Last-minute disappointment

John Ruddy: Let’s make this clear from the outset. John Ruddy has been a fantastic signing for us this season. We are conceding well under a goal per game, have 17 clean sheets and his ability to step up and make big saves despite being frequently underworked has already earned us points this season. But there’s no hiding place as a keeper; and when a last minute 35 yarder goes in, costing us two points and it really should have been saved, fingers will be pointed. It’s not squirmed through his arms, he’s not fumbled it in à la Emi Martinez vs QPR and it did rear up in front of him. Has to save it though. No questions. He made the ground and it’s still evaded him. He’ll know that as well. Premature to call for his replacement, yet the claims of Will Norris for a run in the team will inevitably strengthen for every error that the incumbent makes.

Ryan Bennett: Outstanding against his former club. Plenty of strong tackles and good work in the air. Hard to see him relinquishing that spot on the right hand side of the back three for the rest of the season.

Conor Coady: Standard stuff from the skipper who extricated himself well from some tricky situations and showed some much needed calmness on the ball.

Willy Boly: Just allowing the odd error to creep into his game among the usual elite standard defending. On this occasion a lapse in concentration let Harrison Reed in one-on-one early on and he should really have put us behind. Not a huge concern and still a huge asset to us, but it’d be nice if he could tighten that up.

Matt Doherty: Had a decent first half but when we switched to what was more a 3-5-2 shape after the break, the onus of defending was placed more on the wingbacks as they had no-one directly in front of them to offer support. And as we all know, defending is not Doherty’s forté. Bailed out more than once by Bennett and in the final 10-15 minutes, allowed far too many crosses to come in from Josh Murphy, ramping up further the pressure on our goal. It’s not that hard to get close enough to your man and stop him from having free reign to swing the ball over. Pretty basic.

Barry Douglas: An improved showing and a 10th assist of the season with a trademark near post corner. Was not overly threatened defensively as Norwich placed Reed wide on the right for much of the game and decent footballer that he is, he’s as likely to beat a man as Alan Pardew is to impose an effective curfew. Still doesn’t quite get forward to the same effect as he did early on in the season; rarely do we see him pushing right into the final third from open play.

Alfred N’Diaye: Another mixed bag from the big man. Got his goal (partly thanks to some atrocious Norwich marking) and on occasion did help us drive forward from midfield. However, it was his own slack marking which allowed Christopher Zimmermann to pull a goal back and his inconsistency in passing does impact on our control of the game from time to time.

Ruben Neves: Always seemed unlikely that he would reach mid-March without receiving a 10th booking of the season and he was rightly pulled up for a rash tackle in the middle of the pitch. Of course, we will miss him greatly against Fulham and Reading. We can’t replace him anything approaching like-for-like. Shouldn’t escape criticism for giving away a very soft free kick in a dangerous area for Norwich’s first goal, but otherwise was very good indeed. At least we now know he’ll be available at Villa Park.

Helder Costa: Produced a couple of dazzling runs and looked the most dangerous of the front three…and yet was replaced at half time. Even if he were injured, the change in shape didn’t appear to make much sense; as it turns out, it was a purely tactical decision. Strange one.

Ivan Cavaleiro: Probably the quietest game he’s had for months. Didn’t do a great deal wrong per se, we just struggled to get the ball to him and as a result there were few of the fireworks we’ve been accustomed to seeing since the autumn. Possibly should have hit the target from a Doherty cutback in the second half.

Diogo Jota: Wonderful spin away from Zimmermann for our opening goal (which I’m sure he’ll feel he should have put away himself). Tried hard but not a great deal else came off for him. On a couple of occasions should have pulled the trigger from the edge of the box but looked for a layoff and the move broke down. As great a work of artistry as his goal against Sheffield United was, sometimes it’s better just to have a dig.

Romain Saiss: On for Costa at half-time as we decided for some reason that we needed an extra man in midfield. It didn’t really work out. The balance of the three in there never quite looked right and Saiss didn’t impose himself on the game as we know he can. Possibly a slight question mark on whether he could have got closer to Nelson Oliveira before he fired home.

Benik Afobe: I had my doubts about his signing right from the time that we were inevitably linked with him. While his application and endeavour aren’t in question, there remain serious concerns as to whether he can ever fit into this team. He still cannot hold the ball up. At all. Doesn’t even attempt to do it on occasions and the frequent concession of possession after his introduction played a large part in Norwich’s ascendancy. His presence seems to make us look to go far more direct, which is not really our game and doesn’t look to be a likely route of success. Hampered by a knock (after we had used all our substitutions) but it was still disappointing that he didn’t back up Morgan Gibbs-White when he attempted to run the ball into the corner late on. It sounds harsh, but the clock is already ticking on his chances of earning a permanent deal here. You won’t get a £10m+ move if you aren’t scoring any goals or contributing much in the way of general play.

Morgan Gibbs-White: Another superb showing from the bench with an array of tricks, remarkable confidence for an 18 year old and further evidence that he is going to be a serious player. But with one quibble; he really should have squared the ball to Jota having done some great work to get into the box. Outside chance of a start at Craven Cottage this weekend.

Nuno Espirito Santo: I haven’t bothered giving the manager a write-up in most verdicts this season, because there’s little point. Endlessly repeating “got it spot on, everything went right, we won again, he’s a genius” isn’t of much value. He did get it wrong last night. There was no call for us to change formation and it’s hard to see why he viewed it necessary to deviate from what has served us well all season. We sat off Norwich too much and allowed them back into the game when it was ours for the taking. As detailed, he hasn’t come close to finding a role for Afobe as yet (though this is a two way street and Ben needs to do much better in his own right too). So, a bad night at the office for the gaffer. A very rare one. I don’t expect there to be many more between now and May. He is the man who has put us in this incredibly strong position and while it’s fair to criticise him when he does make mistakes, he’s more than earned a bit of leeway. He is not Dave Jones. We are not going to mess this up. A bit of faith required.

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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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Can’t deal with the cold, clearly…

John Ruddy: At around 4.15 yesterday afternoon we witnessed the rare sight of John Ruddy actually having to make a save. Granted, he didn’t really have to move and it was a fairly weak Lewis Grabban effort from close to 30 yards out, but a save nonetheless. It’s the only effort he’s had to field in the last 180 minutes of football. Sunderland proved to be more negative than the Amazon reviews for Nick Knowles’ album as that was their only shot in the entire match, on or off target. His role in the last two games has been more akin to a cricketer posted to field at third man than a goalkeeper.

Ryan Bennett: Essentially we got what we have come to expect from Bennett; anything he was asked to do defensively – and there wasn’t much in this game – was performed perfectly comfortably. His passing was safe and risk-free and he continues his excellent personal record of goals conceded when he’s been on the pitch (it currently stands at three from 12 appearances in all competitions). However…this was a situation where we were frequently asking the back three to step into midfield with the visitors sitting so relentlessly deep, and safe and risk-free wasn’t necessarily the best option for us. It’s possible that the superior ball-playing ability of Roderick Miranda would have helped us here, but then again can you really drop a defender who’s playing well and doing his core job more than acceptably? It’s not an easy decision for Nuno to make. Ultimately if we’d scored early here and won to nil, we wouldn’t even be talking about this.

Conor Coady: Normal service for the skipper who used the ball well, covered when needed at the back and did his best to push the team on in the second half. You could perhaps argue that he’s been slightly fortuitous that three at the back has come back into vogue of late – the requirements for where he plays are different to those of a centre half playing in a pair – but he really is excelling this season. Good to see.

Willy Boly: If there was mild surprise that Ruddy was forced into some form of action in the second half, it was downright astonishing that someone (in the form of the lively Lynden Gooch) managed to skip past Boly, one of the first times that anyone has got the better of him since his return from injury at the end of October. Otherwise he was as commanding and serene as ever, though Sunderland did much better than previous opponents at dealing with his threat from set pieces.

Matt Doherty: When you’re up against a team that are playing a genuine back five and a midfield with virtually no attacking intent in front of them, our formation requires the wingbacks to play a key role in stretching the play and providing good service from out wide. There was plenty of endeavour from Doherty who continues to demonstrate far superior work rate than in previous seasons (even allowing for this being an incredibly low bar) and he never hid. The problem is his quality on the ball; that crossing is still well below par as he tends to either wildly overhit the ball or supply a slow, floated delivery that is very easy to defend. Given that especially in home games, he’s largely exclusively tasked with attacking duties, it’s an area he desperately needs to work on.

Barry Douglas: Baz will wake up this morning pleased that by the laws of the gospel according to Steve Cotterill, he had a couple of good efforts on target yesterday. Of course back in the real world, neither shot actually troubled Robbin Ruiter and instead was blocked some distance from goal – in the first case by Romain Saiss and had that goalbound effort found the bottom corner in the opening five minutes…then we have a different game. But it didn’t, and that’s that. Corners were perhaps a little below his normal standard and he was subdued after his yellow card for bringing down Gooch, subsequently being replaced.

Romain Saiss: A small blot on Saiss’ copybook here as this was possibly his poorest display of what has been an overall extremely impressive season. While he was fine defensively, his use of the ball was very poor yesterday with a couple of Olofinjana-style, 30-40 yards away from anyone, “presumably that ball was too intelligent for everyone else on the pitch” passes being particularly notable. Can’t really have too many complaints about being substituted, although perhaps switching him into the back three may have been an alternative option.

Ruben Neves: Back in the team and clearly keen to make up for missing out on the game at St Andrews through suspension. From the outset he was as eager as ever to get on the ball, we saw the usual sumptuous touches and bits of class, but his shooting boots were absent yesterday; a number of long range efforts missed the target by a distance. Nitpicking, but a man of his talent should have more than one goal by now.

Ivan Cavaleiro: Has been in devastating form recently; like so many this was a drop-off from that standard. No shortage of effort and he was always willing to take defenders on, but the end product just wasn’t there yesterday. Crosses were frequently too heavy and he was unable to consistently break into central areas as he has done over the past month and more. Finished the game playing at left wingback, which is not a role I expect he’s ever had to perform previously.

Diogo Jota: That’s now four successive games in which an opposing player has been sent off in an incident involving Jota – Sunderland didn’t go for the outright assault option favoured by Birmingham but he continues to attract fouls as defences at this level cannot deal with him. Savagely hauled down by Marc Wilson in the second half before Lee “waistband up to his nipples” Cattermole was stupid enough to hack him down after his own Sunday League touch in the middle of the park. A couple of uncharacteristic ballooned efforts summed up the day for us in front of goal.

Leo Bonatini: Squandered our best chance late on in the first half as his effort from Cavaleiro’s pull back was horribly skewed nearer the corner flag than the goal. An otherwise fairly quiet outing and some of his normally excellent link up play just didn’t fall our way in this game, with layoffs dropping inches out of reach of team mates on a number of occasions.

Alfred N’Diaye: One raking pass out to the left aside, didn’t have much impact after replacing Saiss. Oddly we didn’t seem to give him the ball much given it would have been useful to have him driving forward as we know he can do.

Helder Costa: Subdued in his 15 minute or so outing. Seemed reticent to take Adam Matthews or Brendan Galloway on or to deliver the ball from out wide. It’s a conundrum for Nuno; Helder isn’t going to get back to his best when he’s never spending more than half an hour on the pitch, but equally he isn’t currently worthy of getting a start.

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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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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.


Through to the last 16…just

Will Norris

It pretty much tells its own story when your keeper is easily Man of the Match. Of the 10 shots on target that he faced, some were routine saves, a tip on to the post was superb, a late save to turn a long range effort over the top was spectacular, and he rode his luck a little when saving immediately after we took the lead with the ball ricocheting off him and onto the bar. But you make your own luck. Other than that was commanding and his distribution was both quick and accurate. He’s yet to concede a goal in competitive football for us. Essentially, if any of last season’s keepers had been playing last night, we’d have lost that game. We’re lucky to have such an accomplished backup with plenty of scope to improve even further. Whisper it in certain quarters, but this might even be one where Kevin Thelwell has to take some credit.

Danny Batth

Not an entirely comfortable night for him, one particularly odd instance in the first half where he seemed preoccupied with blocking his man rather than attacking the ball and ending up allowing a free header on goal. Improved as the game went on though the surprising amount of threat that Rovers offered meant it was never a quiet night at the office for any of the centre halves.

Conor Coady

Our best outfield player last night by some distance. In fact it was the standard Coady performance that we’ve come to expect this season; swept up danger, won plenty of tackles and produced a couple of those raking long range passes. Who does he think he is, Ruben Neves? In all seriousness, it’s been an incredible transformation from where he was a year or so ago where I wouldn’t have trusted him to pass the ball five yards with any regularity (or control it less than five yards, for that matter). It’s a credit to him and the coaching staff.

Roderick Miranda

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it is, but something about Miranda doesn’t entirely convince at this stage. Sometimes you feel he should look to be a bit more ambitious with his passing, especially in the absence of Willy Boly…and then he presents the ball straight to the opposition 30 yards out. He generally looks ok physically and then out of nowhere will get buffeted out of the way. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not hopeless and compared to our old friend Richard Stearman…well there is no comparison. It’s just at this point, you’d have to question whether he gets in our strongest team, especially when Kortney Hause eventually returns. Did nearly score right near the end of normal time with a flick which hit the bar.

Oskar Buur

A surprise debut and the young Dane certainly didn’t let himself down. He looks more of an orthodox right back than a wing back and so although he has the engine to get up and down the flank, his play was a little conservative in the final third (though then again, as is often the case, we don’t get numbers into the box especially quickly so crossing the ball continually is fairly pointless). Only really came unstuck defensively once and there seems to be a fair amount of promise there.

Just a note here regarding the guy I was sat next to last night (I had a change of scenery to the Billy Wright Upper owing to the top tier of the North Bank being closed); it gets incredibly irritating when you make an assessment of a 19 year old kid making his debut in English football and repeat it for over two fucking hours. “He only ever passes the ball back” was the refrain…apart from all the times he didn’t. “He’s out of his depth” he whined, in his voice that sounded like a more nasal version of Bob Willis, except Buur didn’t look out of his depth. In any case, anyone is free to hold their opinion on any player. Hey, look at the amount of stick I gave the majority of our lot last season. But that’s on here. I didn’t spend 90 minutes last season shouting that Joe Mason is a lightweight nonentity every time he touched the ball. At the game, maybe try supporting the players, eh? Especially someone in his first match. Thank God I don’t have anyone like that near me in my regular seat.

Sylvain Deslandes

I was a little surprised when we announced that we’d retained the services of Deslandes towards the end of last season because after all, he couldn’t get a game for a pretty poor Bury team in League One in his loan spell there and he’s rarely shown anything in U23 fixtures to suggest he’s a serious answer. He is at least fairly powerful these days and has a physical presence which would be adequate for Championship football. What he is emphatically not is a left wing back. He simply doesn’t possess anything like the quality required as neatly epitomised by his final contribution being to lamp a cross into the South Bank. You might, maybe, get away with him as a left sided centre half if we were really in a pinch. But then when everyone’s fit, he’d be well down the pecking order for that position. Seems a pleasant enough chap and all, but I’m not entirely sure why he’s still here.

Jack Price

A reasonable game in his first outing since the last round of this competition. Passing was generally decent and looked to find the wingbacks quite often rather than simply laying it off five yards as he’s been guilty of in the past. Indeed, it was his excellent ball to Barry Douglas which led to our goal. You wouldn’t think he’s ever going to seriously compete for a first team spot in the league now; he’s more there as extra insurance should we suffer an injury crisis. But worth having him around for now. Oddly, since looking more than decent on set pieces at the Birmingham away game last season, I don’t think I’ve seen him take a single corner or free kick.

Alfred N’Diaye

A bit of a backward step here after his encouraging start to his Wolves career. Did fairly well in the first half, one little flurry of skill in particular showing what he can do, but faded thereafter and didn’t influence the game much. I’d like to see him run with the ball a little more as he definitely has the capability to do it. Still, minutes under the belt.

Ben Marshall

Probably the biggest disappointment of the night. We know from last season that he’s a good footballer who makes up for his lack of pace with his passing and crossing abilities. However, in the first half in particular, so many moves broke down with a slack ball from Marshall in the final third, and his set pieces were woeful throughout. Not good when that’s one of your major selling points. It does appear that he takes a long time to get up to speed following an injury lay-off and with that in mind, it was good for him to at least get some further time on the pitch. He needs to pick up from this standard though, and quickly. It’s a little strange that we haven’t tried him at any stage as the right wing back as you would think that when Helder Costa returns, this is his most likely route into the team (and also where Matt Doherty – who is actually performing fairly well at the moment, hold the front page – has very little competition or cover).

Bright Enobakhare

Over two years since his last first team goal, it was vital that he got off the mark for this campaign because as we all know, his range of skills are not going to be of much use to us if there is no end product to speak of. Should have put us 1-0 up within the 90 minutes only to see a slightly casual volley well saved by the Rovers keeper. Tracked back diligently at times and was the pick of our attacking players on the night, not that it was an especially high bar.

Michal Zyro

Above all, it was just good to see Zyro back on the pitch after that awful injury resulting from the assault (I can’t say tackle, because it wasn’t) from Antony Kay 18 months or so ago. Started brightly enough with two efforts flying just over…but there wasn’t a great deal else to speak of. There’s a fair way to go before he can be considered ready to play with any kind of regularity. Even when he does get fit, it’s not apparent where he’s going to fit in; in most of his appearances here he’s been used as a central striker and while he tries hard and does have power on his side, his mobility isn’t really up to the mark and he’s no kind of focal point to play off. As for playing out wide…well he isn’t really comparable to the players we regularly use out there (or as inside forwards, as they are now). There isn’t much that he has in common with Diogo Jota, for instance.

Barry Douglas

On for the uninspiring Deslandes on the hour and having not featured for a month, the runout will have done him good. Looked understandably rusty early on but did grow into the game a little and it was he who set up the winner with a neat pull back. Good to see him back and the battle between him and Ruben Vinagre for the left wing back spot will be intriguing to watch. Great to have two quality options there.

Connor Ronan

On for Marshall and for the remainder of normal time was used in the same inside forward position where I’m reliably informed he impressed at Southampton. He was busy enough here without really getting on the ball that much. For extra time was switched to right wing back and it’s fair to say that he will not play too many further games there. Did his level best, but was an easy target as Bristol hit diagonals in his direction and he simply isn’t equipped to play there. Let’s chalk that one down as a failed experiment.

Ivan Cavaleiro

I’ve mentioned before how tiresome it’s becoming to hear audible, mass groaning whenever Bright Enobakhare delays a pass or gives the ball away. More so because those same standards don’t seem to apply to other players. Cav came on here and for the first 10 minutes or so that he was on the park he was appalling. Like, pub player level. Didn’t get anything right. Have a guess how much stick he got from the stands. It’s the same amount of Mercury Prizes that Northern Uproar have. He did improve from there in fairness and even put in some useful defensive work near the end.

Donovan Wilson

Our first ever fourth sub, fact fans. Had three opportunities to use that pace of his to trouble the visitors’ defence; the first two came to nothing but the third saw him neatly spin his man and find himself clean through, 35 yards out or so…and was pulled back. The ensuing red card was scant consolation as it would have been better all round if he could have gone on to score.

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.


Five cup wins in 12 months now. Madness…

Will Norris

As you might expect, Norris wasn’t overly tested against opponents who were coming straight off the back of an 8-2 defeat. What he did have to do was impressive; claiming crosses, sweeping up in a proactive fashion, quick distribution and plenty of communication with his defenders. If John Ruddy were to be unavailable for any reason, there should be little concern about playing Norris in a league fixture as he looks an extremely assured figure. Let’s just say he’s a significant step up from our previous biscuit handed, Toblerone-booted back up keeper.

Ryan Bennett

Signing Bennett always seemed a strange move. He’d never really managed to nail down a first team place at Norwich whichever division they were playing in and had rarely looked like a top-end option even in the Championship. His profile is certainly at odds with the majority of players we’ve brought in this season. On this showing, the best you could say is that he’s a bit of an upgrade on Richard Stearman and Ethan Ebanks-Landell. Frankly, he isn’t a particularly good footballer – he managed to control the ball straight out of play once and his range of passing is way below what we require from our defenders in this system – and while there wasn’t too much to concern him defensively in this game, he doesn’t look the quickest on the turn. He also pulled out a Stearman-style dragback which brought back some harrowing flashbacks. When Kortney Hause returns, you’d think he’d be sixth in line for three spots, which probably isn’t what he signed up for. I wouldn’t expect to see too much of him this season barring an injury crisis or some kind of Steve Bruce novel plot where all our other centre halves get kidnapped by Mossad agents for some unclear reason.

Danny Batth

A comfortable enough outing in the middle of the back three, which is surely where he has to play if he is called upon. One pass which was left a little short of Boly led to the usual moans and groans but generally he was fine in possession and dealt with the assorted hoofs forward from Yeovil in competent enough fashion. He’s simply a fairly experienced, steady enough back up option now, the kind that we’re told every squad needs.

Willy Boly

A surprise inclusion but this game won’t have taken too much out of him. Completely in cruise control from start to finish, he could still be playing now without breaking sweat. He’s a far, far better footballer than I envisaged; dealing with a 60 yard hoof forward is one thing. Cushioning it down straight to a team mate is another. Strode forward a couple of times and one crunching challenge in particular sent the message of “don’t come within five yards of me”. Should have scored in the first half – free header, 10 yards out and sent wide – which would have given the game a different complexion.

Jordan Graham

It seems that Graham has attracted criticism in some parts for his performance last night. It’s true that he didn’t often run at his full back in the fashion that we know he can, and at times he appeared to be playing within himself. Some of his set piece delivery was poor and perhaps you’d expect a little more of an impact against a League Two team from such a talented player. But on the flipside; this was his first meaningful 90 minutes for a very, very long time. He’s playing on the opposite side to where he’s accustomed to turning out, in an unfamiliar position (not that anyone who plays at wingback for us at present has to do much defending, but it’s still different from playing as part of a front three which is pretty much exclusively where he’s played for us previously). He sorted out his delivery in the end to provide yet another assist. He still has a way to go to work out his precise role in this team and to feel his way back properly into first team football, but this wasn’t anything like as bad an outing as the early reviews might indicate.

Ruben Vinagre

This was not only Vinagre’s debut for us, but his first ever game at senior level for any club. You can certainly see why we brought him in and view him as a long-term prospect. Much like Barry Douglas, his first touch is impeccable and he has the pace and engine to get up and down the left flank all game. A couple of fine deliveries sadly went unconverted and he looks well enough built to cope with first team football. The one black mark was a momentary loss of concentration which allowed Yeovil in for their one clear chance which, in fairness, really should have been converted. He’s not going to push Douglas immediately, but the more he plays, the better he’ll do. There’s certainly more than enough talent there.

Jack Price

He was Jack Price. Pretty much any of the reviews I’ve ever written of him can apply here. In truth he didn’t have much to do as Yeovil didn’t even attempt to play through midfield and he’s never going to have much of an impact going forward. He’s done well to remain in the reckoning as it seemed inevitable that he was going to leave this summer – all new Wolves managers seem to love him when they first start out – and you can see how he’ll fit into our system if we require him to play. The problem with playing him in this kind of game is that he isn’t going to make any kind of an inestimable case for inclusion. He doesn’t necessarily look any better against Yeovil than he would against Derby.

Dave Edwards

Two outings so far for Dave and on both occasions, his first contribution has been to lamp a “pass” wildly into touch. Nothing like making a good first impression, eh. Nuno showed some decent tactical awareness from the outset here by not merely expecting Dave to play like Ruben Neves – which would be a little like asking Cheryl Cole to sing like Liam Gallagher (or indeed, sing at all ) – instead pushing him further on and with a brief to run beyond the forwards. In terms of movement, he didn’t do too badly. His runs in the first half in particular were definitely dragging the Yeovil defenders out of position and creating space, although he did pointlessly run offside a number of times which really shouldn’t be the case from someone so experienced. The problem, as ever, came when he was expected to do anything with the ball. And there’s little anyone is going to be able to do about that at this point. It’s also why he surely isn’t going to play much of a part this season.

Connor Ronan

Showcased again what a talented player he is. Not everything came off for him last night; he’ll be disappointed that he didn’t make a better fist of a couple of long range shots and while his passing (both short and long) early on was excellent, he did drop off a little in this respect as the game went on. He was understandably eager to impress and perhaps tried to be a bit too ambitious on occasion, but there were enough signs to suggest that he’ll develop into someone we can slot into our midfield in time. As ever, showed strength at times that belies the fact that he looks like he belongs in Grange Hill or whatever the 2010s equivalent is.

Nouha Dicko

We saw on Saturday that he’s going to struggle to make the grade as a central striker simply because of what we require from the occupant of that position in the style which Nuno wants us to play. He was shifted further to the left of the notional front three last night…and again it didn’t really work. Struggled to get into the game and went lengthy spells without touching the ball. Moved into the centre for the final 20 minutes or so and immediately looked more at home. Put a shot narrowly over the bar and then guided home a nice header into the corner from Graham’s corner. The goal itself seemed to perk him up and there was a bit more of the familiar Dicko snap about his game. There are still plenty of question marks over his future, especially when we inevitably add to our attacking resources.

Leo Bonatini

Being so short of football going into the season and out of necessity being immediately thrown into the team, this was a fitness exercise for Leo more than anything. There weren’t many opportunities for him – a header over the bar in the first half was about it – and his contribution was largely limited to a handful of nice layoffs. It’s another 70 minutes under his belt and that’s the most important thing.

Bright Enobakhare

While we controlled the game throughout, what we were perhaps lacking was a bit of a direct threat. Bright definitely gave us that, showing off his mad skillz and it was his run which earned us the corner from which we scored the only goal. Perhaps it is as an impact sub where he might be best employed for the time being.

Diogo Jota

The drizzle was falling, the temperature hovered around 13 degrees…and wouldn’t you know it, Jota was still able to play. Showed some early signs of a good link up with Vinagre in particular and it won’t be long before he gets off the mark for us.

Romain Saiss

Brought on with 10 to go to see out the game and make sure any threat was snuffed out. Which he’s really rather good at.

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.


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.


Beating a Europa League team in their own backyard, go us

Harry Beasley: My first look at him, he’s got the same build as a very young Wayne Hennessey with a pleasing Britpop throwback haircut. Wasn’t overly tested but command of the box was excellent – took charge of situations where necessary and was a calm presence.

Hakeem Odoffin: Never going to be a flying wingback – he has the look of one of those players who managers will endlessly shuffle between playing at full back and centre half – but did a competent enough job in joining in with attacks as well as looking solid overall defensively.

Connor Johnson: Oh dear. I spent part of the back end of last season suggesting that Johnson was at least close to ready to making the step up. It’s not to say that he isn’t of course, but last night was a shocker for him personally. Beaten in the air too often, constantly getting touch tight to his man and as a consequence, being turned easily, a handful of slack misjudgements and should have conceded a penalty and been sent off for bringing down an opponent clean through on goal after his own error allowed the chance. Fortunately for us, the linesman on the near side didn’t appear to think keeping up with play was important. We’ll put this down as a bad day at the office as I’ve seen him play way better than that against far better players.

Ryan Leak: A much steadier game for his centre half partner. Doesn’t look the greatest in possession which doesn’t necessarily augur well for him going forward, there were a few minor errors but nothing catastrophic.

Anthony Breslin: Another impressive outing at left back. I’ve been quietly impressed every time I’ve seen him – I wouldn’t necessarily say you could throw him into the Championship right now and he’d slot in effortlessly (although it would have been preferable to effectively playing no-one at left back), but he gets all the basics right. Holds position, gets round to cover when we get in trouble, doesn’t back off too much, supports attacks without bombing forward haphazardly, decent left foot. There’s plenty to work with.

Dan Armstrong: Decent threat on the right hand side, not afraid to take his man on and put in some dangerous deliveries. Far from lightning quick but seems to be a good enough footballer to compensate for that.

Christian Herc: Quiet opening 10 minutes or so but from then on dictated play in the middle. His range of passing was on show and his first thought is always to drive forward with the ball; an exquisite spin to take him past an opponent showed his quality. It can’t be too long before he’s getting first team football, whether with us or out on loan.

Ross Finnie: It’s hard to write too much about a defensively minded midfielder when you’re playing against a semi-professional Welsh team and you have the lion’s share of possession. So I won’t.

Will Randall: A frustrating loan spell at Walsall last season seemed to indicate he had a way to go before he’d be making any kind of impact but there were some more promising signs here. Yes, the level of opposition wasn’t great. Yes, they allowed him to do pretty much as he pleased (it shouldn’t have taken a genius to work out that playing from the left, he cuts in virtually every single time). None of that is really his problem though and he was our best player in the first half. A continual threat, a decently struck goal (past the Lonergan-a-like in the Bala goal) and hopefully he’ll get another chance out on loan soon.

Donovan Wilson: As we’ve seen in his brief first team outings, there’s still a way to go for Don. There’s no doubt that he has plenty going for him; he can obviously finish and any forward with that amount of pace is always going to be a danger to a point. What is lacking at the moment is his hold up play or indeed any semblance of it. Last night he wasn’t even really trying to shield the ball or bring others into play. You can’t keep trying to turn everyone on halfway and run clear. Then again, this time last year he wasn’t even first choice in this team. So it’s early days.

Niall Ennis: Some similar issues to Wilson in that a lot of our attacks broke down when they reached the front two, particularly in the opening 20 minutes or so. But then he produces that finish for the opening goal. We’re not quite looking at Helder Costa vs Cardiff levels of making the keeper look silly, but not far off. Ice cool. It’s a crying shame that he lost a year of his development last year but it was no accident that before his injury, he was very close to being selected for the first team. Once he gets some more games under his belt (and depending who we sign between now and the close of the transfer window) then I would expect him to be pushing hard for inclusion once again. His talent demands it.

All change at half time and a completely different XI:

Rory Brown: Not that he did anything wrong (or even had a great deal to do), but there was something just not quite as convincing about him as Beasley. No chance with the goal, more on which later.

Dion Sanderson: Big lad for a full back. Looked very decent though. Composed enough on the ball and has an obvious physical presence.

Ben Goodliffe: Gave us a much more reassuring presence at the back than we’d had in the first half. Organised well, dealt with the broadly long ball threat from Bala and seems to be reasonably quick across the ground. Very vocal, too. Which meant that we learned that he is either extremely Welsh or assimilates local accents like a turbo Steve McClaren.

Adam Osbourne: One vital block at 2-1 was the standout moment for him. Fairly untroubled.

Joel Whittington: Believe me, I don’t like having a go at young players, especially on first viewing. It’s hard to see how this lad has made it as far as this through our Academy though. Positional play was all over the place – maybe in a Football Manager style, we’ve asked Matt Doherty to ‘mentor’ him – beaten far too easily a number of times, no pace to speak of and he supplied the assist for the Bala goal with a ludicrous header back across goal on his own six yard box under minimal pressure. As first impressions go, this was on the Mark Williams vs Fulham scale.

Carlos Heredia: If you were asked to draw up the prototype of a young, low key Spanish midfielder, you’d probably sketch up young Carlos (who does, as his unveiling photos suggest, look about 12). You can instantly see that his ball control and eye for a pass is already there. You can also see that he’s so slight that Norm from the Twix adverts would beat him in an arm wrestle. Started on the right and did ok in an understated way, but faded from the game when switched to the other side.

Elliott Watt: We decided to play long ball for some reason in the second half so Elliott spent 45 minutes essentially watching the ball sail over his head and occasionally putting in a few challenges on the Love Island wannabes in the Bala midfield.

Ryan Rainey: As above, but did get a goal right at the death with a well hit strike from 25 yards into the bottom corner. Though once again, the keeper showed the reactions of Grandad from Only Fools and Horses on Mogadon.

Andrew Sealey-Harris: Sounds like a mid-range solicitor, plays a bit like Ashley Young (when he was good). Threatens the full back on both sides and has plenty of pace, looked more at home on the right.

Jordan Allan: Tiny but refuses to be pushed around. Definite footballing intelligence on show as he made a number of excellent runs which took defenders away and made space for others. Would probably be tough at this stage for him to make an impact as a main striker, but definitely as a role to play as he develops.

Duckens Nazon: The Duck has been a minor figure of ridicule since we signed him from ultra-obscure origins. Having finally seen him play, he definitely isn’t all that bad at all. That is not to say that he’ll make it here, especially with our ambitions starting to skyrocket. But he’s no Frank Nouble-style joker. It would be fair to say that his first touch isn’t the best at this stage, but once he does get on the ball and start running at goal, he’s very hard to stop. Built like a middleweight boxer, he batters opponents out of the way and has a more than decent shot on him. Unlucky not to score on a couple of occasions. If – as remains likely – he doesn’t end up breaking into our first team, there are League One and Two teams who have far worse options up front. He also gave me a nod and a smile when I said “Well in, Duckens” to him after the warm up, which was nice. Well in, Duckens.

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