Wolves continued their charge for a Premier League top-four finish as Leander Dendoncker’s second-half strike earned them victory at under-pressure Aston Villa.
The visitors, surprisingly, only managed two efforts on goal but they made it count with their second when the Belgium midfielder made a foray forward before striking low past Orjan Nyland.
It is now three wins out of three following the restart and Nuno Espirito Santo’s side are fifth on 52 points with Chelsea, above them on 54, in their sights.
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.