Shropshire Star

Matt Maher: Derby dust-up plays out pretty much as expected

When the final whistle sounded at Villa Park on Saturday evening, the result was what most expected when the line-ups were announced three hours previously.

Aston Villa's Ezri Konsa (centre) celebrates scoring their side's second goal of the game

Over 90 minutes on the pitch, the home team simply had too much for rivals whose attacking reserves have been decimated at the worst possible moment.

Gary O’Neil’s side, of course, are not the only ones hit hard by injuries. Villa’s list of absentees is just as long and has in all likelihood cost Unai Emery’s men a genuine shot at the Premier League title.

Even Saturday’s win, which strengthened their hold on a top-five finish which will probably be enough to deliver Champions League football, came with a caveat after top scorer Ollie Watkins was forced off at half-time with a hamstring problem.

Yet Emery has not had to deal with a crisis quite so acute as the one facing O’Neil who, already operating with a smaller squad than the Spaniard, has found himself without Hwang Hee-chan, Pedro Neto, Matheus Cunha and Jean-Ricner Bellegarde just as the season hits its most critical period.

When Cunha’s name was absent from the team sheet entirely, with 18-year-old Leon Chiwome – whose name didn’t even make the matchday programme – handed a Premier League debut, you wondered just how Wolves would be able to seriously threaten Villa?