It was a good job that Ian Bell turned up to receive the plaudits for his recent efforts at the crease for England because there were few other reasons for the Aston Villa supporters to get off their feet during a hugely disappointing West Midlands derby that was witnessed by the lowest Premier League attendance here since December 2006.
Alex McLeish's side huffed and puffed for a 10-minute spell after the interval, when Gabriel Agbonlahor, Richard Dunne and Chris Herd all came close to giving Villa the lead, but goalmouth incident was otherwise in short supply on an afternoon when the thousands that stayed at home are entitled to feel that they made the right decision.
Bell, who is a Villa fan and was presented with a shirt with 235 on the back in recognition of his innings in the final Test against India at The Oval, must have been as underwhelmed as everyone else in the 30,776 crowd. There are plenty of mitigating circumstances for the low turnout – this was Villa's third home match in eight days, the game was live on television, it is a Bank Holiday weekend and these are difficult economic times – yet it was still alarming to see so many empty seats for a fixture between local rivals.
The travelling supporters went home happier and they might also be forced to accept that Mick McCarthy's decision to withdraw two wingers, Matt Jarvis and Stephen Hunt, and replace them with a couple of full-backs, George Elokobi and Kevin Foley, was the right one, despite the boos that rang out at the time. Wolves looked more solid thereafter and Villa's threat petered out.
"They pumped us for 10-15 minutes in the second half," McCarthy, the Wolves manager, said. "I took the two wide players off to stiffen it up a bit and I thought we were then the better side in the later stages. Would I take a point at Villa against [Darren] Bent, [Emile] Heskey, [Charles] N'Zogbia, Agbonlahor? Too right I would. It wasn't going our way, I had to change the course of the game, which we did."
Wolves might even have had the chance to pick up a third successive league win had the referee, Martin Atkinson, taken a different view of Herd's clumsy challenge on Stephen Ward two minutes from time. The Villa full-back, who was otherwise impressive on what was only his third start for the club, poleaxed Ward just inside the area. Asked whether he thought it was a penalty, McCarthy replied: "Yes. I haven't seen it again but I thought it was. If I look a chump when I see it again on the TV then so be it."
Not that Wolves deserved three points. Hunt had a downward header saved in the first half but they caused few other problems to a Villa defence that has conceded only once in their first three matches. Villa's difficulties could well be at the opposite end of the pitch, where the creativity Ashley Young and Stewart Downing once provided is badly missed. Bent was starved of service and it was not until the 87th minute that he registered an attempt on goal, his looping header from Barry Bannan's cross landing on the roof of the net.
Agbonlahor, who may well have caught the eye of the watching Fabio Capello with an impressive performance on the left, created a decent opening for Heskey in the first half but it was telling that it was a couple of defenders who came closest to giving Villa the lead. Dunne's towering header was cleared off the line by Kevin Doyle in the 59th minute and moments later Wayne Hennessey tipped Herd's effort over. "I thought it was a terrific second-half display," said McLeish, whose Villa side remain unbeaten. "But Mick's changes took the sting out of us a bit as some of our players began to tire."
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