REACTION: MANCHESTER CITY 0-0 WOLVES (LOST ON PENS)

So close to the perfect performance…

Never mind the scoreline

You’d think after sitting through two scoreless hours, watching us lose on penalties and ending up getting home at 2.15am, I’d be less than best pleased. While the terrible logistics of exiting Manchester city centre by road and the laughable state of the M6 don’t get off the hook (Richard Branson has never had a better advert for his train company), this was a tremendous game to watch. Tons of action at either end, a tactical battle between an up-and-coming European coach and one of the world’s best, the Championship’s best taking on the best team in the country, a referee who allowed the game to flow and a Wolves team putting absolutely everything on the line. It may have finished 0-0, but you couldn’t take your eyes off it for a second. All of which makes a further mockery of Sky’s decision to show Swansea vs Manchester United – a fixture which they’ve already shown once this season, and which for the second time resulted in a stroll of an away win. Our game would surely have held more interest for the neutral and given the make up of the two teams, was more likely to provide better entertainment.

Sitting on this bloody road is about as entertaining as watching Kenny Jackett’s Wolves circa April 2016.

Wholesale changes worked out well

There appeared to be some consternation towards us making nine changes from Saturday’s victory over Preston with only Danny Batth and Conor Coady retaining their places – and were Willy Boly fully fit, it’s likely one of those would also have dropped out. With City fielding a very strong team including both Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus, our prospects at kick-off did not look good. However, every single one of those players – many of whom have had very limited action this season – did themselves proud. Of course, City had chances. They are, after all, one of the highest scoring teams in Europe. They had spells in possession where we struggled to get the ball back and some of their one touch stuff around the box is mesmerising. But we never looked overawed. It would be a surprise if any of Ryan Bennett, Jack Price or Ben Marshall started many league games this season barring a monumental injury crisis, all of them have their own natural limitations which can’t ever really be overcome, but all stuck to their task and had good games. There was an encouraging cameo from Connor Ronan who is unfortunate not to be getting much gametime given his natural ability. Kortney Hause hadn’t played a senior game since May but slotted back in to the defence and produced a number of critical, impressive interventions. We’re now in the position where we have a squad that can be relied upon – by definition, your back up players aren’t going to be as good as the first choices, yet whoever needs to slot in to this team knows their role and doesn’t look likely to let us down.

Sergio celebrates finally escaping from Danny Batth’s pocket.

Will Norris and Ruben Vinagre

Four months ago, Will Norris was playing for Cambridge United in League Two and Ruben Vinagre had never played a senior game of any description for any club. Last night, I couldn’t split them in a call for Man of the Match away at Manchester City. Norris made two mistakes, both kicking errors, both rectified by himself immediately with a smart save. Beyond that, his distribution was generally good, his command of the box is excellent and decisive and he has showcased the ability to make saves that he has no real right to pull off. Four games for Wolves (plus an extra hour thanks to two lots of extra time), two of them away at Premier League clubs, and he’s yet to concede a goal. Vinagre was up against Danilo, Raheem Sterling and Kyle Walker over the two hours last night. Just the £125m or so’s worth of players there. Not for a second did he look out of his depth. His engine is such that in the 115th minute he was still charging the length of the field to set up an attack for us, his skill is such that he made Walker look a chump as he outwitted him near the corner flag. These two players aren’t in our first choice XI at present; they should both be a big part of our future. Two outstanding talents (in Vinagre’s case, any option to sign him permanently should be taken up as soon as possible).

Time to break out the “sign him up” chant

So near, yet so far for Bright

There hasn’t been much for me to complain about this season; one small grumble has been the tendency of our fans to start groaning at Bright Enobakhare every time he holds on to the ball for a nanosecond too long. His raw talent is apparent, he is just 19 years of age and this was just his 19th start in senior football. Treating a young player like that isn’t called for and isn’t going to help him in his development. So it should be encouraging that he had his best game in a Wolves shirt by some distance. Playing as the central striker in place of the rested Leo Bonatini, his use of the ball was sharper and more intelligent, he dropped into midfield to show a level of responsibility not often sighted from him before, he showed impressive strength and resilience to occupy the two City centre halves and his workrate was top notch. As I say, it should be encouraging. This should have been a watershed night for him. Unfortunately, it will be remembered for him failing to put the final touch on his display as he managed to miss three one-on-one opportunities. He crafted the first two of those two chances himself, and it must be said that the first in particular was no gimme with the angle relatively tight and only a small area of Claudio Bravo’s goal to aim at. Helder Costa’s second half chance was a better opening than that. But the over-elabaration allowing Tosin Adarabioyo to get back and block and hitting the ball straight at Bravo following a run in on goal right down the centre of the pitch…they genuinely were gilt-edged. All the more so with the final chance coming right on 90 minutes. That really was the game, right there. We have to hope that he can build on this display and not dwell too much on the misses; he is clearly a confidence player and the support staff will have to make sure that he concentrates on the multiple positives from last night.

Nuno gets it right…again

The pedigree of Nuno wasn’t in question before he arrived at Molineux. You don’t manage Valencia and Porto in your early 40s if you’re an absolute chancer. However, there are many cases of highly-fancied foreign coaches not being able to implement their ideas in English football and while some of the criticism of his appointment in the summer was ill-informed and even at times xenophobic, some caution was understandable. If anyone still held any doubts whatsoever about him, they should have comprehensively been extinguished last night. This was Manchester City’s form from the beginning of September going into the game: 5-0, 4-0, 6-0, 2-1, 5-0, 2-0, 1-0, 7-2, 2-1, 3-0. It’s fairly ominous, to say the least. Most managers – let alone managers in charge of a Championship team – would have simply parked the bus, setting up a wall of players across the pitch and hoping to keep the scoreline down to a respectable level. This was not how we played. While we did sit deep at times – Ryan Bennett in particular played as more of a conventional right back rather than the normal wing back role that is occupied by Matt Doherty – there was always an attempt to play our own football and an increasing threat on the break. To reiterate – we carved out four clear one-on-one chances. Away from home. At the team who will probably win the Premier League and even have a chance of winning the Champions League. The way we reverted into our shape whenever we lost the ball was incredibly impressive for this is how City often kill teams; by making a turnover of possession become a goal inside seconds. There was little opportunity for them to do that here as no sooner had they got the ball back, all the space had been filled back up by a gold shirt. Our manager completely matched Pep Guardiola last night. That should be an unthinkable thing to say. We had Pep worried to the point where he had to bring on around £200m worth of players in Kevin de Bruyne, Kyle Walker, John Stones and Leroy Sané. For all the many, many, many merits of Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota, Nuno was our best acquisition of the summer and by some distance too. Thankfully he appears to be fully immersed in our project and so the prospects of him leaving for a vacant Premier League job seem, at present, to be remote. We’re very lucky indeed to have him.

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PLAYER RATINGS: WOLVES 3-2 PRESTON NORTH END

Got the job done…just about

John Ruddy: Powerless to prevent either Preston goal, he wasn’t directly tested too much despite us being below par in the first half and firmly on the back foot for the final 20 minutes; one save low to his left from Daniel Johnson was the sum total of efforts on goal that he had to field. Did his usual job of taking pressure off with some good claims near the end.

Danny Batth: Initially did well in dealing with the physical threat of Jordan Hugill but came off second best in that battle after half time, losing the big lump for Preston’s first goal and being beaten in the air more often than he would like. Needs to maintain the high standards he set in September with Willy Boly close to a comeback.

Conor Coady: Probably couldn’t do much to get out of the way for his own goal, though as it turned out there were no Preston players behind him so potentially could have let it go altogether. One good clearing header from near the line and a couple of last ditch blocks as things became frantic in the closing stages.

Roderick Miranda: After last week’s imperious showing against Aston Villa – comfortably his best game for the club – this was a step backwards. There were a couple of excellent tackles and headers but generally was slack in possession – losing the ball twice in the space of a couple of first half minutes not far outside our own box – and this was a rather error-strewn display from him in general. Again, with competition for places strong in this area, can’t afford too many of these performances.

Matt Doherty: Involved in the first two goals although there was an element of luck in how his attempted pass to Ivan Cavaleiro broke to Diogo Jota for the first, and then a questionable penalty award for the second (though credit should be due to him for forcing himself ahead of Josh Harrop following the Preston man’s lapse in control). Not overly tested defensively as much of North End’s threat came on the opposite side.

Barry Douglas: A difficult day. Didn’t look comfortable against the tricky Tom Barkhuizen and was caught out by a quick free kick for Preston’s second goal. Did at least provide the assist for Cavaleiro’s goal with a well placed low cross. Would not be overly surprising if Ruben Vinagre were to take the left wing back spot for the game at Loftus Road next week.

Ruben Neves: Conditions were not the best for playmaking yesterday with high winds affecting the flight of the ball, but Neves still showcased his range of passing at times and dealt well with Preston’s tactics which were clearly designed to niggle away at him and try to put him off his stride. Will feel that he was entitled to more protection from the referee but then we know how Steve Martin operates. Like a bad supply teacher. Move over Mike Jones, there’s a new man in place as the ref I dread taking charge of our games.

Romain Saiss: The game descended into a bit of a scrap as Preston began their fightback and in this respect Saiss wasn’t found wanting. Lost his cool a couple of times but showed that he was up for the battle. What will disappoint him and the manager is that at 3-0, you would expect us to control the game and see it out without much fuss…but we gave the ball away far too often and it’s to Saiss that we often look to retain possession in these circumstances.

Ivan Cavaleiro: A scruffy finish for his goal but they all count. Not at his electrifying best as we struggled to work opportunities to have him isolated against defenders. However, he’s worked himself into a position where he’s currently very much first choice in that right sided role.

Diogo Jota: One of his quietest games for us and yet still had a big hand in two of our goals. This serves to show what a tremendous talent he is – even when he’s not at his best, he still comes up with the goods and terrifies defences. As has become customary, came in for some rough treatment but didn’t let it affect him.

Leo Bonatini: Perhaps with seven goals in 13 appearances, those calls for the mythical “20 goal a season striker” will end. Leo is that man. These weren’t the two most emphatic finishes he’ll ever produce; stuttering run ups for penalties like that always look iffy, and the third goal definitely hit him rather than anything else, but then he had to be in the right place to get that bit of luck. His general play was excellent and we lacked any kind of a focal point when he was surprisingly replaced. If the reported price of £5m to make his move from Al-Hilal is accurate, that will be an absolute steal. Still has the top combined goals/assists record in the division.

Helder Costa: Still working his way back to sharpness and still has a way to go. There was one jinking run which brought back memories of last season, though it was followed with a weak finish straight at the keeper. Worrying scenes when he went down with what looked like an ankle injury, but as Jota was replaced a couple of minutes later with our final substitution we have to assume that there’s no damage. 90 minutes at Manchester City on Tuesday will do him the world of good.

Bright Enobakhare: Deployed centrally and at present this isn’t really the role for him as he rarely looks to hold the ball up. Produced one piece of tenacious play to beat his man, hold him off, wait for a man to run either side of him…and then took a touch too many and wasted the opportunity. Which still happens too often.

Alfred N’Diaye: Played in an advanced role and while he isn’t a natural there, provided a bit of physicality and impetus when we were in danger of throwing the game away. A forceful run brought the red card for Alan Browne, a simple decision which the clueless Martin still managed to make a hash of, fumbling around in his pocket like a man trying to grab a hot dog from a vat of oil and ending up having to call him back onto the pitch to show the red card. Did I mention he was terrible? He was terrible.

Oscillating Wildly is a “pay-as-you-feel” website. The content will never disappear behind a paywall. However, if you enjoy my work and would like to help me continue to write – as this is essentially my main focus now – please consider making a small donation via the button near the top of the page. If you want to and can, that’s great. If not, then no worries.