NICK PARKES REPORTS ON LEEDS AND WOLVES MATCH UP AT ELLAND ROAD
The dawn of the 22/23 season saw us pitted against Leeds United at Elland Road and following a positive pre-season in Spain and Portugal; transfer issues aside, Wolves fans were cautiously optimistic going into today’s game.
At 2 pm the line-up was announced and Wolves set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Sa playing in goal, Jonny, Collins (making his Wolves league debut), Kilman, and Ait-Nouri at the back; Neves and Dendoncker playing the holding midfielders and the attacking threat coming from Gibbs-White, Podence, and Neto. Key midfielder Moutinho was missing from the squad with a suspected injury. Also, the lack of real options on the bench left little to be desired.
The opening minutes saw Wolves on the front foot after a neat flick-on from Dendoncker saw Podence take a shot from distance. Wolves’ positivity continued and after 6 minutes a long ball forward from Neves saw Neto outmuscle the Leeds defender on the left-hand side, he then crossed it to the back post when Hwang headed it back across goal into the path of Podence who volleyed it past the ‘keeper to put Wolves ahead. A great flowing move from back-to-front, capped off by a great finish, had the traveling Wolves fans going mad!
Leeds grew into the game after the goal and Wolves defensively started to give the ball away sloppily, twice from Jonny and once from Kilman; also, Sa almost cost Wolves by going for a cross he had no right to on the left-hand side of his 6-yard-box, only to miss the ball completely and Neves, being in the right place, prevented a glorious chance for Leeds.
Some excellent Wolves play came from Neto, whose pace on the right wing got the better of the Leeds player resulting in Harrison dragging him back on the halfway line to earn himself a yellow card in the 20th minute. Also, straight after, Hwang almost re-created Paul Gasgoine’s infamous England vs Scotland goal as, after Neves played him in, he creatively flicked it over the defender’s head and volleyed first-time, only to be denied a Goal of the Season contender by the Leeds’ goalkeeper who managed to get his hands to it
Leeds continued to grow into the game and cause Wolves problems and eventually, our defence was breached as Leeds got themselves on the scoresheet in the 24th minute after some very skeptical defending from Ait-Nouri in the box. Trying to be too clever instead of clearing his lines, the ball ended up at the feet of Rodrigo, who dropped his shoulder and drilled the ball past Jose Sa at his near post to make it 1-1. Leeds’s high press caused Wolves issues in the middle of the park and at the back.
Leading up to half-time there were three talking points for Wolves. One being “another” silky Kilman run on the 30th-minute mark; taking confidence from his wonder goal in pre-season, he took off with the ball from the back and weaved his way passed a few Leeds midfielders; however, no wonder goal this time. The final minutes of the half saw action at both ends of the pitch. With Sa, almost gifting a goal to Leeds after trying to be too clever on his goal line under pressure from the Leeds forward but luckily clearing his lines.
The final moment of the half saw Dendoncker squander a glorious opportunity for Wolves. A brilliant piece of work from Wolves resulted in Dendoncker being fed through on goal to the left of the goalkeeper, and 6-yards out. With only the Leeds ‘keeper, Meslier, to beat he hits it straight at the goalkeeper. Had he scored, Wolves would have gone into the break 2-1 up, even if Leeds had been the better team overall.
The second half saw a much-improved Wolves side as we went on the attack from the whistle, playing more aggressively and more direct in our forward play. Neto in particular looked threatening. The 48th minute saw a penalty appeal come to no avail. A cross was put in on the right to Neto, who was manhandled by the Leeds defender but nothing was given. Great lead-up play again shortly after, again resulting in nothing as Neto provided a heavy pass in the Leeds box which came to nothing.
The 55th minute saw a moment of absolute brilliance from that man again, Pedro Neto. He magically outfoxed two defenders with two pieces of skill, but as with all Wolves’ second-half play, no end product. Wolves continued to huff and puff but the second goal alluded them as a corner on the right was met by Dendoncker whose header was saved.
Leeds could not cope with Wolves’ intensity and press. Neves looked like a man on a mission and was dictating the midfield. His passing range at this point was excellent and it helped push Wolves up the field. We looked menacing but that key goal would not come (a sentence said too often as a Wolves fan).
After a last-ditch tackle from Leeds in the 68th minute to prevent a clear goal-scoring opportunity, the feeling that Dendoncker miss at the end of the first half would come back to haunt Wolves. Low and behold in the 74th minute it happened! Good work from Bamford on the left as he put a cross in straight across our 6-yard box to the back post where Leeds’ Aaronson and Wolves’ Ait-Nouri jostled for position. To cap off Ait-Nouri’s already difficult day, it came off him and into the net for an own-goal. 2-1 Leeds and Elland Road was rocking.
The second Leeds goal blew the wind from Wolves’ sail and from then on we looked lethargic and short of ideas. With such an inexperienced and ill-equipped bench, Bruno only made 1 change out of a possible 5, which came in the 85th minute as Chem Campbell replaced Hwang (who had been carrying a groin injury since the first half). The 4-minutes extra-time came and went with little to shout about; and as match referee Robert Jones blew his whistle to call full-time, there seemed to be an altercation between Bruno Lage and Leeds coach Jesse Marsch. Marsch possibly taking offence to Bruno asking if any of his strikers are available.
A game that saw Collins look commanding and assertive at the back on his official debut. One where Neves looked liberated and Neto looked back to his pre-injury form, ultimately ended in disappointment with Wolves losing 2-1 to Leeds after a hard-fought affair. Having been on top for large periods of the second half we paid the price for failing to find the cutting edge in the final third. Whether it can be blamed on lack of depth or not, Wolves fans are in for an interesting week ahead in the transfer market ahead of Fulham next week.
LEEDS 2-1 WOLVES
Rodrigo (24′minutes), Aït-Nouri (74′minutes og)
aricle by nick parkes
Hi, I’m Nick! Born in Wolverhampton and currently living in Barcelona. I’ve been a Wolves fan since birth (dad’s choice) and was a north bank season ticket holder in my younger days. My favourite all-time player, Bully! And favourite current player is Coady!
I’m an English teacher by trade and when I’m not scolding teenagers in the class, I’m either running, gardening or watching cricket!