So close to the perfect performance…
Never mind the scoreline
You’d think after sitting through two scoreless hours, watching us lose on penalties and ending up getting home at 2.15am, I’d be less than best pleased. While the terrible logistics of exiting Manchester city centre by road and the laughable state of the M6 don’t get off the hook (Richard Branson has never had a better advert for his train company), this was a tremendous game to watch. Tons of action at either end, a tactical battle between an up-and-coming European coach and one of the world’s best, the Championship’s best taking on the best team in the country, a referee who allowed the game to flow and a Wolves team putting absolutely everything on the line. It may have finished 0-0, but you couldn’t take your eyes off it for a second. All of which makes a further mockery of Sky’s decision to show Swansea vs Manchester United – a fixture which they’ve already shown once this season, and which for the second time resulted in a stroll of an away win. Our game would surely have held more interest for the neutral and given the make up of the two teams, was more likely to provide better entertainment.
Wholesale changes worked out well
There appeared to be some consternation towards us making nine changes from Saturday’s victory over Preston with only Danny Batth and Conor Coady retaining their places – and were Willy Boly fully fit, it’s likely one of those would also have dropped out. With City fielding a very strong team including both Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus, our prospects at kick-off did not look good. However, every single one of those players – many of whom have had very limited action this season – did themselves proud. Of course, City had chances. They are, after all, one of the highest scoring teams in Europe. They had spells in possession where we struggled to get the ball back and some of their one touch stuff around the box is mesmerising. But we never looked overawed. It would be a surprise if any of Ryan Bennett, Jack Price or Ben Marshall started many league games this season barring a monumental injury crisis, all of them have their own natural limitations which can’t ever really be overcome, but all stuck to their task and had good games. There was an encouraging cameo from Connor Ronan who is unfortunate not to be getting much gametime given his natural ability. Kortney Hause hadn’t played a senior game since May but slotted back in to the defence and produced a number of critical, impressive interventions. We’re now in the position where we have a squad that can be relied upon – by definition, your back up players aren’t going to be as good as the first choices, yet whoever needs to slot in to this team knows their role and doesn’t look likely to let us down.
Will Norris and Ruben Vinagre
Four months ago, Will Norris was playing for Cambridge United in League Two and Ruben Vinagre had never played a senior game of any description for any club. Last night, I couldn’t split them in a call for Man of the Match away at Manchester City. Norris made two mistakes, both kicking errors, both rectified by himself immediately with a smart save. Beyond that, his distribution was generally good, his command of the box is excellent and decisive and he has showcased the ability to make saves that he has no real right to pull off. Four games for Wolves (plus an extra hour thanks to two lots of extra time), two of them away at Premier League clubs, and he’s yet to concede a goal. Vinagre was up against Danilo, Raheem Sterling and Kyle Walker over the two hours last night. Just the £125m or so’s worth of players there. Not for a second did he look out of his depth. His engine is such that in the 115th minute he was still charging the length of the field to set up an attack for us, his skill is such that he made Walker look a chump as he outwitted him near the corner flag. These two players aren’t in our first choice XI at present; they should both be a big part of our future. Two outstanding talents (in Vinagre’s case, any option to sign him permanently should be taken up as soon as possible).
So near, yet so far for Bright
There hasn’t been much for me to complain about this season; one small grumble has been the tendency of our fans to start groaning at Bright Enobakhare every time he holds on to the ball for a nanosecond too long. His raw talent is apparent, he is just 19 years of age and this was just his 19th start in senior football. Treating a young player like that isn’t called for and isn’t going to help him in his development. So it should be encouraging that he had his best game in a Wolves shirt by some distance. Playing as the central striker in place of the rested Leo Bonatini, his use of the ball was sharper and more intelligent, he dropped into midfield to show a level of responsibility not often sighted from him before, he showed impressive strength and resilience to occupy the two City centre halves and his workrate was top notch. As I say, it should be encouraging. This should have been a watershed night for him. Unfortunately, it will be remembered for him failing to put the final touch on his display as he managed to miss three one-on-one opportunities. He crafted the first two of those two chances himself, and it must be said that the first in particular was no gimme with the angle relatively tight and only a small area of Claudio Bravo’s goal to aim at. Helder Costa’s second half chance was a better opening than that. But the over-elabaration allowing Tosin Adarabioyo to get back and block and hitting the ball straight at Bravo following a run in on goal right down the centre of the pitch…they genuinely were gilt-edged. All the more so with the final chance coming right on 90 minutes. That really was the game, right there. We have to hope that he can build on this display and not dwell too much on the misses; he is clearly a confidence player and the support staff will have to make sure that he concentrates on the multiple positives from last night.
Nuno gets it right…again
The pedigree of Nuno wasn’t in question before he arrived at Molineux. You don’t manage Valencia and Porto in your early 40s if you’re an absolute chancer. However, there are many cases of highly-fancied foreign coaches not being able to implement their ideas in English football and while some of the criticism of his appointment in the summer was ill-informed and even at times xenophobic, some caution was understandable. If anyone still held any doubts whatsoever about him, they should have comprehensively been extinguished last night. This was Manchester City’s form from the beginning of September going into the game: 5-0, 4-0, 6-0, 2-1, 5-0, 2-0, 1-0, 7-2, 2-1, 3-0. It’s fairly ominous, to say the least. Most managers – let alone managers in charge of a Championship team – would have simply parked the bus, setting up a wall of players across the pitch and hoping to keep the scoreline down to a respectable level. This was not how we played. While we did sit deep at times – Ryan Bennett in particular played as more of a conventional right back rather than the normal wing back role that is occupied by Matt Doherty – there was always an attempt to play our own football and an increasing threat on the break. To reiterate – we carved out four clear one-on-one chances. Away from home. At the team who will probably win the Premier League and even have a chance of winning the Champions League. The way we reverted into our shape whenever we lost the ball was incredibly impressive for this is how City often kill teams; by making a turnover of possession become a goal inside seconds. There was little opportunity for them to do that here as no sooner had they got the ball back, all the space had been filled back up by a gold shirt. Our manager completely matched Pep Guardiola last night. That should be an unthinkable thing to say. We had Pep worried to the point where he had to bring on around £200m worth of players in Kevin de Bruyne, Kyle Walker, John Stones and Leroy Sané. For all the many, many, many merits of Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota, Nuno was our best acquisition of the summer and by some distance too. Thankfully he appears to be fully immersed in our project and so the prospects of him leaving for a vacant Premier League job seem, at present, to be remote. We’re very lucky indeed to have him.
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