Warning – this report contains far too much positivity
John Ruddy: Once again, was barely tested. As in the Ipswich game, his biggest challenge was dealing with a heavy backpass which almost put him in trouble, but pulling out the old Stearman dragback saved the day. One routine save from distance in the first half which for some reason, hasn’t shown up as a shot on target on the BBC website. For the second successive game, kicking was below par with several attempted balls to the wingbacks flying straight out of play. It was windy out there, mind.
Ryan Bennett: I wasn’t exactly enthused about Bennett’s signing in the summer – it appeared to be a legacy deal tied up in the days of Paul Lambert and totally at odds with what we were trying to do – and as recently as three months ago it was hard to see how he’d make any kind of impact here as he seemed to be well down the pecking order. However, since being given his chance at former club Norwich at the end of October, he’s barely looked back. His defending is steady and robust and his use of the ball has definitely improved during his run in the side; we’re seeing far fewer aimless hoofs forward and he’s now even beginning to pass the ball nicely into midfield from time to time. Sailed through this game.
Conor Coady: Same old, same old from our on-pitch leader. When there was danger he mopped it up with the minimum of fuss, on the ball he produced a few of those now trademark crossfield passes to stretch the play. A revelation this season. Evidently loving his football here and a big character as well as a top performer.
Willy Boly: It’s extremely rare indeed for overseas season-long loan deals for which the club has paid a fee to include a break clause midway through the season. As such, speculation that Porto will recall Boly in order to sell him and raise funds for one of their own targets should be treated with the same credibility as you’d grant Steve Cotterill if he tried to lecture you on the Expected Goals metric. Much like Coady, this was standard stuff from him; never got out of second gear, defended magnificently when required, a ridiculous through ball in the first half that deserved a goal and simply far too good for this division. Booked late on for an Oscar Ruggeri-style block on Florian Jozefzoon.
Matt Doherty: When Matt Doherty is pulling a 50 yard ball out of the sky and proceeding to flick it over an opponent’s head – on purpose, and everything – then you know something special’s going on. Of the many, many things I’ve criticised him for in the past, the key areas that he’s worked on this season are his fitness and workrate. The two go hand in hand of course; because he’s now lacking a spare tyre round his mid-section, he’s physically able to get up and down the pitch all game…the workrate then becomes a case of attitude, which has definitely improved as he now actually bothers chasing back if we lose the ball and he’s upfield. Scenes. Probably should have done better with his one-on-one chance in the first half (albeit that Dan Bentley spread himself well and was out quickly) and that crossing still needs work – out of six or so good opportunities to deliver last night, only one was a genuinely good ball in.
Barry Douglas: Clearly irked by temporarily missing out on free kick duty so responded by absolutely crashing home a goal with his right foot. Treat ’em mean, Nuno. That’s four goals and eight assists now for him which means he’s significantly improved on the output of any striker we fielded last season. This is an uncapped career left back who’s spent the last four years at nondescript clubs in Poland and Turkey. Whoever had him on their radar deserves a hefty pat on the back. At the minute there can’t be any question over his place, even allowing for the presence of the obscenely talented Ruben Vinagre.
Ruben Neves: Outstanding. Simply outstanding. The complete package in midfield who cannot be matched by anyone in this division. You can’t man mark him, you can’t allow him to carry the ball, you can’t bully him, he doesn’t sit too deep, he doesn’t get caught out of position, you can’t give him room to spread the play…you just have to accept that this guy is way too good and hope that he doesn’t hurt you too much. Fine strike for the free kick (which was definitely the right angle for a right footer) although if I am nitpicking – and I like to – then Bentley’s positioning wasn’t the best. One delicious spin away from his man late on. Small concern would be the amount of yellow cards he racks up, often for innocuous enough offences that he doesn’t need to commit – a little shirt pull in the middle of the park when Brentford weren’t even threatening to break in any great numbers earned him his eighth card of the season and he’s now two away from another ban.
Romain Saiss: Unglamorous but invaluable stuff on a filthy night. Didn’t get forward too much in comparison to recent games, but always on hand to fill in behind the wingbacks and largely negated the presence of Ryan Woods in the Bees’ midfield. Has comprehensively seen off the threat to his place from Alfred N’Diaye and in stark contrast to this time last year, is now an automatic pick.
Helder Costa: Seems to be the latest target of hyperbole as he’s either “back to his best” or “well below par and worrying”. In reality he was somewhere in between last night. Narrowly failed to make the best of a one-on-one – the ball was always running slightly away from him, and again Bentley was out well – but in general had a perfectly decent game, linking well with Bonatini in particular and getting back to defend when required. Indeed he was slightly unfortunate to be withdrawn, though will likely get yet another start against Swansea on Saturday. Give him time and he’ll be perfectly ok.
Diogo Jota: He’ll end up getting that much-mooted rest now as he won’t feature in the cup and we don’t play for almost a fortnight in the league. Calls for him to be left out have been well wide of the mark; he’s simply far too dangerous to be excluded even if he isn’t at his absolute rampaging best. Caused the visitors problems all night and could have walked away with a hat trick after efforts in the first half were cleared off the line and repelled by Bentley respectively. When he eventually knocked one in…well, let’s just say it won’t be winning our Goal of the Season award.
Leo Bonatini: Here is a man who needed a small rest after leading the line all season despite having a minimal (possibly non-existent) pre-season. By design at Millwall and inadvertently at Bristol City, he got his little break and the benefits showed last night as he was back to his best. So unlucky not to score in the opening two minutes with a shot that hit the inside of the post and almost opened up the second half with an uncharacteristic solo effort almost straight from the kick off. Link up play was excellent and there just seemed more zip about his game than in recent weeks. It’s six without a goal for him now (allowing for limited involvement at The Den and Ashton Gate) but that won’t worry him too much.
Ivan Cavaleiro: Seemed inconceivable that he would be left out after his superb showing on Saturday, but on the bench he remained. As stated, Costa did little wrong but on current form Cav is simply devastating. Straight away his direct running had Brentford on the back foot and he provided the cross for Douglas’ goal. As transfer values have escalated over the last 12 months, that £7m we paid for his services is looking like a snip.
Bright Enobakhare: Decent enough cameo with the game won. Looks to have worked on releasing the ball more quickly and playing the simple pass when necessary. If the rumoured signing of Rafa Mir comes to pass, it may be that Bright’s immediate future is out on loan but for now he’s shown steady improvement over the course of the season.
Kortney Hause: A first league appearance of the season and though it was only a 10 minute or so runout, looked like he’d never been away. Used the ball well and put a couple of good tackles in. He’s unfortunate in as much as the only position he can conceivably play to decent effect is on the left hand side of the back three, and if Boly’s fit then no-one is replacing him. However he remains a player with a big future and one that should be realised at Molineux.
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