Honest Wolves pay penalty
Mick McCarthy wore the expression of a man who had just been robbed - or to be more precise a man who had just seen Kevin Doyle robbed.
Just 24 hours after coach Fabio Capello revealed he would never like to see England win a match courtesy of a dive, Wolves manager McCarthy found himself navigating his way through the minefield of football's morals.
As Wolves fans filed away from Molineux past the Billy Wright statue, satisfied with a point against Aston Villa, McCarthy was perched high above them struggling to get to grips with the concept of being penalised for honesty.
The ethical dilemma was the result of Doyle's "refusal" to hit the deck while being manhandled - "he had his wallet, shirt and everything off him didn't he?" complained Mick - by Villa defender Richard Dunne.
Doyle stayed on his feet despite Dunne's close attention, perhaps persuading referee Peter Walton not to point to the spot. It all happened in the opening minutes and may have put a different shape on a game that too often matched the dreary Molineux weather.
Sylvan Ebanks-Blake smashed home Wolves' equaliser from the penalty spot
McCarthy had a point when he insisted a player should not have to be grounded to win a penalty. A penalty is a penalty is a penalty goes the argument - whenever it happens and irrespective of whether the offended party makes contact with the turf.
Wolves gained a measure of justice later when Walton did point to the spot (he had no alternative) after Steve Sidwell crashed into Michael Kightly, allowing Sylvan Ebanks-Blake to apply heavyweight frustration to a spot-kick that might still be on its way up the M6 had the net not intervened.
It gave Wolves a deserved point after Gabriel Agbonlahor threatened to earn Villa a win their lifeless display did not merit, but it was easy to understand McCarthy's frustration which was, it should be stressed, conveyed in respectful terms.
Wolves' season, and perhaps their Premier League survival, may be fashioned by fine details, so marginal decisions such as this - and indeed the ludicrous sending off of Stefan Maierhofer at Everton - could have ominous long-term consequences.
A visit to Molineux is to take a trip into a football heartland, a club with a crowd, stadium and history that is a natural fit for the Premier League. And on the evidence of this draw against a Villa side with pretensions at a more elevated level, there is every chance there will be three teams lower than Wolves when the season finishes.
This was no classic, in fact it was anything but, but the warm reception afforded to Wolves at the final whistle was a reflection of the satisfaction felt inside Molineux about the way McCarthy's side acquitted themselves.
The honesty shown by Doyle in declining to take a tumble is mirrored by the entire Wolves team - but they must uncover a cutting edge if the survival which would represent success this season is to be achieved.
Wolves have already paid the price of missed chances at Molineux this season, and it took a penalty to earn their just reward here after more generosity in front of goal threatened to end in a damaging defeat.
Ebanks-Blake's penalty was his first Premier League goal after recovering from injury, and he will be a key figure in the months ahead. McCarthy is convinced this burly figure can carry his goal threat from the Championship to the Premier League - and he may need to if the endeavour and spirit shown in other areas is not to falter on a lack of end product.
McCarthy believes Wolves are growing into the Premier League on a weekly basis but honesty will only take them so far. They will need more, and men like Ebanks-Blake and Doyle must provide it.
For Villa, this was the sort of display that adds conviction to the feeling that a more realistic target for Martin O'Neill's side may be top five or six as opposed to the riches offered in the top four.
Mick McCarthy and Martin O'Neill have very different hopes for their teams this season
Villa have made an excellent start to the season, but O'Neill's constant references to consistency hit the mark when trying to take an accurate measure of their ambitions.
They have beaten Liverpool and Chelsea and drawn with Manchester City - but lost to Wigan and Blackburn and drawn with Wolves. Erratic behaviour for a team with Champions League aspirations.
It was a charge that could still be levelled at Villa even when Wolves ran out of ideas. There was a lack of wit from the visitors that would have made them undeserved winners.
What O'Neill has done is assemble a no-frills framework in defence, based on his new and unashamedly no-nonsense central pairing of Dunne and James Collins, while having the pace, width and power of Agbonlahor, Ashley Young and John Carew as an attacking weapon.
It is the classic O'Neill template. He has wisely strengthened his squad to guard against the fade-out that characterised last season, but you suspect he may just need a little bit more craft in midfield to make the leap into the elite pack.
For Wolves, the sights are set at a lower level and honesty is a quality they will need to ensure they stay in the Premier League.
McCarthy will just hope they are not too honest for their own good.
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