DAVE PORTER REPORTS ON WOLVES 1-1 DRAW AT THE CITY GROUND WITH NOTTINGHAM FOREST
Whilst not quite in the realm of a must-win, there was certainly a feeling that Wolves could not afford to lose to another relegation candidate. Losses at home to Bournemouth and Leeds had given a taste of the impact of losing to those around you, and a third defeat, whilst not terminal, would have created a wound that would have been hard to come back from. The fear of defeat seemed evident in the starting line-up. Changes were expected to the side that self-destructed against Leeds, but Lopetegui is anything but predictable. Wolves again attempted to shoehorn four central midfielders into what could be best described as a 4-3-3 with Nunes and Traore charged with supporting Cunha in attack. A recall for Toti was as unexpected as the absence of Ait-Nouri, the latter again failing to make the bench. Many will point to this as another example of Lopetegui having little to no idea of his preferred system or starting eleven.
Whilst the team selection was surprising, the pattern of the game in the first half was anything but. Wolves enjoyed most of the possession and looked neat and tidy enough, but without any real clue as to how to create even a sniff of a chance. Forest were happy enough to allow Wolves to have the ball and keep them comfortably at arm’s length, whilst counter-attacking brightly through their own attacking trio. Aside from a defensive header hitting their own crossbar, the best Wolves could muster were a few harmless crosses into a box devoid of any attacking personnel. Forest looked the more likely and it was no real surprise when they took the lead. A ball looped over the head of Toti fell to Johnson who from a tight angle fired between Sa’s legs. A poor goal which Sa will feel he should have done better in terms of both positioning and stopping.
Wolves have felt hard done by of late in terms of refereeing decisions, but they had some fortune shortly after the goal. With Wolves clinging to the ropes like a punch-drunk boxer desperately seeking the respite of a half-time break, Johnson rounded Toti in the area. There was definitely hands-on contact by Toti, although probably not enough to warrant Johnson’s theatrical collapse. Referee Kavanagh was not sold and opted to book the diving forward rather than award the penalty. This definitely fell in the category of ‘you have seen them given’, and you felt that had Kavanagh pointed to the spot, it would not have been overturned. Wolves limped meekly into halftime with the usual need for wholesale changes to be made. Whatever experiment this was, it had not worked. Wolves did not manage a shot on target and were fortunate to not be further behind.
Sarabia and Podence replaced Moutinho and Lemina as Wolves moved towards a more obvious 4-2-3-1 formation, although you could argue that this was the poorly applied intention in the first place. It did not help. Wolves again kept the ball in ineffective areas, unwilling to take anything resembling an attacking thought or pass. Forest again were able to sit in and hit Wolves seemingly at will. Wolves’ best moment came from Adama Traore’s run into the box. In one of the few Wolves’ attacks, the forward appeared to be beyond Felipe and bearing down on goal before being bundled to the floor. As with the earlier Johnson incident, contact was made, but not enough to persuade Kavanagh. Again, file this in the category of not being overturned if given, but the right decision was probably made.
Wolves made further changes with Dawson and Traore being replaced by Bueno and Diego Costa. Not for the first time, Adama and fans will probably wonder why Lopetegui has added a striker who will be in the box and taken off the player most likely to cross the ball to him. Forest were wasteful. They broke through Wolves’ lines and went clear towards goal on multiple occasions, only to fluff their lines. As poor and ineffective as Wolves had been, they remained at least in the game.
With time running out, desperation set in. Wolves had a set piece just in their own half and Neves insisted on both centre halves positioning themselves in the opposition penalty area. Subtlety had long since left the building and we had entered “gerrit in the box” territory. And with the ball in the box, Wolves finally created something and managed to finish their only real chance of the game. The ball ran free to Podence following the free kick, and he calmly turned in the box before drilling his shot high into the top corner. It was a goal that Wolves’ dire second-half performance had scarcely warranted, but a lifeline they wanted to keep with both hands. Wolves were not interested in seizing on any momentum. The draw was there, and it was gratefully accepted.
The game was not without additional drama. A red card each for an altercation between the coaches on the bench. Goalscorer Podence can feel quite fortunate not to be sent off for what looked like an ugly spitting incident as the clock counted down on a niggly encounter that walked the line of being bad-tempered. Neves finally picked up the booking needed to suspend him for the next two games for a clumsy first-half block. It was inevitable, and he will miss home games against Chelsea and Brentford.
Wolves will be pleased with a point that they in no way deserved. Lopetegui has a real issue with his starting line-up, and it needs to be resolved quickly. Wolves continue to look completely ineffective as an attacking proposition. With no threat, Wolves look constantly nervous, knowing that any mistake made in defence is likely to be pivotal. They have got away with one today; on another day, Forest could have won this game comfortably. The goal was, however, not to lose, and they haven’t, but they will need to do an awful lot better to obtain the points to continue playing in this division.
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.