DAVE PORTER DISCUSSES 8 THINGS WE LEARNT FROM WOLVES V BRIGHTON
1. CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING
On the 20th April 2019, Brighton under Chris Hughton turned up to Molineux and played one of the worst games of football you will ever see. As insipid and as boring a display as you could ever conceive, that somehow earned a 0-0 draw. For the record, the stats that day were 23 shots to Wolves compared to 5 for Brighton. Not one of Brighton’s shots were on target and from memory, the statisticians were generous in calling those 5 attempts actual shots. Fast forward 4 years and Brighton are exceptional. There is so much to admire, a philosophy from top to bottom that had to have started somewhere. It has been a journey for them to which the destination could well be within the top 4 of English football. As a south coast football fan, Brighton shirts are dominating the area, as common now as Manchester United shirts on the streets of Eastbourne, Hastings and Lewes. A revolution has happened, but to coin a phrase, the journey of a thousand miles has to start with a single step. Despite todays result, Wolves have pivoted and are starting a new journey. They are a distance behind the likes of Brighton at the moment, but there remains an optimism that the destination is at least set, and the travel time for this group of players may be a swift one.
2. THE RESULT WASN'T ENJOYABLE BUT THE GAME WAS
The usually excellent Liam Keen of the Express and Star tweeted (or x’d) at half time that wolves were poor and had no control of the game. An opinion that did not resonate with much of the Wolverhampton fan base. He was at least half right however, Wolves definitely did not have control of the game, but neither did Brighton. To suggest however that Wolves were poor is as wide (and over) the mark as Ryan Ait Nouri’s attempt that should have seen Wolves go into half time with a lead. This was a good game of football. It felt modern and had a freshness to it. Two teams with good players slugging it out. There was no pragmatism here, no defensive foundations. You have a go, we will have a go. As a spectacle, there was entertainment and quality that was, by half time, only separated by the team that was able to put one of their better chances away. The scoreline flattered Brighton in the end, it would be easy to draw a conclusion that this was a one sided affair to which the darlings of English football, simply steam rolled relegation bound Wolves, that is the obvious narrative. This though was very different to the humiliation of the 6-0 defeat at the Amex. Wolves were in this game and it was a very good game.
3. WOLVES DON'T SCORE GOALS (YAWN!)
Wolves can’t finish. Wolves struggle to score goals. The pundit will no doubt repeat this rhetoric ad infinitum and you can’t really blame them. The data points that way, and it is the second game of the season and Wolves have managed only one goal. A goal, by the way, that would probably have been disallowed if it wasn’t an obvious consolation. This however, is a lazy perspective. Wolves of previous seasons didn’t score goals because they did not create chances. A prime Jimmy Greaves would have struggled to return double figures on the service provided over the last few seasons. Wolves did not score goals because they did not create chances. What we have now is the same outcome, Wolves do not score goals, but the diagnosis of the issue is very different. Wolves are creating chances. Big chances. The modern metric of football, the XG, suggests that Wolves should have scored five goals rather than the one they have scored over the opening two fixtures. That’s Manchester United away and Brighton, a good team that have had the hoodoo on Wolves for decades. The symptoms of the illness are the same, a lack of goals, but the root cause has fundamentally shifted. Wolves inability to create chances in previous seasons felt chronic and terminal, the lack of goals now feels far more transient and fixable. You get the feeling that one needs to be scuffed into the net or hit off one’s proverbial backside to open the floodgates.
4. A GAME OF FINE MARGINS
The match as a contest petered out of course. A ridiculous 10 minutes at the start of the second half meant that the game was done well before the hour mark. Brighton were clinical, Wolves were profligate. That was the difference. Chances were taken and the game went with them. If Wolves take the chances presented, then the game is a very different one. Brighton’s cruise control was easily engaged for the final half an hour, because critical moments went with the visitors. The gulf between the teams was not as pronounced as the scoreline suggests. The win was comfortable in the end, but this game was in the balance for long periods and separated only by the fine margin of chances being converted.
5. HALF TIME TEAM TALK NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
What happened at half time? Social media will show you both teams returning to the field after the oranges were consumed. Wolves a weary, unorganised, segregated rabble. Brighton Ran on to the pitch, disciplined, organised and meaningful. This is probably routine, maybe meaningless for the majority of games. Running out of the dressing room as a unit does not equal performances or results, but it does have a very sharp focus when the military team dismember the scruffy mob within a few short minutes. Small incremental differences tend to separate the herd in elite sports. The optics of this do not look good and Wolves would do well to work on their discipline. Wolves looked asleep for the ten minutes after half time that determined the outcome.
6. PEDRO NETO HAS THE WORST RIGHT FOOT IN FOOTBALL
Inverted wingers are de rigueur. You can see the logic, a player cutting inside to get off a shot on their better foot and generally tightening the space in the centre of the pitch. Most wingers however can cross a football to some extent with either foot. Pedro Neto’s absolute refusal to utilise his weaker foot for anything other than standing on, is creating issues. There will be an endless compilation of Neto beating his marker, before turning back on to his stronger foot. By this time, defenders have organised, players have used the few seconds to turn and mark. Forwards will stop running because Neto simply will not cross with his weaker foot. Neto looks to be recapturing some fitness and form, but this is a huge problem for O’Neil. Inverted wingers appear a must for the preferred formation to work, so the solution is not as simple as moving to the other side. The sight of Neto cutting back endlessly on repeat, is akin to a method of torture that few will endure for long.
7. NUNES IS AN IDIOT
There really isn’t a better way of putting this. Already booked, the 95th minute of a game that you are losing 4-1. The only thing you need to do here is finish the game, dust yourself off and prepare for the next one. Pushing two people over for no real reason is staggeringly stupid. It again points to the discipline of the team. Nunes now misses the game with Everton, which even at this stage, is in the vicinity of ‘must win’. Petulant and pretty pathetic.
8. NEED TO TRUST THE PROCESS
The performance was better than the result. Wolves are creating chances, they need to take them. Wolves after a turbulent summer, have had a difficult start against opponents both in European competition this year, and they probably have the amount of points, most would have predicted at this stage. Performances will create results, chances will produce goals. Wolves need to maintain confidence, trust the process and journey that they are on. It was a frustrating day, of that there can be little argument, but this was light years ahead of the dross of the Amex, just a few games ago. Wolves look like a team that are changing, modernising, developing. It will be a journey similar to the one that Brighton have been on. Squad depth remains an issue, but this starting eleven will win games and comfortably. Patience may be the key, but time may not be on anyone’s side.
ARTICLE BY DAVE PORTER
Wolverhampton born, East Sussex based supporter. Old enough to have seen the descent to the bottom, young enough to not have experienced the days my friend. Not many Wolves fans to celebrate or commiserate with round these parts, so had to find an outlet to discuss the enormous highs, crushing lows and share the frustrations that only come with following Wolves.