Wolves are through to the fourth round of the FA Cup after a thunderbolt strike from Adama Traore sealed the win over Crystal Palace in a tightly contested match.
The first half was controlled by Wolves and they took advantage as Traore fired in a powerful hit from 20 yards.
The second half saw them control the tie and possession as Palace struggled for a breakthrough, making it a routine win for the home side.
After the calamity at Brighton and the news that no new additions were to be expected, this game had the added weight you would expect from a must-win. However, the fans and team were buoyed by the recall of Morgan Gibbs-White and fans favourite Patrick Cutrone who could be exciting players to see back in an attacking formation.
Neither side are renowned for their attacking football these days and the match was probably a fair reflection on that assessment. Having said that, the first half was one where Wolves felt they should have been at least two goals to the good. Pedro Neto delivered a delicious ball early on in the half for Fabio Silva, who yet again missed a golden opportunity spurring his header over from six yards.
It was a theme of the game that Wolves caused issues in the wide areas, Traore and Nelson Semedo were particularly effective down the right, both using their pace to good effect and managing to force Palace back into a low-block for the majority of the half. Ruben Neves was superb in the middle of the park, constantly recycling possession and spraying balls about like we saw him do in the Championship.
Defensively Wolves were not troubled and looked positive once more, this comes off the back of a very strong first-half showing at Brighton – so it is clear to see there has been an up in tempo from the off from the side. The return of Leander Dendoncker was plain to see as the midfield regained some much-needed steel and balance. His presence allowed Neves to play with more freedom and creativity – something Wolves have sorely missed.
Jack Butland was kept busiest as he had to sprawl to save a powerful drive from Semedo, with Silva, unfortunately, firing a tame effort on the rebound. The half-time whistle put an end to what was a confident and sprightly first half, although clear-cut chances were at a premium.
The second half was again in Wolves’ control, the midfield battle was being won well and it gave the side a constant blockade into Palace creating any sustained period of possession, Dendoncker was also causing issues going forward and getting into the box. The extra bodies boded well for the home team as they began to pass the ball around with confidence and retain momentum.
On the break, Crystal Palace had a few bright moments and Wilfried Zaha looked dangerous at points, but those chances were few and far between for the Eagles. Wolves could have had a second when Dendoncker met a brilliant cross from Traore, but his shot was well saved by Jack Butland.
Gibbs-White and Cutrone got the runouts everyone wanted to see, with the latter showing the work rate we had become accustomed to in his previous spell at the club. Gibbs-White did not get much of a chance to shine as Wolves sat back for the final 10 minutes to contain Palace and their lead. Ki-Jana However came on for a five-minute cameo to help seal the win and Nuno made sure his team were professional and efficient.
The game was not fantastic, but it was enough to see Wolves into the fourth round of the cup which is all that matters.
Man of the Match – Ruben Neves
I mean who else could it be? He was superb. Whilst Adama got the goal, Ruben put up some impressive numbers with six tackles and 104 touches. He also completed 89% of his 85 passes and of course, assisted the goal. Even though Adama was very close to getting my vote, it’s the Portuguese maestro who gets it for the second match in a row – well done Ruben Neves.
On the back of the Brighton game, all the team needed today was a win, and to get one with their first clean sheet in about 10 games is no mean feat. They were solid, professional and efficient, the three keywords we can use for Nuno’s style of play (on the whole anyway). Whilst it was not anything mind-blowing it was nice to get that winning feeling back, and with Dendoncker and others set to hopefully return to full fitness within the next few weeks, we could still yet see a good push in the second half of the season.