Highly impressive performance from Zenga’s men
Local derbies are never an attractive prospect; the kind of games where an inability to show up for the occasion can wipe out any differences in inherent quality, where the football can be captivating yet lacking in genuine class, where strange results contrary to the normal run of things tend to pop up. Wolves answered questions of whether they could pass this particular test with a dominant performance, brushing aside an early setback and running out more than comfortable winners. We’ve now seen a Walter Zenga team fight back from two goals down and with 10 men on the opening day, completely dominate an inferior team at home and now take apart a local rival in their own backyard. As early portfolios go, it’s a fairly compelling one.
Zenga once again shuffled his midfield pack – we’ve now had different combinations in the central three in all of his games in charge – with Jack Price coming into the team for Dave Edwards, while Jed Wallace was preferred to Joao Teixeira on the left hand side, the Portuguese youngster perhaps needing a breather after a high octane and busy start to his career in England. Surprisingly, Prince Oniangue was made to wait for his debut and had to settle for a place on the bench.
Wolves started on the front foot and it was Conor Coady who had the first two opportunies, one free header at the back post from a Matt Doherty cross where he may have done more than merely force a corner, and a long range effort which Tomasz Kuszczak made look a little more difficult to handle than seemed to be the case. As is their normal mode, Birmingham sat deep and allowed the visitors to have plenty of possession, content to contain as best they can and try to play on the break.
We should have taken the lead on 19 minutes, a break from a corner leaving us with four attackers against only one defender. Unfortunately Coady didn’t play the best of passes to Joe Mason who in what is becoming familiar fashion wanted far too much time in the area and squandered the chance. It’s becoming a trend with him which ultimately makes the difference between a 12-15 goals a season and a truly lethal striker at this level. Shortly afterwards Lee Evans was forced off through injury to be replaced by Edwards, with Blues taking the lead a couple of minutes later. A ball from the right hand side was allowed to drift all the way across the penalty area, Dominic Iorfa had been sucked in and attracted to the ball which allowed Che Adams the space to hit a fine finish across Carl Ikeme and into the bottom corner. Against the run of play, but as noted this is the way Gary Rowett’s teams set up.
The remainder of the first half saw Wolves continuing to make most of the running but a lack of composure in the final third led to opportunities being wasted and moves breaking down. Jon Dadi Bodvarsson forced a very decent save from Kuszczak but other efforts from range from the likes of Coady and Doherty were wild, while Mason had a further two decent chances which came to nothing.
Clearly fired up by the manager, we came out after the break with an obvious intent to get at Blues who had offered little in the first period. As Jed Wallace lost the ball on a break towards the Blues’ final third, Price picked up the pieces and found Mason on the left side of the penalty box. This time his move of chopping inside paid dividends as Ryan Shotton was unable to get near him and he unleashed a perfect curling right foot shot past Kuszczak. Deservedly back on terms and we continued to batter away at the hosts who had no answer to our purposeful breaking from midfield.
It was little surprise when we took the lead just after the hour mark; indeed the only concern at that stage was whether we could take advantage of our clear superiority. A Doherty header was excellently saved by Kuszczak but he could only parry it to the edge of the six yard box where Danny Batth was on hand to slam the ball home. Excellent reactions from the skipper and a fully merited lead.
We did then have a 10-15 minute period of beginning to sit deeper and giving possession back a little too easily to Birmingham, although the threat was largely limited to set pieces. Price was replaced by Oniangue who managed to ping his first pass wildly out of play and fears began to grow that we’d look to hold on to a slender lead despite clearly having the measure of our opponents. However this spell passed and we once again came into the ascendancy as the game entered the final 15 minutes.
With frustration growing amongst the home support and seemingly the players, Blues sub Jack Storer was sent off for a senseless headbutt on Kortney Hause after winning a free kick. The chance was there to seal the game and we duly took it, Wallace slipping a pass into the right channel for Bodvarsson who buried his chance into the far corner and give a realistic look to the scoreline; two goal superiority was the very least we deserved. There was the chance for Wallace to add further gloss with a late effort which whistled inches past the post.
Going to St Andrews is rarely a comfortable assignment and yet Zenga had his team completely rampant at times. There was a real purpose to our passing, especially in the second half and as with the Reading game last week, the speed with which we switch from defence to attack is very encouraging. There is of course work still to be done; in the longer term we will need to take a much higher proportion of our chances, our options beyond the first XI remain limited (while we can swap players in and out relatively easily, they’re all of roughly the same standard) and the goal conceded was another preventable one. But this has been a very positive start indeed, much more so than we could have anticipated given that the major surgery on the first team which would seem inevitable at some stage hasn’t materialised as yet, and our manager – derided on appointment in some places – has the mark of quickly grasping what’s required in this league.
Carl Ikeme: Had very little to do, no chance at all on Adams’ goal. Held a Cotterill free kick well late on.
Dominic Iorfa: At fault for the goal where he’ll wonder why he allowed his man to get away from him, but otherwise had a fine game. One lung busting run near the end carried him a good 70 yards up the pitch.
Danny Batth: Immense at the back today; Clayton Donaldson has caused him problems in the past but today stood up to everything thrown at him. Won plenty in the air, swept up well after some uncertain moments from his partner in the first half, reacted well for his goal. Coming back to form nicely after an uncertain campaign last time out.
Kortney Hause: A little shaky in the first half with some loose touches and a couple of balls missed aerially. Improved after the break.
Matt Doherty: Had an excellent game, key to much of our attacking play in the first period and rarely troubled by David Cotterill. Looks keener to take his man on down the outside of late. Man of the Match.
Lee Evans: A couple of overhit passes early on and forced off injured midway through the first half.
Jack Price: Took a while to get into the game but started to take control of the midfield after half an hour or so and delivered some superb set pieces as we pushed for the lead. Booked for dissent.
Conor Coady: Full of effort, with him pushed further forward in the midfield three we do need him to improve his output as frequently moves break down with a poor touch. Has done well to force his way back into Zenga’s thoughts after starting the season out of the team. Useful from defensive set pieces in Blues’ few moments of attacking threat.
Jed Wallace: Like Price, quiet early on but grew into the battle and was perhaps our best player in the second half. Showed a good touch and a willingness to carry the ball. Unlucky not to open his goalscoring account late on.
Joe Mason: His ponderous nature in the penalty area is a real issue for him because it does detract from his decent movement and ability to work space. Can’t keep wanting so much time in the final third because it won’t materialise at this level and increased efficiency in front of goal is vital for us. That said, took his goal superbly and there is something to work with if he’s willing to play more instinctively.
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson: The workrate that we all expect from him now and gave Shotton and Morrison a tough afternoon. Worked Kuszczak in the first half and gave him no chance to seal the victory. Looks an absolute snip for the price paid.
Subs: Dave Edwards (for Evans, 22); barely touched the ball in the first half after coming on. Some decent work intercepting loose balls after the break but generally a low impact game. Prince Oniangue (for Price, 65); shades of Neil Emblen with a disastrous first touch in a Wolves shirt. Recovered from that though and looked energetic. George Saville (for Bodvarsson, 90); injury time sub.