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'A match to savour between overperforming neighbours'

Wolves expert view banner
Wolves expert view banner

On Tuesday, Wolves posted on social media a video of Matheus Cunha entering the grass at Compton, blowing kisses to an imaginary crowd in the manner of an opera singer returning for an encore.

The clip was immediately examined for clues as to the exact level of his fitness – Wolves are far too canny to have leaked a video giving any more detail about that – and whether he might be ready to play some part by this weekend.

However, with Wolves’ attacking resources under so much strain, the sight of Cunha on his feet at all was justifiable cause for excitement.

It is unfortunate for the spectacle that neither club in Saturday’s derby at Aston Villa will be able to field their strongest side. There will be few neutrals in the ground, of course, but it could have been a match to savour between not only near-neighbours, but arguably the two sides performing furthest above their expected station in this season’s Premier League.

Perhaps it still will be, although there is no denying that the verve which has illuminated Wolves this season has been dimmed by injuries to Cunha, Pedro Neto, Hwang Hee-chan and Jean-Ricner Bellegarde.

They have coped well without each of them at some point, sometimes without two - but losing all four at the same time was too much.

While they almost cheated footballing justice in their pallid performance against Coventry City, and the manner of the defeat felt harsh, the final verdict was undeniably fair.

Before the break, Gary O'Neil railed against criticism the credits might be starting to roll early on Wolves' season, and many times already they have rewarded punters prepared to back the underdog.

O'Neil's ingenuity in solving tactical puzzles and his ability to convey those solutions to his players should give pause to anyone ready to count them out before Saturday. But with so many of their most effective attacking weapons out of commission, they will need their concentration and instincts.

The Coventry game notwithstanding, Wolves will believe there is still a way to win, despite everything. They have come too far this season to give up the chase of an improbably high finish now.

Listen to live commentary of Aston Villa v Wolves on BBC Radio WM at 17:30 on Saturday

And tune in to The West Midlands Football Phone-In every weeknight from 18:00