Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 – 0 Aston Villa
Whatever your expectations were for this season, ranking about number 2 or 3 – if not higher – was embracing mediocrity. Cuddle away.
Wolves wanted this one more than us; there’s no other way to put it. They were quick out of the blocks, and when the opening goal came, it was of little surprise. Sam Johnstone’s youth played a part in it but at this level, mistakes are punished, and the Manchester United loanee learned a painful lesson.
As soon as Wolves scored, there was little prospect of an equaliser. McCormack headed over the bar in what was probably the closest we came to an equaliser but three points? We just have them in us without a clean sheet. And as harsh as it seems, Johnstone has yet to show that he is the answer. Early days yet and hopefully we will see why United rate him.
The extent of Steve Bruce’s task was apparent before kick-off, and afterwards, it was another performance which underlined the poverty of goalscorers we have in the squad. McCormack, briefly the most expensive Championship player, is not showing the form we know from the YouTube clips and video reruns on Sky, that he is capable of. In Jonathan Kodjia’s absence, that’s a problem the manager has to solve quickly.
Strikers have to be at the forefront of Bruce’s mind this transfer window. The defence in conceding one goal per game and is holding up its end of the bargain; the forward line and midfield are averaging the same hence our +1 goal difference. After the initial boost in confidence, Bruce has been no more able to find consistency in our form than Di Matteo before him. At least we are winning games along the way now.
It is too late, though. Ten points adrift of Sheffield Wednesday in sixth, Bruce has a two-fold aim this season: finish as high as possible and find the base combinations which enable us to push for promotion next time around. The frustration is compounded by the knowledge that we are now picking up points at play-off pace. Everything about Bruce’s reign points to a place in the top six if we’d managed this form from August.
At which point, I’m nudged to remember that there was a match on Saturday. There was? There was. A shame we only turned up for twenty minutes. Despite controlling 56% of the possession, we managed just six efforts on goal, and none of them was on target. There’s a flaw if this is going to be our game plan for the rest of the season.
There’s a lot of hard work to be done at Bodymoor Heath this week if we’re to turn this kind of performance around. It’s just poor; losing a derby is never a fun experience, but if the team doesn’t turn up, it’s a million times worse. Especially when Wolves aren’t anywhere near the best side in the world.
We’ve seen better from the players this season, a lot better and despite what anyone says about entitlement, we do have a right to see better effort from them every week.