At the final whistle Leon Bailey lay face down, his head buried in the turf, doubtless replaying his stoppage-time miss over in his mind. Danny Ings rushed over to drag his distraction Aston Villa teammate to his feet but Bailey pulled his shirt over his eyes and headed down the tunnel in tears. With 15 minutes to play Ings, thrown on as part of a triple substitution, canceled out Daniel Podence’s classy opener and in the third of four added second-half minutes Bailey rounded the Wolves goalkeeper, José Sá, but somehow failed to apply the most simple of finishes.
Bailey will not need reminding about the opportunity and Unai Emery was never going to chastise his player. “He was crying but it’s good because he was feeling,” Emery said. “He was taking responsibility to score and he didn’t do it. I’m very happy with his commitment and performances of him. It was good to learn more with him.” Bailey said on Instagram: “I feel at blame for not coming away with all 3 points tonight. It’s really hard to take and I’m very disappointed in myself. Surely it will be very difficult to sleep tonight but I’ll try to keep my head up.”
When Emery and Julen Lopetegui last duelled on the touchline, in La Liga in September, their respective Villarreal and Sevilla sides could not be pulled apart and here the managers had to settle for another point. Emery and Lopetegui both hail from the Basque Country and were appointed to rescue missions in cooler climes at these Midlands rivals within 10 days of each other. Both Emery and Lopetegui have given their clubs a lift but they recognize the need for improvements, with both clubs hopeful of being busy in the January transfer window. “We’re a little bit disappointed but it’s a good thing for us,” Lopetegui said. “We are believing more in ourselves and ready for a long, hard race.”
Five minutes before kick-off Emiliano Martínez took to the pitch parading the Golden Glove award last seen covering his crotch on the winners’ podium in Qatar and soaked up the adulation from the Villa support after becoming the club’s first player to lift the World Cup. The Argentina goalkeeper made few friends in the final and his antics, notably throwing the ball away for Aurélien Tchouaméni to fetch before the midfielder missed his penalty in the shootout, prompted the French Football Federation to lodge a formal complaint. Martinez is adored in these parts, though.
He returned to Emery’s starting lineup and had only a couple of touches by the time he was fishing the ball out of his net in 12 minutes. Podence and João Moutinho exchanged passes down the right flank and the latter released the former into the 18-yard box. Podence powered into the Villa area, sashayed past Douglas Luiz with ease and lashed a left-foot shot into the far corner. Goals have been hard to come by for Wolves this season – only Gillingham have scored fewer in English football’s top four tiers – but this was a beauty to cherish.
Emery knew he had to change something at half-time and introduced Philippe Coutinho in place of Ashley Young. Lopetegui, too, made a change and Adama Traoré entered in place of Podence. Villa kept plugging away but Emery was kicking his heels as his side as he struggled to test Sá in the Wolves goal. Traoré wasted Wolves’s best chance of the second period; after easily chopping inside the Villa centre-back Tyrone Mings he wellied his shot over the bar.
Lopetegui is animated at the best of times and flew off down the touchline after the Villa midfielder Boubacar Kamara was presented with a half-chance from the edge of the box. Lopetegui made plain his unhappiness at Traoré’s reticence to track back. Perhaps the winger could learn a thing or two from Diego Costa, who raced back to dispossess Coutinho 20 yards from the Wolves goal. At times Costa, who hurt after Villa defenders all evening, was like a man possessed.
Emery made a triple change a minute after Matheus Cunha, the Atlético Madrid loanee, replaced Costa for his Wolves debut, and how it worked. Ludwig Augustinsson, on in place of Lucas Digne, would have volleyed in but for a heroic clearance by Max Kilman and three minutes later Ings struck his leveller. Mings looped a simple ball down the middle of the pitch and Ings feasted on some slack defending to stroke a shot past Sá and in to earn a point.