At the final whistle it was hard to tell which was loudest – the triumphant cheering of Wolves' travelling support, celebrating their first win over Aston Villa in 31 years – or the booing that accompanied Gérard Houllier's long and lonely walk back to the tunnel.
Six places – but only four points – had separated these sides in the league in a derby game that both teams desperately needed to win. By the end Villa were left two points above the relegation zone, while Wolves remain in the drop zone through goal difference.
That Mick McCarthy's side won was something of a fairytale for the team with the worst away record in the league, a club who had failed to keep a clean sheet at Villa Park since 1963.
From the start Wolves began as the brighter team, Nenad Milijas's shot saved by Brad Friedel in the opening minutes of the game, and there was more to come from the visitors, attacking in waves, hurrying their hosts on the ball.
Houllier had promised Villa fans that his team were hungry for victory after the defeat at Bolton two weeks ago and, with the instigators of a drunken fracas on a team bonding trip sidelined through injury, there was some semblance of unity on the pitch, albeit with a makeshift defence. But though Villa came close several times in the first half – crosses into the box met with misdirected headers – the home side just could not score. Instead, Wolves neatly took advantage with a brilliant finish from Matt Jarvis.
Christophe Berra's rising header won the ball for the 24-year-old, who volleyed it right-footed, with pinpoint accuracy, on to the inside post to rebound gladly into the back of the net. From the home fans, amid the half-time rush for chips and teas, rose a resounding boo.
Villa were no better after the break. Darren Bent's effort from a free-kick hit the wall – after a foul that had the Villa bench calling for a penalty – while at the other end, also from a free-kick on the edge of the area, Jamie O'Hara's effort sailed inches wide.
When Houllier substituted the local whizz kid Marc Albrighton for Gabby Agbonlahor, there was a roar of protest. "You don't know what you're doing," sang the fans. Houllier shrank further into his coat collar, hiding in the dugout.
With 10 minutes left Ashley Young struck the underside of the bar, throwing his hands up to the sky as the ball bounced down on the wrong side of the line.
Houllier practically whispered his way through the post-match press conference. "I would say I share their frustrations," he said of the hostility from the fans. "They're not happy with me, I'm not happy with what we're doing at the moment. The boys tried hard, played well, created enough chances." Did it hurt to hear them question his expertise? "I try not to think about it," he said. "But just reassure them, I know what I'm doing."
Meanwhile, McCarthy warned against getting carried away with Wolves' current run of form – one defeat in six now. "I said we hoped we would drag them into the mire with us and there's no question that's where they are now … but we've still got eight to play."
Asked if he felt sympathy for Houllier, a slow smile spread across McCarthy's face. "I don't like to hear any manager getting hostility," he said. "But I'd prefer it to be him than me so, no, to be honest I don't give a flying flute. I can empathise with him, I've been there, but 'sympathy' is not the word. Look it up in the dictionary, it's between shit and syphilis."
THE FANS' PLAYER RATINGS AND VERDICT
JONATHAN FEAR, AstonVilla.VitalFootball.co.uk There were a lot of shocked and disappointed faces among the home fans, especially at the end. Whether Gérard Houllier has been unlucky, or misunderstood, I don't really care. The fans aren't behind him, and it doesn't look as if all the players are. They just didn't play as a team, and too many of them were played out of position. And then he takes off our best player, Albrighton, and replaces him with a 37-year-old Frenchman rather than our club captain, Petrov. I've fretted about this match for the past two weeks and now I am extremely worried. We are only three points away from the bottom.
The fan's player ratings Friedel 5; Walker 5, Cuellar 5, Herd 6, Baker 4 (Delph 33 5); Albrighton 7 (Agbonlahor 61 4), Reo-Coker 4 (Pires 61 3), Makoun 4, Downing 6; Young 4, Bent 5
LOUIE SILVANI, MyWolvesblog.com We hadn't won at Villa Park in more than 30 years, but we were strangely confident. The fact that they weren't playing Petrov, and were without two central defenders, meant this was going to be the best chance we had to get something here for many years. Matt Jarvis has taken a lot of stick recently after missing a couple of chances for us, but he got his goal against Blackpool and he took his goal brilliantly. Not only that, but he also tracked back really well, and he had to because Walker was lightning fast at full-back. We've lost one in six now, and we've got a big game next at Newcastle.
The fan's player ratings Hennessey 7; Foley 7, Stearman 6, Berra 7, Elokobi 6; Hammill 7 (Ebanks-Blake 65 6), Milijas 7, Henry 9, O'Hara 6, Jarvis 9 (Ward 80 6); Doyle 7
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