It’s not quite payback for 1995. But it’ll do for a start…
John Ruddy: There’s a lot that’s easy to take for granted with Ruddy having now seen him at close quarters for nearly half a season. His command of the box, his calming presence, his ability to pull out a quality save despite spending long periods of the game being relatively unoccupied. All of that was on show yesterday, but what we aren’t used to seeing from our keeper is him producing a 70 yard through ball that ends up directly assisting a goal. Quick thinking and unerring accuracy, rightly recognised by his teammates who rushed to celebrate with him. Got to be a good shout for being our best free transfer signing in the last 30 years.
Willy Boly: That’s now two teams inside a month who’ve decided that the best man to leave unmarked, six yards out while waiting for an inswinging ball from the right is a 6’3” centre half. Good work lads. As so often, this was a cruise for the big man. Just strolls through games and always looks like he has another couple of gears to go through if he really needed to. We did just fine without him while he was injured; we’re a much better team with him.
Conor Coady: The St Helens Sammer had another excellent outing and even though he started the season well in his new role, he’s still improving month on month. That range of passing – that he never even hinted at showing while playing in midfield – allows us to switch from defence to attack in a heartbeat and he’s continually on hand to sweep up any danger on the rare occasions that teams do threaten to get in behind us. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a dramatic conversion from deadweight to indispensable in a Wolves player.
Ryan Bennett: It seems a bit churlish to go picking at players when we’ve just won 5-1. Or when we’ve won two home games this week by an aggregate of 9-2. Or to look at a defender when we’ve conceded two goals in five games. I’m going to do it anyway. In terms of basic defending, Bennett hasn’t done a great deal wrong. You could even see why he was in yesterday ahead of Roderick Miranda given the brute physicality of Gary Madine. But we are a footballing team, we simply don’t thump the ball away. We play our way out of danger every time, or at least try to. Unfortunately Bennett isn’t really equipped for this. Any pass over 10 yards is pretty much beyond him and Bolton’s goal was down to his clunky nature on the ball. Indecisive and then ultimately unable to pass the ball into midfield properly. He’s also lucky not to have it registered as an own goal against him as I’m fairly sure he toe-ended it past Ruddy (although I’m not going to blame him for that). If we ask him just to be a fairly rustic Championship level defender then he won’t let us down very often – he won’t get tested all that often for one thing – but we’re already beyond that now, let alone in the future. It’ll be interesting to see what Nuno does after this error as Danny Batth and Miranda were both unceremoniously ditched after their parts in the goals QPR notched against us at Loftus Road.
Matt Doherty: Another decent enough display. You’re only ever going to get so far with improving his defending – not that he’s asked to do a great deal – but there has been noticeable work done on getting him to cover at the back post which previously was a huge weakness. There’s more of a willingness to chase back properly and he does cover a fair amount of ground (amazing what can happen when you choose to be an acceptable weight for a professional footballer). The feeling will persist that we can do better; you simply don’t get a reliable end product from him in the final third. For now though he’s doing fine. I don’t have to shudder when I see his name on the teamsheet at 2pm. I know he’ll actually try. This is progress.
Barry Douglas: Any team that bothers with any kind of analytical work will soon have to conclude that you simply can’t give away free kicks and corners on our right hand side, because Baz’s delivery from there is just lethal. It’s a very high bar, but I’d say that he is at least the equal of Bakary Sako in those positions. His engine is fantastic and he offers us so much going forward. The bonus for us is that he knows he has to continually play at this standard because of the presence of Ruben Vinagre just waiting for an opportunity. I’m still getting used to us having someone competent down that side, let alone a top performer.
Ruben Neves: Much like Boly, this league is just far too easy for him at times. This is, after all, a current full Portuguese international. His consistency is what sets him apart from other players of a similar age; you turn up and you just know what you’re going to get. It’s futile for the opposition to man-mark him because that doesn’t matter to him, he wants the ball regardless, all the time. Passing was, as ever, spot on. Minor blot on the copybook with a needless yellow card which rules him out of the Birmingham game a week on Monday.
Romain Saiss: The dark horse for Player of the Season and another much transformed from last season. With every game that passes, the more perverse it seems that both Walter Zenga and Paul Lambert parked him in front of the back four with a brief to essentially never cross the halfway line. There’s so much more to his game than that. Won the penalty, broke up play, used the ball well…once again, this is what we’ve come to expect from him. Six months ago it was unclear if he had a future in English football at all. It now looks, like so many, that he’s actually playing a level below his ability.
Ivan Cavaleiro: Unquestionably in the form of his Wolves career and must be in with a shout of being nominated for the divisional Player of the Month award (though Leon Clarke will probably pip him to it, the bastard, It’s a fan-voted prize so you all know what to do…). Constantly leaving defenders befuddled at the moment and linking up delightfully with his colleagues. When we were linked with Rafa Silva and Joao Carvalho earlier in the month and debate turned to how we’d fit either in the team, I stated that of the front three Cav was probably under the most pressure as at that point, for all his otherwise good work he wasn’t quite producing the goal return you’d expect from someone so talented. So of course he’s now rattled in four in three. Definitely our best penalty taker too and should be given those duties permanently.
Diogo Jota: I’ve seen him described as the Championship’s Eden Hazard and that’s a more than fair comparison. He gets an absolute battering from defenders, week in week out. It doesn’t stop him though. I would appreciate it if he got a little more protection from referees and they’d do well to properly punish challenges such as the one from David Wheater that merely earned him a yellow card; if you’re going to go in studs up, mid-calf height, from behind with no even attempt to win the ball, then by rights you’re lucky to stay on the pitch. But despite all that, we keep giving Diogo the ball, he keeps giving defenders the runaround. And of course, when he’s clean through on goal, it’s not even a question in my mind. He’s going to score. What a player.
Leo Bonatini: Given that he’ll cost a reported £5m to make his move from Al-Hilal permanent, I would expect that deal to go through within days of the transfer window opening. An incredible bargain for that price. Once more worked tirelessly, followed in well for his goal (yes, it’s an open goal from a couple of yards out, but if you’re not in the right position then nothing will happen) and continues well on his way towards that hallowed 20 goal target. We do need backup for him as having just one senior out-and-out striker isn’t particularly healthy, but it’s hard to see how we can improve on him at this level.
Helder Costa: Another excellent cameo which served to further underline that he’s well and truly on his way back. The difficulty now is getting him into the team as Cavaleiro is undroppable at present. Pounced on a woeful Ben Alnwick clearance to set up our fourth with a raking pass and had time to nutmeg Karl Henry which was unsurprisingly popular. Think about it; we’re seriously in a position where an in-form Helder Costa is struggling to get a start. It’s perverse. It’s not fair really.
Alfred N’Diaye/Ruben Vinagre: No real time for either to make an impact though Big Alf will be favourite to take Neves’ spot at St Andrews.
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