MATCH REPORT CRYSTAL PALACE 2-1 WOLVES, BY DAVE PORTER
Having felled Forest at the weekend, Wolves were back, looking to build on the confidence that three points and an exit from the relegation zone brings. To continue momentum, they would need to get something at the unhappiest of hunting grounds, Selhurst Park, pillars and all. The kick off time was always going to be beneficial to a partisan home crowd, and an annoyance for everyone concerned with the away side. This was made worse by traffic causing a late arrival of the team bus to the game, and culminating in a very late return for the fan bus back to Wolverhampton.
Wolves made four changes from the team that managed to secure three points at the weekend. Boubacar Traore replaced Moutinho in a move that had been touted by most, given the way that previous meetings with Palace had seen the Wolves midfield overrun and overpowered. There was also no surprise that Nathan Collins returned from what has seemed the longest three game suspension in history. Nelson Semedo returned to right back in the last of the predictable changes. Eyebrows were raised by most however, at the inclusion of young full back Hugo Bueno who replaced the ill Rayan Ait-Nouri, and preferred ahead of an out of form Jonny Otto. It did mean that 75% of the defence that claimed a clean sheet only a few days earlier, were replaced.
The formation was again quite difficult to decipher, a hospital pass that was given by the previous management to the caretaker, that continues to be an issue. I think most would suggest it was a 4-3-3, but Nunes was clearly given licence to be the point of a midfield triangle. It could have been 4-2-1-3. Podence was seldom found on the left though, so balance remains an issue. Players continue to appear not to be exactly certain of what is being asked of them. On paper at least, Wolves lined up as a 4-3-3.
After some early exchanges, the game sparked into life after the 5th Minute. Palace rifled the post with a low drifting shot from 25 yards which crashed against Jose Sa’s non-broken hands upright, with the keeper at full stretch. Wolves response was to counter with Adama cutting infield and finding Podence in space. His pass was able to split the defence perfectly into the path of Costa, who appeared to only need to swing a right boot in order to score. The aged striker however elected to cut back onto his left foot, and a combination of defender and goalkeeper denied a very clear goal scoring opportunity. For a team that doesn’t create chances, you felt this had to be taken.
Wolves entered a bright period and dominated possession for the next 10 minutes buoyed by some belief that they could break a team down. Nothing of note however followed, and by midway through the first half, Palace had turned possession away and started to dominate. It was during arguably Palace’s most dominant period that Wolves found that most rare of items, an away goal, and a good one it was at that. Adama managed to finally make something stick up front, not solely a criticism of Adama, as none of the forward players managed to do this throughout. Having retained possession, the ball was moved to Podence whose clever flick (one has to work now and again) found Neves, who in turn released Bueno on the left hand side. Bueno advanced taking a couple of touches before delivering an inch perfect cross onto the head of Adama Traore. His downward near post header from close range, enough to put Wolves in front.
Confidence again seemed to return to Wolves, who comfortably kept Palace at arm’s length for the remainder of the half and seemed on balance worthy of a first half lead. That lead however was nearly doubled before the half time oranges were consumed. Adama Traore, again at the hub of Wolves creativity, picked up the ball from just inside his own half, and drove towards the palace penalty area. He had options, but before he found time and space to hit his shot over the bar, he was brought down on the edge of the area. Neves Territory. Four minutes had been added to the half following lengthy treatment to Nunes and Podence, this incident itself had brought about a Palace booking for the foul. There would, you would think be time for the free kick and some follow up. Neves free kick looked perfect, it rounded the wall with pace and dip. Forget the Keeper, he is no longer involved. It was however to be a thud off an inside of a post, rather than a swish of the net that followed. The ball returned back from the post fortuitously into a convocation (I looked this up) of Eagles, who cleared for a final Wolves corner of the half.. or so we thought. The referee thought otherwise and blew for half time.
Wolves were worthy of the half time lead, they had managed to quieten the crowd and created the three best opportunities of the half. Selhurst rang out bizarrely of boos at half time, directed at the referee. An odd thing to do, given that it was obvious that it was deemed illegal before the game to give a freekick against Zaha. The referee would go on to ensure that ‘boos’ were not received by the same fans at full time. Perhaps the jeers at the referee was more in frustration, that Wolves were not the relegation worried, managerless team they expected, and were fortunate not to be further behind. For Wolves, surely this was more confidence back in the tank as levels were rising to a point where the warning light on the gauge was no longer showing. Keep the crowd quiet, frustrate and more of the same was the order of the day for the second half.
Palace were level within a minute of the restart. Pick a phrase… stupid, self-inflicted, careless, lack of concentration, phone smashingly frustrating. They all apply. Wolves took the kick off at the restart and applied the oft used tactic of overloading one side, and try and lump it towards the right flank. For a team looking to keep possession, this is a baffling routine. It was implemented poorly. Kilman missed his kick leaving players out of position, it was returned awkwardly to Collins, who again appeared to miss his kick directed in the same area, again leaving players out of position. If you have the stomach to have watched this back, you may spot others involved, who seemed to have easy chances to recycle possession but fail. Regardless, Palace managed to move the ball to the right where a cross was delivered to the back post. Nelson Semedo had a very reasonable game. It’s not an easy task to keep Zaha quiet but one on one, he won most of his battles during the evening and would go on to create opportunities toward the end of the game. What however you do not want to see, is any ball being delivered to a back post where Nelson Semedo has responsibility. He escaped most of the blame away at Chelsea, because the strange ball flight made it appear more of a goalkeeping positional error, but this was a carbon copy. Semedo seemingly still in the changing room with his half time cup of tea was miles away from Eze, who comfortably and without pressure directed his header beyond Sa. That confidence warning light, again flashed empty.
With the crowd up and the Palace team, whose only wins this season have come from behind, had visibly extra bounce. This looked like it was only going to go one way. Wolves managed to settle before another significant moment on 58 minutes. Davis makes a triple change which must have explanations behind them. Boubacar Traore was playing his first game of the season and looked like a walking sending off, was understandably replaced by Moutinho. Nunes who may have been unable to recover from a Sa left hook in the first half, was replaced by Hodge. Most surprisingly was Adama being replaced by Guedes. You would think there must be a reason. It felt like a towel was being thrown in, and if Palace needed any sort of lift, they got it as the Spaniard walked off the pitch. This cannot have been tactical.
Previous meetings between the clubs had seen a power difference particularly in midfield. Adding two 5’7 midfielders, whether from football heaven or not, felt like an instant mismatch. Hodge and Moutinho would go on to be busy, but their gnat like tenacity biting around Palace ankles, was never going to be enough. Just over 10 minutes later the inevitable. Palace score what ‘the kids’ call a sweaty. For those not ‘down with the kids’, this is a computer game term for when a ball is passed to an unmarked player in the middle of the goal, less than 6 yards out to score comfortably. It’s an insult of a goal, one that shows your superiority against an opponent, and this was no different. Collins and Kilman can share some blame here, Collins seemed to react far too slowly to a loose spinning ball allowing Palace to have possession in a dangerous area. This was then rolled past a flat footed Kilman to Zaha, who had the time and space to do a few ‘keepy uppys’ should he so please, before dispatching beyond Sa’s broken right hand. It was an awful goal to concede. One that should not be happening in the Premier League.
Hwang replaced Costa 4 minutes later. Costa was at the time in the faces of the palace defenders and was left a little humiliated that he was taken off in the middle of an argument. You felt a more experienced manager may have judged the situation a little better and delayed for a minute or so. In truth, it was all that Costa had offered the entire game. He looked every bit the desperate signing and not the talisman here, and could have been replaced much sooner. The irony then, that no sooner as Costa was replaced, Wolves started to create opportunities, that begged for a tall target man being in the box. Wolves began to create overlaps, particularly down the right hand side but with few players in the box, and those that were there, looking like the seven dwarfs off to work. Size is a real issue in this Wolves team.
Neves had a deflected shot that was palmed away when it seemed easier to catch, but it wouldn’t fall for a waiting Hodge, who was directed into traffic. Wolves continued to press, but all too predictably lacked a final ball, or anyone to put a final ball into. In most seasons you may have been thinking when 5 minutes were added, that we will get a chance here, one moment, but this is not an ordinary season, and no one thought we would get a final chance, and one didn’t arrive.
No game though it seems escapes refereeing controversy, and this was no different. Two pivotal moments both went against Wolves. Ward must surely be sent off for sliding studs up late into Sa. Its an obvious booking for the already booked defender, and it defies logic that he remained on the field. There was also a very obvious penalty decision that was not given against Guehi. The defender appeared to be leaning towards to ball, his arm is outstretched. It’s a very obvious penalty, probably more so than the one awarded against Forest at the weekend. Bizarrely the same VAR official was involved in both! Wolves will feel hard done by with both moments in this match, though relying on random handballs as your best means of creating chances, says more about the team than it does about the refereeing.
So a defeat for Wolves, on balance the performance was better than the one that merited three points against an admittedly dreadful Nottingham Forest, but it is still well below a standard that is going to win points in this league. It’s also a performance that is well below the one that this team on paper should be providing. The pressure is now back on to beat Leicester again at the weekend. The second must win home game of a season that is only a quarter of the way through. That can only mean one thing, It’s officially a relegation battle.
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.