I came to a realisation this week. I couldn’t believe it took me until now to realise this. Nuno’s name literally translates to ‘Nuno Holy Spirit’. I was mind-blown. Is this what they had in mind when they spoke about the Second Coming? Are we approaching Judgement Day? Is he also The Father AND The Son?! While pondering all of these thoughts it became apparent that maybe there is something more to the messiah-like status Nuno has been afforded. He even called out the fans, demanding us to stick with the team in its hour of need – I implore you to name me another manager who could get away with such a challenge of our support. And here we are, lapping it all up. ‘He’s right you know, we am rubbish sometimes.’
On the subject of support it was mentioned that the away contingent weren’t as strong in number as some of the travelling armies we have sent this season. The fact of the matter was the game was screened live on television, the week before Christmas with a potentially extortionate evening in Sheffield in prospect. We are all passionate Wolves fans but sometimes head has to rule over heart. And that is all I shall say on the matter for the rest of the season.
I’ve been on a personal PR campaign to urge any football fan I know to watch Wolves this season, such is the enjoyment I’ve experienced. At work, in the shops, with family. If we’ve been on TV I’ve been doing Sky Sports’ job for them. The problem has been in each of our televised games this season, we’ve not been at our best. Yes, we’ve won. Yes. we’ve not conceded a goal. But the fluency in attack that is the reason a neutral would be engaged with the game hasn’t really been present. Pundits have continually waxed lyrical in the studios about us but the live offerings haven’t matched some of the scintillating displays we’ve come to witness this season. The trend continued at Sheffield Wednesday.
This was billed as a tough fixture and Wednesday do have a squad the envy of many in the Championship. It also showed either how poor the Wolves Premier League elect under Mick McCarthy were or how English football has evolved. Steven Fletcher is still probably the best striker I’ve seen at Wolves and David Jones was a major catalyst for our survival in 2009/10. Incidentally I felt Jones was Wednesday’s best player, but this was a very odd game of football.
Wednesday’s struggles were well documented and if this was the performance of a side whose manager is walking the plank, then he may as well jump before he is pushed. And we were poor by the way. It was akin to Laurel vs Hardy, with the performance of both teams riddled with mistakes. Cavaleiro was awful, but managed to produce the two best pieces of skill in the entire game, one of which where he chested the ball, flicked it round the defender one side and fetched it from the other. The problems arrived when our forwards tried finding each other, as if they were speaking a different language. You all speak Portuguese guys, you have no excuse there. Talking of Portuguese, let’s move on to the one moment of quality within the entire 90 minutes…
Ruben Neves. His signing has evoked much debate as to the legitimacy of our relationship with Jorge Mendes. Any dissenting commentators ought to be shown a highlight of this goal on loop, eyelids taped to their foreheads. Talk to me about FFP after watching that. Neves isn’t always the most eye-catching player. The majority of his game is based around industry, reading the game and passing the ball. All wonderful traits in a footballer, but rarely headline grabbers. Perhaps he decided today was going to be his moment in the limelight. Because nobody on that pitch deserved to be in his presence. Aside from the goal, there were the usual gorgeous switches of play, the eyes-in-the-back-of-the-head anticipation and a shimmy between two defenders so elusive, the Artful Dodger would have applauded. The cherry on top of the icing on the cake though was the majestic winner, a silky, slide-rule finish reminiscent of an Ice Hockey puck gliding across a frozen rink. The technique to control such a ball, especially amid the amount of ineptitude that was on display during this game, was astonishing. The ball nestled so tightly into the side-netting, it was as if the net had some kind of gravitational pull enforced on it by our midfield magician. Neves uses the ball like a partner in a slow dance. ‘Follow my lead’ he says and the ball remains enchanted by his gaze, led on it’s merry way to wherever Ruben pleases. On this occasion, to the back of the net. We’re truly in the presence of the best midfielder in the Championship, possibly ever.
There isn’t too much to be said about the rest of the game. Wednesday looked a team bereft of ideas, evidenced by their prehistoric approach to the second half. It may be prehistoric, but when implemented correctly, it can be effective. Wednesday’s delivery was never of enough quality to threaten us however. Nuno showed that his natural instinct is to protect and secure by bringing on Danny Batth as he locked the back door, the windows, shut the blinds, switched off the lights, put out the guard dogs and proudly proclaimed his home impenetrable. It is a characteristic of Wolves that when we don’t play well, we retreat, almost like a tortoise, back into our shell to remain solid. On the odd occasion we take a peek outside to see if it’s safe to get out, but we’re happy to control the game by ceding possession and holding what we have. A word on John Ruddy here too, whose command of his area was a real blessing, claiming a multitude of crosses aimed towards the lumpen Atdhe Nuhiu – if any Wednesday fans can enlighten me as to how he remains a Championship player, please do so.
This was amazingly the 7th time an opposition player has been sent off against us. A lazy analysis of that would be to assume Wolves are making a meal of tackles, hounding the referee and generally just being so shitty to the officials that they just do what we need them to. I used to believe this was the case with the likes of Man United and Chelsea too. But when your players are constantly making fools of defenders and putting them under enormous amounts of pressure, eventually defenders will cave. We’re the extra bit sharper, savvier and just better. People have tried to stop us by foul means on a number of occasions. Thankfully referees are clamping down.
Going back to individual performances I thought Matt Doherty had rediscovered a bit of attacking mojo while Diogo Jota had probably his worst game of the season. But we’re also 7 points clear of the rest, before they’ve even kicked a ball. Friday night football won’t ever be popular, but when you’ve won, you can sit back, relax and enjoy the ensuing mayhem. While everyone else was slipping up around him, Neves chose his moment to bring calm over proceedings with the minimum of fuss. Wolves can now sit and watch everyone else slip up around them, knowing their moment of calmness has given them the edge.