised six yards from his own goal, while marking David Jones, to convert Matt Jarvis' cross.

For a man who has turned honest toil into a virtue, it was unsurprising he was there. But Milner's advance in the current campaign is reminiscent of Frank Lampard's development a few years ago or Darren Fletcher's last season: it is not so much that one aspect of his game has improved as every element appears that bit sharper. His passing range was apparent in the opening goal when he found Young. Setting the tone for his afternoon, the winger eluded the hapless Ronald Zubar rather too easily. His cross was turned in by Carew.

John Carew and Ashley Young
GettyImagesJohn Carew and Ashley Young were Villa's key men against Wolves

"We started brilliantly," added O'Neill. His side did, but Wolves took an unexpected half-time lead. First Jones' free kick led to a rather unconventional and probably unintentional assist from Zubar, who turned the ball into Craddock's path to finish. Then Milner struck for the men from Molineux.

That led to some boos at half-time, a reaction that disappointed O'Neill. "Being in the Carling Cup final, the semi-finals of the FA Cup and still being in the hunt for Champions League football with nine games to go isn't enough," said the Villa manager. "Maybe that should be happening every season. Maybe that's not enough."

Nevertheless, his side maintained their record as the only unbeaten side in the Premier League in 2010 when Carew applied a faint touch to Sidwell's shot. For Mick McCarthy, the irritation was his centre-backs' inability to defend Friedel's long kick. "You work on that since you're four and then five and then six," he said. "It's a poor goal to concede. I thought the first goal was offside, but the second we defended badly."

But he added: "It's a fabulous point and a terrific performance." McCarthy's unique interpretation of the English language can bemuse and amuse in equal measure and he said: "We could have won it, but coulda, woulda, shoulda."

MAN OF THE MATCH: Ashley Young - He befuddled Zubar throughout and he was "mesmerising," according to his manager. "If the England manager was here, that can only be good news for Ashley," said O'Neill. This guess is, Young's excellence notwithstanding, it will not quite be enough.

ASTON VILLA VERDICT: Carew's brace took his tally to seven goals in six games. With Gabriel Agbonlahor absent with a foot problem, his return to goalscoring form is vital. The first 20 minutes illustrated Villa's ability but, while O'Neill is correct to point out that this was far from an easy game, it was two points dropped nonetheless.

WOLVES VERDICT: McCarthy's team selection at Old Trafford in December caused controversy but, with rather less fanfare, he has now selected the same side for the last six games. Continuity has brought some reward, but it places a huge onus on the sole striker Kevin Doyle. Perhaps not coincidentally, his goals have dried up of late. It may be just as well that the division's lowest scorers have benefited from two own goals in as many games.