It is “nice to dream” of a top-four finish, said midfielder Leander Dendoncker after his goal gave Wolves victory over Aston Villa, but he added that his side face a difficult task.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side are now fifth in the Premier League and only two points behind fourth-place Chelsea after their third win on the spin since the restart, although the Blues have a game in hand.
“Everyone dreams, but we also have to be realistic,” said Dendoncker. “We have some tough games coming up, but it is good – we took nine points from nine. We just have to do our best game by game.”
Wolves, surprisingly, only managed two efforts on goal on Saturday, but the Belgium midfielder made it count with their second when he struck low past Orjan Nyland after an excursion into the area.
As for Dean Smith’s men, they remain in 19th with 27 points. A draw could have lifted them out of the bottom three, which was as much as they looked like achieving at Villa Park.
Jack Grealish’s first-half low, driven effort was their only shot on target.
Wolves march on
Even when the most potent pair do not combine for a goal, they still manage to influence the outcome.
The partnership of Adama Traore and Raul Jimenez has provided 10 goals in the league this season, but for the only goal at Villa Park, their mere presence together had a impact.
Four Villa players surrounded the pair on the left side of the pitch before Jimenez dug out a ball into the area which resulted in Dendoncker’s strike. Traore had only been on the pitch for two minutes at that stage with Nuno electing to rest the Spaniard, taking into account the busy schedule.
The only other clear opportunity for Nuno’s men came when the ball fell to Diogo Jota who elected power instead of accuracy after the ball slipped out of Nyland’s hand as he attempted to find a team-mate.
As an attacking force the visitors were not at their most threatening but a solid defensive display, led by the impressive Willy Boly, meant they did not have to change gears.
Worrying signs from ineffective Villa
Smith will not need reminding that time is running out. With Liverpool and then Manchester United on the horizon, Villa’s position could fast become that little bit more precarious.
It has been a season of taking one step forward and two steps back for the promoted side. Following the boost from earning a deserved point at St James’ Park in midweek, they perhaps should have taken the initiative against a Wolves side not at their most cavalier.
Villa had enough of the possession around the area, but their movement was ponderous at times and the Wolves back line easily dealt with the tame deliveries.
Understandably, they looked to Grealish – their conductor in attack and top scorer with nine goals – to create opportunities, and he impressed again. There was one dazzling moment of skill in the first half when he tip-toed past challenges on the left before winning a corner, and he also tested the palms of Rui Patricio with a low, firm shot.
In the build-up to this match, Smith said that his side needed to be more clinical, but they did not appear to heed those words. Neither of the strike-force of Mbwana Samatta and Keinan Davis got much service nor did they look like much of a threat.
Grealish cannot get them out of this position alone – his team-mates need to urgently step up.
Man of the match – Leander Dendoncker (Wolves)
‘Crazy to play four games in 11 days’ – reaction
Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo speaking to BBC Sport:
“I’m happy with the hard work of the players, but we did not start well. We were not able to have our possession. We won a lot of second balls which was important in this game.
“The aim of the second half, after we scored, was to hold on and stay compact but after that we did not create many chances.
“I’m very happy for Leander Dendoncker – he gives so much to us and he truly deserves this moment.”
On moving into fifth: “What’s in front of us will be very tough, but it’s a welcome week to recover. We will prepare ourselves to compete and see what happens.”
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith speaking to BBC Sport: “We were the better team before the break – not many teams have created chances against us. We more than matched a top-six team today, but they managed to get a goal from the edge of the box out of nothing, and we didn’t convert the chances we had.
“We started the game well, put good balls in from set-pieces, but our headers were probably not as good as they should have been. I thought today was about fatigue – crazy to play four games in 11 days.
“Right from the start it is fine margins. I think we look a sound team, we are hard to beat and I am sure the teams we play will say that too, but we just probably need a bit of quality in the final third.”
Another shutout for Wolves – the stats
- Wolves have completed a league double over Villa for the first time since the 1962-63 campaign.
- Wolves are unbeaten in Premier League games this season that have been level at half-time (W4 D8 L0), the only side with such an unbeaten record in the division.
- Villa have scored just two goals in their past six Premier League games, failing to score in four of those matches. The Villans only failed to find the net in five of their first 26 league games this season.
- Wolves have kept four successive clean sheets in the top-flight for the first time since the 1981-82 season (five shutouts between October-November 1981).
- Villa have conceded more Premier League goals than any other side in 2020 so far (24), with their only clean sheet coming against Sheffield United in the first game of the restart.
- Some 33 of Wolves’ 45 Premier League goals this season have come in the second half (73%); the highest ratio of any team in the competition this season.
- There were just three shots on target between Villa and Wolves. Three of the past four instances of three shots on target or fewer in a Premier League game have involved Wolves (Wolves v Bournemouth – two, Bournemouth v Crystal Palace – three, Wolves v Brighton – two).
Villa face champions Liverpool away next Sunday (16:30 BST) while Wolves are at home to Arsenal on Saturday (17:30 BST).