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.

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REACTION: MILLWALL AND BRISTOL CITY (H)

Round-up of this week’s action

Quality of football

Seven games into the season and we remain committed to playing our football on the deck, with none of the aimless hoofball that we’ve been forced to endure over the last couple of years. The upshot of this is that we spend large periods of games in full control with the opposition simply unable to disrupt us other than through repetitive fouling. We had 70% possession against Millwall and the opening half hour of last night’s game against Bristol City should have seen us further than one goal in front. This is a team which is still learning how to play in what is an alien formation to many and in the case of the new arrivals from overseas, settling into English football as a whole. With further coaching and games under their belt we should only get better from here; encouraging stuff. There’s a definite plan in place from the management and one that’s been properly thought through with players signed and utilised to match what we’re trying to do. This is not the way Wolves normally operate. I’ll have to get used to it.

See Glenn, you can keep the ball AND attack. Who knew.

Set piece defending

The vast majority of the goals we’ve conceded under Nuno – going back to pre-season – have come from set piece situations. Last night we firstly failed to clear a ball from a corner despite having a couple of opportunities to do so and then neglected to mark up properly or react to an effort off the post. We continue to employ a zonal marking system which personally I’m never going to get on board with; for one thing, it allows attackers to get a run on the ball while it’s in the air which puts you at a natural disadvantage as a defender. Also, when something goes wrong, it’s much more difficult to work out who specifically is to blame and where improvements need to be made. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that approach (and it does tend to be a personal thing whether you do or don’t side with it), it’s pretty clear that it’s a current weakness of ours. This remains a fairly low quality league but if there’s one thing that many of the teams can do, it’s to exploit frailties from dead balls. Change the system, make sure the current setup works better, whatever. We won’t get away with being vulnerable in this area.

Leo Bonatini

Three goals already (matching the entire output of each of Nouha Dicko, Joe Mason and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson from last season) having arrived in the country around 48 hours before the start of the season and having had practically no pre-season to speak of. Excellent link up play which allows the likes of Diogo Jota and Ivan Cavaleiro to thrive. A physical presence capable of dealing with multiple defenders at once. And yet…he’s still becoming a target for some criticism. The demands continue for the mythical “20 goal a season striker” as if we could have just popped down to the Big Championship Supermarket and picked one up off the shelf (I believe they’re located next to the “Paul Ince type” midfielder aisle). For the record, I don’t think Leo was the absolute best striker we could have signed and I don’t expect him to top 20 goals this season. There are aspects to his play which mark him out as slightly imperfect; in a team which has a left wing back in Ruben Vinagre who can carry the ball up the pitch with mind-boggling speed and skill, he does stand out as a little more rustic in that respect. We’ve yet to see him put away a chance which would be considered anything more than meat and drink for a decent striker (though again, with some of the chances our forwards have missed in the last year or so, I’ll take a bit of basic efficiency in this area). But he’s doing very well and he’s pivotal to what we do. It’s true that last night there were a number of balls across the six yard box that say, a peak Sylvan Ebanks-Blake would have feasted on. But we aren’t asking our central striker to basically goal hang. He plays a role which is fundamentally focused on link up play and often dropping deep to allow the inside forwards free reign to burst towards goal. He isn’t always going to be in there. That’s our system. The worry is that every time he misses a chance – and he should have had another goal last night having worked the opportunity to get a shot off – or God forbid, doesn’t score at all, the complaints will begin about how we should have signed another forward (we should have, but we got stiffed on one target and couldn’t find an adequate alternative) or how he isn’t going to score enough goals. He’s doing well and we need him to carry on doing well. Time to get off his back a bit.

Strong Twitter game as well.

Alfred N’Diaye

With all the Twitter-based kerfuffle over our failure to land another striker on deadline day, the signing of N’Diaye went somewhat under the radar. As I mentioned in my last article, reports from his previous adventures in English football at Sunderland and Hull were mixed to say the least and so I approached the transfer with some caution. It’s with pleasure that I’m happy to report that early signs are very good indeed. Strong, committed, actually using his size to his advantage (which again, should really be a given, but then I spent years watching Seyi Olofinjana) and with a surprising turn of pace and willingness to get forward. It seems that Sunderland in particular played him purely as a holding midfielder with a pure brief to sit in front of the back four and break up play, but that really isn’t his game. He’s much more of an all-rounder as shown with his part in our first goal last night. He did fade a little as the game went on – a probable consequence of a lack of recent action – and it’s fair to point out that we’ve seen strong early performances in the past from other midfielders who’ve gone on to descend into absolute nothingness (I’m talking to you here, Segundo Castillo). However thus far, this looks like another astute piece of transfer business.

An embarrassment of riches

Last night was Ivan Cavaleiro’s first league start of the season and he was outstanding – the only blot on the copybook being a failure to get himself on the scoresheet having had a couple of good chances. We gave N’Diaye his full debut and in the process left out Romain Saiss who had, before last night’s round of fixtures, completed more passes than anyone else in the division and had a 95% pass success rate against Millwall. Kortney Hause, Helder Costa and Morgan Gibbs-White are yet to play a single minute this season as they recover from injury while Michal Zyro and Connor Ronan remain largely on the fringes. Danny Batth and Ruben Vinagre have both had two successive excellent displays in these games…yet would still probably drop out for Willy Boly and Barry Douglas respectively when they return to action. Will Norris is as good a backup keeper as you’re likely to find at this level. It’s refreshing to think that when everyone is available, the question will now be who we’re going to leave out, rather than having to compromise and pick players who obviously aren’t good enough because there’s simply no alternative.

Cough cough.

Refereeing is still poor

Debate will rage around the penalty award against Vinagre from last night – personally I think he was far too close to the ball for a spot kick to be awarded, and the linesman with an unimpeded view from no more than 10 yards away signalled for a corner – but really my problem is with how many routine decisions referees at this level get wrong. For the avoidance of doubt, Bristol City were also on the receiving end of some dubious calls from Steve Martin, who continued his 100% record of never making me laugh. Blaming referees for results is a folly and the realm of the likes of Steve Bruce who doesn’t want to make excuses but will anyway…that said, the standard of officiating is really, really poor from what we’ve seen this season. It shouldn’t be too much to ask for referees to get the basics right and keep an eye on the treatment meted out to Jota in particular. I won’t hold my breath on anything changing.

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.

PLAYER RATINGS: WOLVES 1-0 MIDDLESBROUGH

Faintly unreal to see us playing like this…

John Ruddy

A top keeper earns you points over a season and Ruddy certainly got himself off the mark in that respect yesterday. Two big saves from Britt Assombalonga and that is what we have been lacking ever since Wayne Hennessey got injured over five years ago; someone between the sticks who will make saves that you don’t expect him to make. Commanding and proactive throughout. I wasn’t totally enthused when we signed him as it seemed he’d been on the wane for a while at Norwich, but perhaps a fresh start elsewhere is what he needed.

Roderick Miranda

Great to have a defender who is that comfortable on the ball. It’s also key that whoever we pick on the outside of the back three is at ease if they get pulled into the channels and Miranda definitely doesn’t lack for mobility. There are still aspects of his game that need work as he adjusts to English football; the booking he eventually picked up was a sham as he pulled out of the tackle, but referees won’t allow you to commit multiple fouls inside the opening half an hour and let you get away with it.

Conor Coady

Continued his encouraging start in the centre of defence, even having time to spray a pinpoint ball out to the wing. Eat your heart out, David Luiz. There is an Achilles heel to his game and that is a ball that’s dropped over his head – whether it’s a case of not being aware of what’s around him or simply lacking ability in the air, who can say. It’s something that needs addressing as we can’t always rely on the keeper bailing us out. Or indeed Coady getting back on the line.

Willy Boly

An absolute man mountain. Someone of that size is always going to look a bit ungainly on the ball, but in possession he’s generally fine rather than being a Mamadou Sakho tribute act. As you would expect, wasn’t troubled physically in the slightest but if I could make one request, it would be for him not to try backheading the ball towards our own goal when we’re 1-0 up with two minutes to go. My blood pressure has already taken a battering from watching Richard Stearman for years, I thought those kind of scares were gone.

Matt Doherty

This was a pretty atypical Doherty performance in as much as he defended pretty well (yes, really) but didn’t do a huge amount going forward. This is a concern in the longer term; the wingback roles in this team, particularly while we’re playing at this level, are attacking ones. While Doherty does have some qualities as an orthodox attacking full back supporting a winger, if all the emphasis is on him to create from the right hand side…he simply isn’t good enough to do that. He seems to have given up on crossing the ball (this is possibly instruction, although it would seem odd if that were the case) and he’s never going to beat a man. He does look fitter, and he definitely put more effort in, and by no means would you say he had a bad game. Nor did he wear gloves. Now that’s fulsome praise coming from me. Cherish it, Matt.

Barry Douglas

It’s very, very strange to me that Douglas has had such an esoteric career to date because a player of that quality should not have spent the last four years playing in the Polish and Turkish leagues. His first touch is impeccable, his delivery excellent (although the set pieces weren’t quite on the mark yesterday) and he’s the right profile in an athletic sense to play that wingback role. Looks an absolute snip at around £1m.

Ruben Neves

Where to even start? This guy is just ridiculous. As I said after the Leicester game last week, his knack of finding space marks him out as a truly special player and when it’s allied to that range of passing – one pass in particular out to Doherty was as good as you’ll ever see – then the comparisons to Paul Scholes don’t seem so far fetched. Unlike Scholes, he can actually tackle too and there seems little prospect of him being intimidated physically. Maarten de Roon is a quality midfielder but he was comprehensively outshone by Neves yesterday. Shame on The Guardian for publishing an article with the headline “Is Ruben Neves really suited to the Championship?” on Friday. Er, yeah. He’s a seriously good player. The grass is still green, the ball is still round. Of course he is.

Romain Saiss

More good progress from a man who has always had the ability without it being clear whether he had the mentality or consistency to succeed here. It does make you wonder why both Walter Zenga and Paul Lambert played him so deep because he is definitely way more effective when he’s playing 20-30 yards further up the pitch. Broke up play well, quality in possession and again, totally played his opposite number in Jonny Howson off the park.

Bright Enobakhare

Disappointing to hear him getting a fair amount of stick from the stands because a) he’s a very talented young player who was making just his 10th league start of his career yesterday and b) he didn’t have a bad game at all. Yes, he can be frustrating at times and that decision making in the final third is still his weakness. But as an outlet on the right hand side he did very well, his running at the defence was always threatening, he forced a good save from Darren Randolph early in the second half and we should have been awarded a penalty shortly afterwards when Adam Clayton chopped him down (insert your own lame U2-based pun here). He might even drop out of the team next week when Ivan Cavaleiro is available following his suspension. He’ll definitely struggle to get much gametime in that role when Helder Costa is fit. But he is an asset to us.

Diogo Jota

There will be many games I’m sure where Jota has far more of an impact in an attacking sense for us. This was a fairly quiet game for him, which must of course be caveated by the fact that we were up against one of the best teams (and certainly one of the best defences) that we will face all season. What was noticeable was the amount of times that he dug in and did his defensive bit; one passage of play in particular where he won the ball in our left back area, carried it 40 yards and was hacked down on halfway. It’s that kind of work which shows up the “these Portuguese lads won’t fancy it in the Championship” trope for the drivel it is. Nuno has brought these players in for their character as well as their talent – if they couldn’t hack it then they wouldn’t be here.

Leo Bonatini

It was asking a lot for Leo to play against Ben Gibson and Dani Ayala having only been in the country for four days or so and having had no pre-season action to speak of. He did a manful job, another one who has an impressive physical presence and the fabled Good Touch For A Big Man (which I believe Niall Quinn copyrighted in around 1993). He was gifted his goal to an extent – I have no idea what Ayala was thinking to play a square ball like that – but it still needed finishing off. Could you have seen Joe Mason or Jon Dadi Bodvarsson sticking it away? Not really. Clearly gassed after an hour and will improve as he builds his fitness up.

Nouha Dicko

The problem we face with Dicko is that his strength is (and always has been) running the channels and thriving on the ball over the top. But we don’t play like that any more. We need our central striker to hold the ball up and be a focal point for everything going on around him, and sadly Nouha didn’t look capable of doing that yesterday. One of the second half chances that Middlesbrough had came directly from him miscontrolling the ball and it was telling that our control of the game dropped dramatically when he came on. We’re all willing him to come good, but it’s possible that his time here is coming to an end as he simply doesn’t fit what we want to do.

Dave Edwards

This was confusing all round. His introduction led to Dicko shifting to the right of the front three and Dave playing centrally, almost as a false nine. Which is not a role I ever saw him playing. He didn’t do it well either. His first contribution was to lamp the ball out of play and beyond being caught offside a couple of times in a Jeremy Helan style and running around a bit, he didn’t do much at all. Another one where you struggle to see how and where he can feature in this system.

Jordan Graham

Only ten minutes or so, still had time for a couple of runs which earned us much-needed breathing space and killed off time towards the end of the game. There’ll be a role for him to play this season.