Aston Villa 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1
The memories of Aston Villa’s last Wembley visit remain vivid for Dean Smith and he is now allowing himself to dream of a return.
Villa’s return to the Premier League was secured at the national stadium in May and Smith is now in the last eight of the Carabao Cup after edging past Wolves in an underwhelming Midlands derby.
This bitter local argument was lacking most of the usual star names and it was Ahmed Elmohamady, captain for the night, who produced the crucial contribution with a rare and timely winning goal.
Villa were far from fluent in front of a sell-out crowd yet did just enough to reach the last eight for the first time since the 2012/13 season.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s drastic tinkering with his Wolves team, in which he changed the entire starting XI from Premier League duty, ensures this local derby will be a different proposition when they meet again at Molineux next month.
Smith said: “Football has always been about trying to win something so why not go all out to win it? You only get three opportunities if you’re not in Europe.
“You enter three competitions and the title slipped away from us on Saturday so we have the Carabao Cup and FA Cup to fight for.
“You want to finish as high as we can and this is a priority as well. We have a proud history in this cup, have won it five times, and want to continue to win it more and have days like we had in May at Wembley.
“There’s still a long way to go but it was a deserved victory.”
While Villa are hoping for a favourable draw on Thursday morning, Nuno Espirito Santo can at least worry less about fixture congestion.
This was the 21st game of Wolves’s season so far, due to their energy-sapping Europa League commitments, and it was quite apparent from the starting XI where this competition ranked in Nuno’s list of priorities.
He made a staggering 11 changes to the team which drew at Newcastle on Sunday, with full debuts for teenagers Chem Campbell, Dion Sanderson and Taylor Perry. Campbell, a forward wearing the No 77 jersey, is now the club’s second youngest ever player.
Villa’s team was also unrecognisable from the one which lost at Manchester City, but were dominant in the early stages and finally made their pressure count in the 28th minute.
Henri Lansbury’s clever pass completely caught out the Wolves back five and Anwar El Ghazi ghosted into the penalty area to direct his shot under John Ruddy’s body.
Wolves had barely been functioning as an attacking unit yet out of nowhere, with their first genuinely threatening attack on goal, they produced an equaliser through Patrick Cutrone in the 55th minute.
Perry was given too much space in the Villa area and his speculative shot was diverted past Jed Steer by the Italian forward.
Finally, this Midlands derby sparked into life and Wolves were level for just over two minutes. Lansbury’s low free kick found Ahmed Elmohamady at the near post and his flick caught out Ruddy, who once again should have done better. It was the Egyptian’s first Villa goal since August 2018.
Cutrone was presented with another chance to level the tie when he capitalised on Neil Taylor’s weak pass but his shot was smothered by Steer.
The tie was now end to end, with both teams producing frequent errors to infuriate their managers on the touchline. Ruddy saved from an El Ghazi header before the Villa winger flashed a shot wide from Neil Taylor’s cross.
Wolves were given hope by an extra six minutes of added time but never looked like troubling Steer again. Hostilities will be renewed at Molineux on November 10.
Nuno said: “The young players competed and gave everything, you have to give everything you’ve got.
“It’s a building process. Since the beginning we try to give competition to the young boys. Their families should be proud, they are good lads. I am just sorry that the result is not the one we wanted.”
Villa (4-3-3): Steer 6; Elmohamady 7, Konsa 7, Hause 6, Taylor 6; Lansbury 7 (McGinn 81), Douglas 7, Hourihane 7; El Ghazi 6, Davis 5 (Kodjia 50), Trezeguet 5.
Substitutes: Nyland (g), Chester, Nakamba, Wesley.
Wolves (3-4-3): Ruddy 5; Vallejo 5, Bennett 6, Kilman 6; Sanderson 6, Jordao 5 (Taylor 71), Perry 7, Vinagre 6; Campbell 5 (Ashley-Seal 68), Cutrone 6, Neto 5 (Cristovao 77).
Substitutes: Patricio (g), Samuels, Rasmussen, Richards.
Referee: Lee Mason (Cheshire)