PLAYER RATINGS: WOLVES 3-0 BRENTFORD

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.

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.

REACTION: WOLVES 1-0 LEICESTER CITY

How to dispose of Champions League quarter-finalists

Possession with a purpose

We’ve seen managers at Wolves try to go down the road of possession football in the past. With Mark McGhee, this usually ended up with us knocking the ball aimlessly around at zero pace around the halfway line before eventually thumping it upfield in the vague direction of Iwan Roberts. Paul Lambert produced a fantastic cover version of that in last season’s home game against Rotherham (for which I’m still receiving therapy). The most successful (in relative terms) exponent of it was, for a while, Kenny Jackett until that plan fell on its face when he started including Tommy Rowe, Ethan Ebanks-Landell and Leon Clarke in the team.

I look forward to welcoming him back later on this season when Sheff Utd come to visit.

This is somewhat different. Now yes, this was only a friendly, and Leicester approached it with an attitude which made it look like they had 11 Carl Robinsons on the pitch at times. But still, the style of play is evident; while we look to keep the ball and dominate possession, the first thought of everyone is to move forwards, not backwards and sideways. There should always be a pass on and a run being made, the wingbacks are pushed right on to the opposing full backs when we have the ball around halfway, defenders step into midfield, inside forwards drop in deep if we need support…it’s all quite alien to anything we’ve seen before. All that was lacking was an out and out forward to give us a focal point through the middle; it appears that this is being addressed with the impending signing of Leo Bonatini. It would be fair to say that our fans will never be receptive towards a sterile variety of this kind of play, which is one of the reasons why Aitor Karanka would have been a terrible appointment this summer. But if we’re able to play in the fashion that we did on Saturday – albeit in games where the intensity will be a great deal higher – then it should prove popular. The aesthetics are there, married to a coherent plan and a genuine threat. All of this with Helder Costa currently missing. Wonders will never cease.

The new signings will not be bullied

I wrote last week about how “Championship experience” is an overrated commodity; while there is a possible upside from having players on the books who have played in successful teams at this level in the past, the key to recruitment should focus on quality rather than an arbitrary number of games played against fellow second tier teams. However, the trope persists that our new foreign lads won’t like it up ’em at Burton or Ipswich. Having seen them in action, this seems unlikely.

Ruben Neves is not only a wonderful player – his ability to perpetually find a couple of yards of space is the most striking of his many qualities – but more than willing to dig in defensively and stand up to challenges. Diogo Jota shrugged off challenges with ease and even withstood an out-and-out assault from Harry “head possibly bigger than Grant Hanley’s” Maguire just before he was replaced in a pre-planned move. Willy Boly is a man mountain with a “they shall not pass” mentality. Roderick Miranda strolled into midfield effortlessly and also looks to be solidly built.

There might be times when teams do a number on us; it would be unrealistic at this stage to suggest that we’re going to sweep all before us with virtually an entirely new team being built. What they won’t be able to do is knock us out of a game physically.

Boly’s gonna get ya.

Conor Coady may have found his niche

It’s fairly apparent now that Conor Coady is not going to be able to do the job he was initially signed to do. As a midfielder he looked lacking in technical ability even to do what Kenny Jackett, Walter Zenga and Paul Lambert wanted; in a Nuno team, he has no chance of fitting in (I would say the same also applies to Dave Edwards, but then again I saw him complete three passes in the space of around 30 seconds on Saturday. Scenes). He performed competently and creditably in an unfamiliar right back role for much of last season but Nuno switching him to the centre of our three man defence could turn out to be a very shrewd move. It was noticeable in the pre-season games in Austria that Coady was extremely vocal, both on the pitch and when he was on the sidelines and on Saturday he was tasked with keeping that backline organised. He did it in an extremely impressive fashion. For all the good work as club captain that Danny Batth does in the community, being vocal and making sure everyone else is well drilled has never been anything like his forté. Judging from his showings for Norwich, it wouldn’t really appear to be Ryan Bennett’s game either. Kortney Hause has yet to feature this summer following an injury picked up on England duty. Coady doesn’t have to do anything fancy; just hold the line, sweep up any danger, don’t get pulled out into the channels, pop it off to someone else when he makes an interception. There was also time for what is becoming something of a trademark in a heroic goal line clearance (although there’s little doubt that Jamie Vardy should have given him no chance). I’ve criticised him a lot in the past and with good cause, questions may still remain regarding how he might deal with more of an aerial threat, but these were good signs at the weekend.

Our glorious Leader.

Getting the best out of Romain Saiss

There were three principal problems with Saiss last season; firstly, he frequently looked leaden and lacking in dynamism. Secondly, he was deployed far, far too deep, meaning that his range of passing was largely useless to us. Finally, he suffered from alarming inconsistency within a game; 10 minutes where he looked dominant would be followed by 10 where he would be passive, a further 10 where he struggled to make even the simplest of passes, 10 where he’d do his best Seyi Olofinjana impression by seeming to completely disappear from the park altogether…seldom did we see a joined up performance from him over a whole match.

An effort appears to have been made to address the first two of those failings. Saiss definitely looks trimmer and sharper (an observation which can also be applied, shock horror, to Matt Doherty…there isn’t really an excuse for professional footballers to look like they have a sack of spuds shoved down the back of their shorts). With the extra centre half in our team now and with how comfortable Miranda in particular is on the ball, there is no longer any need for Saiss to park himself five yards in front of the defence and he can actually play in er, midfield. At times on Saturday he was the furthermost player pressing Leicester on the relatively rare occasions they managed to get on the ball. When he himself picked up possession, he was in a position to pass the ball into dangerous areas and materially influence the game.

The final part is, of course, up to Saiss himself. We know the ability is there and it might be that having such a quality partner as Neves will be the making of him as he tries to forge a career in this country. All the ingredients are there for him to make a success of it now and it appears that at least to start with, he will be given the opportunity to cement a place. What he can’t afford is to slack off in games again or have spells of play where he’s finding opposition shirts more often than he’s finding gold ones. Nuno simply won’t tolerate that.

A friendly should not mean the rules change

Our final three pre-season games have been characterised by some shall we say robust challenges. Shrewsbury seemed intent on hacking us out of the game, leading to the early, precautionary removal of Ruben Neves, there was an awful challenge on Doherty in the Peterborough fixture that could easily have led to a serious injury and as mentioned earlier, Harry Maguire decided that the best way to stop Diogo Jota was not to defend like you might expect a £17m signing to do, but to hack him down with the kind of challenge you’d see in the Wolverhampton Sunday League. The latter two in particular would almost certainly have been punished with a red card in a competitive game. There remains the opportunity for referees to invite the manager to substitute a player in a friendly under these circumstances; nothing was done bar a token booking for Maguire. The laws of the game have been interpreted in recent times to protect creative players such as Jota and for his appalling, cynical, brutal play on Saturday, Maguire should be missing the opening three games of the season. As it is, he’s free to carry on. We are fortunate that our player is available to us. There should be no way that referees should be allowing that kind of treatment to be meted out and to go effectively unpunished, friendly game or not.

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.