Anwar El Ghazi has been squeezed out of Aston Villa’s starting lineup this season but he came off the bench to decide this fiery Midlands derby, converting a penalty deep into stoppage time. That was the telling twist in a match featuring several critical saves by Villa’s goalkeeper, Emi Martínez, as well as 11 yellow cards and reds for Douglas Luiz and João Moutinho, shown by Mike Dean. The second booking of the game, that of Matty Cash, was the 3,000th yellow card of the referee’s career.
Perhaps it was prescient, ironic wit that drove the Molineux DJ to play the Who’s Baba O’Riley – with its lyrics about a teenage wasteland – before kick-off in a match when both sides gave first Premier League starts to players born since the turn of the century. This proved to be quite the initiation for Jacob Ramsey, a 19-year-old graduate of Villa’s academy, and Fábio Silva, the 18-year-old signed by Wolves in September from Porto for a club-record £35m.
Given he had been assigned an almost impossible mission – to replace the injured Raúl Jiménez – Silva was under particular focus. He came close to earning victory in the second half only for his shot to cannon back off a post, but in general a player who had made one league start in his native Portugal before joining Wolves looked like what he is: a talented player in the early stage of development.
The whole Wolves team are honing their identity, a challenge complicated by the loss of Jiménez. They showed encouraging signs here after an uncertain start and might have won if not for Villa’s goalkeeper and Nélson Semedo’s late foul on John McGinn.
Wolves again began with a back four but were outplayed for the first half-hour by more fluent visitors, with Ramsey slotting into a relatively settled side. Villa could not, however, turn territorial domination into clear openings. The closest they came to scoring in the first half was when Ezri Konsa nodded a mighty throw-in from Cash a few inches wide. Then Wolves grew in menace.
Tyrone Mings deflected a shot by Daniel Podence wide after snazzy work by Pedro Neto. Podence shimmied past McGinn before drilling a low shot from 20 yards that Martínez got down well to save. Three minutes later Podence led a counterattack before Adama Traoré crossed for Leander Dendoncker, who shot from 10 yards straight at Martínez.
Villa got back on the front foot in the second half. Douglas Luiz fired narrowly wide from the edge of the area in the 57th minute and Rui Patrício was stretched for the first time when Douglas Luiz fed Ollie Watkins, whose shot from the left of the box had to be beaten away by the goalkeeper at the near post.
Just as Villa sensed blood, Wolves nearly struck. As the irrepressible Podence scampered towards the visitors’ box, the ball ran for Silva, who showed predatory instincts to shoot first time through the legs of Konsa and beyond the reach of Martínez but the ball struck the upright. Magic by Neto presented Dendoncker with a chance in the 80th minute but Martínez saved the Belgian’s volley from 10 yards.
Wolves’ increased vibrancy inspired Silva to try to break the deadlock with an overhead kick, but Martínez foiled that fairytale finish. Douglas Luiz’s match came to an end in the 85th minute when he was shown a second yellow card for going elbow-first into an aerial challenge with Podence.
“There were a lot of soft yellows,” said Dean Smith, the Villa manager. “It was a competitive game, sometimes niggly, but did not warrant so many cards.”
Villa kept believing in a late twist and McGinn made it happen in stoppage time, when he was taken down in the box by Semedo. El Ghazi, assigned penalty duties in the wake of Watkins’ miss from the spot at Fulham, sent Patrício the wrong way and Wolves’s misery deepened when Moutinho was sent off for a late foul on the goalscorer.
“We created a lot of good, clear chances and we will try to keep on growing on this aspect,” said Wolves’ Nuno Espírito Santo. “Being more clinical is something that we need.”