It was a hugely disappointing start to Wolves 2020/21 home campaign as they fell at the first hurdle of the Carabao Cup, losing 1-0 to Championship side Stoke City. In truth, it was a poor game, following in the footsteps of many early round League Cup matches in recent seasons, but poor defending three minutes from time saw substitute Jacob Brown fire home to send the away side into the third round.
Wolves (3-4-3): Ruddy, Boly, Coady, Saiss, Buur, Dendoncker, Neves, Vinagre, Traore, Silva, Vitinha (Subs Used: Neto, Jimenez, Podence)
Stoke (5-3-2):Davies, Souttar, Collins, Martins Indi, Smith, Oakley-Boothe, Thompson, Tymon, McClean, Gregory, Vokes (Subs Used: Fletcher, Brown, Cousins)
Nuno certainly sprung a surprise with his team selection, opting with a strong matchday squad, certainly compared to previous years in the Carabao Cup. New signings Fabio Silva and Vitinha came in for their full debuts, while Ruben Vinagre and Oskar Buur made up the wing back positions. This allowed Adama Traore to push into his preferred right forward position following a difficult evening at wing back in Monday’s 2-0 win at Sheffield United. Ruben Neves also came into the side having been named as a substitute at Bramall Lane. Worryingly, Diogo Jota was not named on the bench for Wolves with Head Coach Nuno simply stating that he was ‘unavailable’ after the game and refusing to elaborate on this simple answer to the Portugal international’s absence. The visitors made several changes to the side which started their Championship campaign with a goalless draw at Millwall on Saturday. Former Wolves striker Sam Vokes start up front while Danny Batth and Steven Fletcher were named among the substitutes.
After a lightening quick start on Monday, Wolves were back to their usual laboured first half performances as the sides went in goalless at the break with neither team creating a clear-cut chance to note. The increased fluidity seen in attack at Sheffield United was in evidence again here with Vitinha aiming to bridge the gap between midfield and attack, drifting between wide and central areas. The young Portuguese midfielder showed brief glimpses of quality on the ball but was unable to create anything that resulted in a chance for the home side. Adama Traore had the beating of up to three Stoke defenders at any one time but his end product was extremely poor throughout the game, overhitting a number of crosses as Wolves struggled to work Davies in the Stoke goal.
The away side grew into the game and were certainly the better side in the second half, going close from a number of set pieces that were sent into the box. Fabio Silva sent a knock down from a free kick wide of the post mid-way through the second half which proved to be the hosts’ golden chance to take the lead. With just 20 minutes to go Nuno uncharacteristically ‘went for it’, throwing Pedro Neto, Raul Jimenez and Daniel Podence into the action, leaving Ruben Neves as the only recognised midfielder on the pitch. Adama Traore reverted to wing back but continued to play extremely high up the pitch. This meant that Wolves failed to move the ball with fluidity from back to front and link the midfield and attack, something we understand they have worked on throughout pre-season. They created very little following Silva’s chance and Stoke found an opening with just three minutes left, capitalising on some extremely poor and unorganised defending to take the lead, aided by poor goalkeeping from John Ruddy. Wolves failed to force an opening in stoppage time, sending a number of balls towards the penalty area which were easily delt with by the away side as they progress to the third round following their hard-earned win.
It was the moment every Wolves fan watching on from home was hoping for. A free kick into the area mid-way through the second half was headed down and fell to the club’s record signing Fabio Silva, but he snatched at the chance putting it wide from 4 yards out. Had he put the chance away, not only would it have been a huge confidence boost ahead of a possible league debut in the coming weeks, but it may well have been the goal that put Wolves into the third round.
The tricky James McLean skipped past Adama Traore who had moved back into the right-wing back position following the introduction of Raul Jimenez with 20 minutes remaining. Having broken clear of Traore with ease, the Irish international played the ball to former Wolves striker Steven Fletcher who’s pass found Brown in acres of space. Brown fired his first-time effort straight at John Ruddy who palmed the ball into the net. It was extremely poor goalkeeping from the veteran shot stopper who will not need to be told that he should have kept it out. However, the goal was a consequence of some extremely poor defending from Wolves first choice back three. Wily Boly was very high up the pitch, possibly covering Traore having seen the joy which Sheffield United found in behind him on Monday night. Romain Saiss and Conor Coady were both taken out of the game by Steven Fletcher’s first time assist back across the box and were both unaware of Jacob Brown’s advancement into the area.
Man of the Match – Fabio Silva
It was a night of poor performances from what was a strong starting eleven, and all eyes were on new record signing Fabio Silva. Despite having a poor night in front of goal, there were some extremely promising signs in terms of the 18-year-old’s positional awareness and intelligence in terms of his movement. His ability to link the play with his fellow forwards was impressive, and he constantly tried to up the tempo and get Wolves on the front foot in what was an all-round lackluster team performance.
Things to Improve
League Cup Attitude
Nuno received an adverse reaction from many following last season’s 2-1 defeat at Aston Villa in the same competition for fielding a starting eleven of almost exclusively academy players. The same certainly could not be said tonight as he opted to go for a strong starting XI and an extremely strong substitutes bench. However, the team performance did not match the ambition of the Head Coach and it certainly did not reach the levels seen in Monday night’s Victory at Bramall Lane. Since Nuno became Wolves head Coach in 2017, Wolves have never advanced past the fourth round of the competition. In previous years, the League Cup will certainly have been at the bottom of the priority list but, having missed out on Europe last season, many fans had hoped to see Wolves have a strong attempt at winning both cup competitions in order to bring a first major trophy back to Molineux since 1980 and secure European football for next season. Unfortunately, the performance tonight was miles short of where it needed to be to match this ambition and Wolves will need to re-discover their FA Cup from 2018 in order to bring silverware back to Molineux this season.
A frustrating night for Wolves, especially as many had hopes of a Carabao Cup run this season with the absence of European football. Nuno can have no complaints as the players failed to deliver upon his expectations and Stoke left the Black Country as deserved winners. Despite this, Wolves’ win on Monday evening is still fresh in the memory and Nuno will be confident of getting a result at Molineux on Monday as Manchester City kick off their campaign under the lights at Molineux.