Wolves in October: ‘The Debrief’

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Wolves 2-1 Newcastle

 

Not long after Jeff Hendrick had slotted home Newcastle’s equalising goal, the dreaded proposition of yet another 1-1 draw loomed large. Hendrick’s smart finish seemed wholly unavoidable. Was it the referee’s fault for not protecting Jose Sa? Was it the fumbling defenders who failed to stick a boot through the ball and “get rid”? Was it Francisco Trincao who, just moments earlier, had rattled the crossbar, passing up on a gilt-edged opportunity to extend Wolves’ lead? Take your pick.

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Thankfully, Hwang Hee-Chan had other ideas when he slotted the ball home in the second half to send the home side into raptures and help drag Wolves out of their persistent stalemates with the Magpies. Hwang’s energy and work rate was faultless, and he was withdrawn late on as a result. There was barely a blade of grass that he failed to cover as the South Korean’s partnership with a vibrant Raul Jimenez flourished before our eyes.

 

Make no mistake, Newcastle were poor. Steve Bruce cut a forlorn figure on the sidelines as his average side (injuries accepted) toiled fruitlessly to grab a point. Imagine travelling all the way from Tyneside to watch that? No wonder the fans’ frustration is never too far from boiling point. 

 

Meanwhile, the home side’s frustration was aimed mostly at the referee. Being the man in the middle is a thankless task at the best of times. There was an argument to suggest that Sa was fouled for the Newcastle goal. But any fan would want their striker to go for a ball that was there to be won rather than “bottling out” of the challenge. 

 

Should the game have been stopped as Sa lay sprawled on the deck after the challenge? Possibly. The ref was close to blowing until Sa sprang into life in a vain attempt to save the situation. Blowing every time a player hits the deck is a dangerous road to go down as the more streetwise performers will find a reason to collapse each and every time the opposition side attacks.

 

After an indifferent start to a season that has been entertaining, frustrating, and promising all at once, at the close of play on Saturday evening Wolves were above Leicester and Spurs and level on points with Brentford! As the late Jimmy Greaves once remarked: “It’s a funny old game”.

 

Aston Villa 2-3 Wolves

 

Nothing quite erases the memory of the previous 90 minutes and lifts the mood like a last-minute winner. Throw in the fact that you’ve just beaten your local rivals -away from home no less- and it’s all the sweeter. 

 

Any regular Wolves watcher will know that, as gifted as he is, a Ruben Neves dead ball situation is no guarantee of success. Despite the parroted projections of commentators and analysts, the result often hits the assembled wall or floats off into the back row.

 

On this occasion a large deflection left the keeper gloriously wrong footed. As the ball nestled cosily in the net the most unlikely of comebacks was complete. Cue wild celebrations. Regardless of the method, the result is all that matters. Did it paper over the cracks of a wobbly afternoon’s work? Probably. But at five-to-five on October 16 nobody cared. Villa fans took to social media to voice their displeasure, citing unprofessionalism and a tactically inept manager who failed to hold on to a 2-0 lead.

 

Across the entire duration neither team looked amazing. Villa’s graft and endeavor earned them a two-goal advantage, but they looked rickety. As has been the case in a few Wolves games this season, the opposition have been there for the taking. Showing too much deference only encourages these inferior teams to push forward. Which leads nicely on to…

 

Leeds 1-1 Wolves

 

Another occasion where the opposition side arguably grew in confidence as Wolves sat back, retreated further into a shell, and let them play. Of course, holding on to a slender lead is difficult. Naturally, as the clock ticks by, focus wanes and legs become lethargic there is likely to be a retreat into a more defensive mode. But Wolves have plenty of attacking prowess at their disposal. Bruno Lage has so far proven to be a Jekyll and Hyde tactician.

 

At times the reckless, free flowing attacking abandon has appeared, dominating possession and forcing good quality teams on to the back foot. At other times a deeper, more conservative approach has been adopted. Reminiscent of end times Nuno – or current times Nuno if you support Spurs (this one aged badly but I’ll leave it in). It feels like Lage has yet to tweak his tactics quite right or doesn’t have the correct personnel at his disposal.

 

Hanging on desperately to a 1-0 lead, the men in old gold and black were moments away from another nifty three points and a potential spot in the top four no less. Who would’ve expected that after the opening three games? Eager to be the fall guy once again, step forward Nelson Semedo. Slotted into an unconventional left sided role due to Rayan Ait-Nouri’s understated fitness concerns, Nelson had worked diligently up to that point.

 

It’s hard to dislike Semedo. A dedicated grafter who arrived from a premier outfit harbouring a premier price tag, he is not short of honest effort. Unfortunately, he brings along the odd lapse in concentration. Caught out by some quick thinking, a moment of clown car defending ensued as our hero furiously scurried between bodies to make amends.

 

However, we all know how this concludes. Sitting in the ground or at home, watching through fingers, the Portuguese powerhouse bull rushed into action. Time stood still. The game eased into slow motion as an extended left arm gently prodded into the attacker. We all hoped in utmost denial that the referee had maybe seen something different.

 

He hadn’t. The crowd roared for blood. It was a foul. The man in the middle depressingly pointed to the spot. Some Leeds player (who cares which one) stepped forward after the commotion. Perhaps Jose Sa will save it. Nah. 1-1. You turn to your mate and say things like, “We’d have taken a point before the match” to hide the fact that you’re gutted. 

 

A harsh lesson learned. Next time an attacking threat dances fleet-footed into the box, and our Nelson bears down on him…best to close your eyes and pray.

 

Steve Wellings is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team