Wolves’ season now appears to be back on track after two much-needed wins against Chelsea and Newcastle. Those results were just what the doctor ordered after a disappointing November which saw them slip down the table with just one point gained from 6 games. Concerns that the world was ending and that a new manager and new team was needed are now distant memories, and it just proved to be a wee nightmare interrupting the delivery of Nuno’s dream.
That disappointing period I would argue only really lasted for two games not six. It started when Watford outplayed Wolves at Molineux but I think there were plenty of excuses for that below-par performance. It came on the back of an international break in which both wing backs experienced international football for the first time. Doherty got his first two caps for Ireland, and Jonny not only got his first two caps for Spain but he also became a father for the first time. Jimenez meanwhile had played a midweek fixture in South America and didn’t return to training until late after a long flight and little sleep. All those three players were substituted in the Watford game to show they were drained by the ‘break’ and Neves too had played two internationals.
The following three games against Brighton, Spurs and Arsenal saw Wolves produce three really good performances that deserved far more than one point. So it was only the Huddersfield and Cardiff games that would go down as serious disappointments, and in those games, Wolves found it difficult against packed midfield’s and aggressive opponents that very effectively closed down the spaces and prevented them from playing their normal game. Something certainly that the players and management would have learned from.
The Chelsea game that followed saw the visitors impress for the first hour of the game and dominate possession with their crisp passing and another defeat for Wolves looked more than likely. But they restricted the scoring opportunities for the visitors, kept in the game, and when they did finally start to get some good possession they finally had a game where they turned their good spell into goals. Then at Newcastle, the team selection would have surprised many with Moutinho, Gibbs White and Jimenez all put on the bench with Saiss retaining his place and Traore brought in to the starting line up. But this to me was a sign Wolves had learned from the Cardiff and Huddersfield games. We were always likely to be on the back foot for much of the game at St James’s Park, and Rafa Benitez is an expert in setting up his team to deprive the opposition of the space to play. So the usual game we see from Wolves may well not have succeeded. The pace of Traore getting on the end of quick breakaways from defence to attack, often bypassing the midfield, was the tactic adopted. Wolves didn’t impress with fluent football on the day but they denied the home team many chances and well before the home team suffered a red card, Newcastle seemed to be running out of ideas. As soon as the Geordies went down to ten men, the subs were introduced and Wolves started to play the way we know they can and looked the more likely winners well before the late, late winner. Jota was pulled down when clean through, Jimenez hitting the bar and the home keeper made two excellent saves before Doherty’s winner.
The biggest positive from those two victories was the return to form of Diogo Jota. Getting the winner against Chelsea, his first goal in the Premier League, seemed to lift a weight off his shoulder and he scored one and made one at Newcastle and looked much more like the player who had such an outstanding season in the Championship.
Now we look ahead to Bournemouth’s visit to Molineux on Saturday when we will be trying to get a third successive win that would take them above their opponents in the league. With Everton away at Man City on Saturday lunchtime, there is every chance a win could take Wolves above them also. And if Leicester fail to win at Crystal Palace then we could see Wolves as high as 7th in the league on Saturday night. Bournemouth have had an excellent season so far, but after a difficult run of fixtures where they have only beaten Huddersfield since October, they don’t come in good form. And talisman striker Callum Wilson missed last weekend’s game with hamstring problems and would be a big miss for them if he was absent this weekend.
Once that game is over we are into the busy holiday period with four games in 13 days against Liverpool at home, Fulham and Spurs away then Palace at home. And if Wolves come out of that run in the top half of the table it will have been a fabulous first half of the season in their return to the top flight. And few would bet against them then going on to achieve the highest league position the club have had since they finished 6th in 1980.