Aston Villa 2 (El Ghazi 28, Elmohamady 57) Wolves 1 (Cutrone 55)
Wolves’ cubs couldn’t quite bridge the gap to Villa’s superior quality and experience as one of the club’s most inexperienced teams gallantly exited the Carabao Cup.
Patrick Cutrone’s second-half equaliser was all Wolves had to show for their efforts as Anwar El Ghazi and Ahmed Elmohamady earned dominant Villa a quarter-final spot and ended the visitors’ eight match unbeaten run in all competitions.
Arguably the balance of the tie swung dramatically in Villa’s favour with the team selection with head coach Nuno Espirito Santo handing full debuts to Dion Sanderson, 19, 18-year-old Taylor Perry and Chem Campbell, with Sanderson and Campbell appearing at senior level for the first time, amid a full 11 changes from Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Newcastle.
At 16 years 304 days, Campbell, who played on the right of a three-man attack with Cutrone and Pedro Neto, became the club’s youngest post-War player and second youngest of all time after Jimmy Mullen at 16 years 43 days in February 1939.
All three substitutes used were also making their competitive bows – striker Benny Ashley-Seal, 20, 18-year-old Terry Taylor and Flavio Cristovao, 22.
Apart from goalkeeper John Ruddy and captain for the night Ryan Bennett – who returned from injury along with Bruno Jordao – there were just 83 Wolves first-team appearances spread across the other nine players in the starting line-up beforehand, and 44 of those were from Ruben Vinagre. The average age of the starting XI was 21 years, 295 days.
Villa made nine changes, but they maintained a high level of senior experience in their line-up and even more so on the bench.
Apart from Rui Patricio, Wolves’ substitutes were made up entirely of Academy players.
With such a gulf in experience between the sides, perhaps it was no surprise that Villa took the game to Wolves.
Villa created the first opening with Mahmoud Trezeguet played in to a gap, but Max Kilman was out superbly to block.
Campbell showed no sign of nerves as he had Wolves’ first attempt in the 16th minute, curling a left-foot shot a couple of metres wide after cutting in from the right.
Jesus Vallejo contnued to find it hard going, and it was his foul on Keinan Davis after getting drawn too close to the striker and allowing himself to be turned that presented Villa with a shooting chance.
But luckily for the visitors, Conor Hourihane’s curling free kick hit the defensive wall.
Douglas Luiz twice tried to oblige the home crowd’s chants to ‘shoot’ but he was off target from long range, before Villa took the lead.
Dean Smith’s side worked the ball from left to right and Henri Lansbury slipped El Ghazi in with a peach of a pass that exposed Vinagre.
The winger had a one-on-one with Ruddy and although the keeper got a good hand to the shot, the ball squirmed over the line.
The first half ended with Villa continuing in the ascendancy as Hourihane and El Ghazi driving well wide from long range, the same way as a wild Neto effort.
Far from being out of the game, Wolves equalised with the first serious attack of the second period.
Cutrone won the ball just over the halfway line and fed Perry racing away to his left.
The teenage midfielder cut inside and curled a right-footed shot that seemed to be heading for inside the far post only for Cutrone to nip in and stab the ball past goalkeeper Jed Steer at his near post to send the 5,500 Wolves fans behind that goal into ecstacy.
Wolves’ joy ws shortlived however as Villa restored their lead within two minutes.
Again, Lansbury was key; his free kick on the right being steered home by Elmohamady at the near post which gave Ruddy little chance of keeping out.
Cutrone then wasted a one-on-one as Steer brilliantly saved his shot with his left leg.
But Villa continued to enjoy the better of the chances and could have extended their lead.
Trezeguet’s shot on the turn inside the box was deflected over the bar, El Ghazi’s header drew a falling save, and the same player’s shot was deflected over as Villa pushed for a third goal.
Lansbury perhaps had the best chance, but after setting up the first two goals, he fluffed his lines when on the end of an opportunity as he got his angles wrong with a free header well wide from Trezeguet’s centre with 10 minutes left.
That was the last we saw of the former Arsenal and Nottingham Forest midfielder as he was replaced by John McGinn immediately afterwards.
McGinn quickly set about grabbing a third goal for Villa, but his first effort was deflected over after more dithering and uncertainty from Vallejo and his second flew wide.
With Wolves chasing a last-gasp equaliser, Cutrone volleyed wide from Vinagre’s flick.
But there was no way back for Wolves on a learning curve for the kids.
Villa (4-3-2-1): Steer; Elmohamady, Konsa, Hause, Taylor; Luiz, Lansbury (McGinn 81), Hourihane; Trezeguet, El Ghazi; Davis (Kodjia 50).
Substitutes: Nyland, Chester, Wesley, Nakamba, Guilbert.
Wolves (3-4-3): Ruddy; Vallejo, Bennett, Kilman; Sanderson, Jordao (Taylor 71), Perry, Vinagre; Campbell (Ashley-Seal 68), Cutrone, Neto (Cristovao 77).
Substitutes: Patricio, Samuels, Rasmussen, Richards.
Referee: Lee Mason