Wolves were knocked out of the FA Cup with a whimper as they lost out 2-0 to Southampton at Molineux.
Goals from Danny Ings and Stuart Armstrong were enough to see off a below-par Wolves side who barely mustered any chances in 90 minutes.
Wolves were looking to the FA Cup as a source of positivity for this season as their Premier League season was becoming a non-event, so it was a huge surprise to see Nuno select a weakened starting lineup with six central midfielders (by trade) on the field.
Southampton came into this game in terrible form having conceded 12 in their last two games and losing several matches on the spin.
From the game, you wouldn’t have been able to tell though. Southampton played on the front foot as soon as the whistle went and Wolves were yet again restricted to their own 16-yard area and struggled to play off a wide outlet.
Vitinha and Morgan Gibbs-White failed to get a foothold in the game playing out of position and Fabio Silva couldn’t get the ball to stick to him when Wolves cleared into the Southampton half. Nathan Redmond was a constant threat getting in behind and causing the makeshift back three to lose their positional awareness, leaving spaces for Armstrong and Ings to get into the box and find dangerous positions in and around the 12-yard area.
The midfield battle was a constant uphill fight for Wolves as Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho were overrun at points despite their best efforts to win the ball back for a quick transition.
Unfortunately, even with the ball Wolves had no pace in play. They were far to slow and tepid with the ball, rarely taking chances and trying threaded balls through midfield which were cut out the majority of the time. Romain Saiss, whilst more comfortable defensively than Coady, played with less emphasis on getting the ball out wide with diagonals but focused on those central passes for Vitinha and Gibbs-White to make us of.
This change in attacking impetus meant Southampton were comfortable to defend centrally and counter-attack with width, which lead to Wolves constantly getting caught out in possession and far too susceptible to attacks on the left and right outside channels.
Armstrong was constantly finding half-spaces in behind Neves and Moutinho which lead to Redmond and Ings getting off several shots off at Ruddy, who collected them well to retain Wolves’ clean sheet.
The break came at a good time for Wolves as Southampton continued to build ahead of steam. A change of plan was needed for the second half, but that wasn’t to be the case.
It was more of the same for the first few minutes of the second half too as the away side continued to exploit the same areas they did in the first. They also made use of Romain Saiss played more advanced in the centre of the back three as Armstrong threaded several passes between him and Max Kilman when the former pressed upfield. In the 49th minute, the breakthrough was made as Ings made use of a sleeping defensive line to slip through and squeeze his shot under Ruddy. The goal was initially ruled out for offside, but VAR overturned the decision and Southampton had a deserved lead.
Willian Jose and Adama Traore were brought on 60 minutes to try and stretch the game, and immediately you could see that Wolves were able to use their wide areas to greater effect and stretch their opponent’s backline. Pedro Neto was also brought on on 70 minutes, but by that time Wolves were starting to run low on time to get a rhythm in the game with their wide players.
In the resulting 20 minutes they were barely able to get into the game, and only created one real chance where Neto put in a fantastic ball was fell through to Traore around 10 yards out, but unfortunately, the Spaniard saw it late and his decent effort was sprawled away by Fraser Forster.
As Wolves chased the game they became sloppy in possession and that’s what lead to the second goal. A poor pass from Leander Dendoncker put Ruddy in trouble and his pass was blocked off, allowing it to fall for Armstrong who finished his shot brilliantly in the far corner to cap off an impressive performance.
the disappointment was clear to see from Nuno at full time, but you have to wonder why on earth he didn’t put out a stronger XI and go for the game.
Man of the Match – John Ruddy
Might get some stick for this one but he was solid all night until Dendoncker’s hospital pass ruined any chance of him clearing the ball. Collected the ball well, communicated with his backline, and didn’t look too troubled for most of the match. Made some vital saves to keep the score down too.
This was a very disappointing performance in what should have been a chance for Wolves to have something to look forward to this season. The team selection was frankly baffling, and the tactical setup meant Wolves had no attacking impetus on the game. A real, real letdown, with no to play for in the Premier League this means the season is pretty much dead (as if it wasn’t already). More has to be done to get this team playing well again going forward.