Wolverhampton Wanderers shared the spoils with fellow Midlands rivals Aston Villa, with both sides unable to unearth a killer instinct in front of goal.
After succumbing to a heavy 4-1 trouncing at the hands of League leaders Manchester City on Tuesday, Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves were unable to return to winning ways.
The Portugese coach sanctioned a solitary change from his side’s trip to the Etihad, bringing in new signing Willian Jose in place of Ki-Jana Hoever.
— Wolves (@Wolves) March 6, 2021
Saturday’s hosts were also looking to recuperate, having slumped to a shock 1-0 defeat to basement side Sheffield United in the week.
Immediately, Dean Smith’s side roared out the blocks with intent and after three minutes, Ollie Watkins nearly drew first blood.
The former Brentford striker came just whiskers away from registering his eleventh goal of the campaign, releasing a thunderous strike from outside the area which struck the crossbar.
Unfazed, Aston Villa continued to dictate the tempo of the game and applied sustained pressure onto the visitors. In particular, Watkins stood out with his ability to hold the ball up and open space in behind.
And agonisingly, his extensive graft so nearly came to full fruition once more. Wolves stalwart Conor Coady was sent the wrong way by Watkins, but instead of firing a shot at goal, he unselfishly attempted to pick out Bertrand Traore.
Thankfully for the visitors, Jonny Otto was quickest to react and the ball was cleared away to safety.
Within moments, the woodwork would again prove to be Villa’s blockade. After receiving a flick on by Tyrone Mings, Ezri Konsa rattled the crossbar from merely five yards out.
As the first half progressed, the Villains showed no signs of surrendering their cemented grip on proceedings.
The industrious, organised midfield trio of John McGinn, Douglas Luiz and Morgan Sanson marshalled the middle of the park supremely and provided an assuring layer of protection to the Villa backline, affording Wolves virtually no sight of prosperity in the final third.
Illuminating what has been a prevalent, perilous hindrance for the wolf pack, the anguishing absence of Raul Jimenez and the focal point he brings was sorely felt.
Half time: Aston Villa 0-0 Wolverhampton Wanderers
It was thoroughly a game of two halves though, and as the two sides came back out for the latter 45 minutes, the visitors displayed an instant approach of resurgence.
Portugese starlet Pedro Neto was, by all accounts, the orchestrator of Wolves’ renewed sense of attacking endeavour.
Moments after the second half commenced, Neto utilised his soaring speed to devastating effect, blitzing down the wing and skinning Matt Targett before unleashing a powerful effort to force Emi Martinez into a first call of action.
Over the course of the evening, the Villa backline were simply powerless to prevent Neto’s creative onslaught; time and time again, the 20-year old sought to weave in and out of defences, spotlighting his dangerous ability to maneuver in tight spaces to devastating effect.
However, Wolves were soon left frustratingly pondering what could have been.
Neto crafted a precise ball into the area which initially met the head of Coady.
The former Liverpool man’s header rebounded off the post into the path of Romain Saiss. But despite finding himself unmarked, unchallenged and with an open goal from virtually the goalline, his effort miraculously sailed way over the bar.
Wolves were not done there though, and pursued their clutch on the rhythm of the game by testing Martinez repeatedly.
Coady’s daunting threat going forward was emphasised again as his low header seemed certain to rustle the back of the net, though dramatic heroics from the Argentine ensured his side were still in the game.
In stark contrast to the first half, Wolves’ defence was tight, compact and formidable, barely allowing Villa a sniff at goal.
And it continued this way until late on when Watkins forced an applaudable stop from Rui Patricio following a corner delivery from Ross Barkley.
Blessed with an inviting rebound, Konsa was granted a chance of redemption but could only watch on in vexation as his powerful strike rocketed into the Holte End.
Upon the final whistle, both sides rightfully felt aggrieved at their inability to convert a plentitude of consequential chances.
Full time: Aston Villa 0-0 Wolverhampton Wanderers
Alarmingly, it now marks 27 league fixtures without a goal for Spanish speed demon Adama Traore, who endured a period of peripherality against his former employers.
And the Molineux faithful are left wondering if Willian Jose is the awaited answer for their goalscoring woes.
After 8 matches, the Brazilian is yet to open his account for Wanderers, and with the least amount of touches for any starting player this evening, little signs are being shown of a productive awakening
Facing an out-of-form Wolves side, an especially entrancing opportunity to rekindle their European ambitions was carved for Aston Villa, and had they possessed a clinical edge, it could have been a monumental step in the heated race for Europa League Qualification.
Whilst Wolves are not harbouring such appetizing aspirations, they still had a fair share of chances to clinch three points from the showdown.
Looking ahead, the next two fixtures undoubtedly pose a colossal challenge for Nuno’s comrades. Next Monday, a jagged journey to Anfield beckons, where the two sides will be desperate to avenge their abject form as of late.
Subsequently, Wolves then host high-flying West Ham after the International break which will, without question, attest yet another taxing affair for the West Midlanders.
On the other hand, their opponents travel to relegation-threatened Newcastle on Friday before welcoming a rejuvenated Tottenham Hotspur to Villa Park.
Ultimately, the tightly-contested clash was a prominent embodiment of how badly the two talismanic figures are missed for each side.
You have to feel if a Jack Grealish or a Raul Jimenez was in action, an extra lease of invention and marksmanship would have been pivotally injected.
Wolves MOTM: Pedro Neto