We brought the curtain down on 2017 in some style didn’t we? The last minute of the footballing year resulted in us cementing our spot on top of the league in a game full of triumph against adversity, leaving us entering 2018 sitting pretty, casting a shadow over the rest of the league.
In the aftermath of such euphoria, the next game can always feel like a vacuum of emotion, an after the Lord Mayor’s Show feel about it. We were spent in Bristol. The players and fans left it all out there on the field. Arriving at the game – what an attendance for a midweek fixture by the way – it certainly felt as if exhaustion was in the air. it was out 4th game in quick succession and the atmosphere was a little subdued. Were the fans tired? Had the motorway miles up and down the country caught up with the South Bank? My wife commented on how despite the fact they were small in number and tucked up in the corner, the Brentford fans were winning the battle for noise. My opinion was that it had a lot more to do with the quietness of the home crowd.
As for the game itself, I think we all anticipated a tidy, ‘nice’ game of football, with the ball very much at the centre of both team’s thoughts, and that’s what we got. Mrs Kular again commented this was the least dirty game she’d witnessed this season and I couldn’t disagree. Ever since we started playing Brentford during the League One season, they’ve always impressed at Molineux with their thoughtful, free-flowing style and they came into this one on a run of three consecutive wins.
To their detriment though, they seemed to forgot Rule No. 1 in the ‘Idiot’s Guide to Stopping Nuno’s Wolves’: Negate the wing-backs. Our worst performances these season have not only coincided with, but have pretty much been as a result of our wing-backs having poor games. Matt Doherty was given the freedom of WV1 in the first half and his presence was felt throughout as Ruben Neves, Conor Coady and even Willy Boly sent their Exocet missiles out towards the right flank on a regular basis. Doherty could do with sorting out his end product though – just imagine if he could cross the ball. There was a strange nervousness around, despite the fact we carved Brentford open on a number of occasions. Maybe it was just the sight of the other team having good periods of possession – we’re not used to that at Molineux. The fact remains we ended another game without John Ruddy making a save. Possession is no longer 9/10 of the law.
Like a faulty light, we flickered, threatening to spark for the first 50 minutes of the game. Nuno called for the electrician, Ivan Cavaleiro who has proved to be the switch to illuminate our attack in the last two games. Electric is the only way I can describe Cavaleiro at the moment, as defenders wilt, afraid of getting shocked by being in his presence. Again, though, it was a set piece which unlocked the door. Ruben Neves may not technically be a set-piece specialist, but he has threatened to do something special from a dead-ball on a few occasions. Out direct free-kicks are now a double-edged sword. Barry or Ruben – like offering the opposition a choice of being shot in the head or lethal injection to decide their fate.
The second goal was another work of art. I was perfectly placed to view the move as it was right in front of me. Matt Doherty took an age to take the initial throw-in, as if he was counting down to a rocket launch and upon hearing ‘lift-off’ Bonatini, Jota and Cavaleiro sprung into action. What’s amazing about the goal is that they moved from halfway line to Barry Douglas without any player involved in the move touching the ball more than three times. It was pure liquid, a fluidity you could only associate with a slinky spring being wobbled back and forth. The Brentford goalkeeper attempted to berate something but in the end he just seemed to turn towards his own goal, bereft of any idea as to who to blame. Some things in football, you have to hold your hands up to. Sometimes there is just a gulf in class.
The rest of the game was a bit of a procession, and for the first time I’ve seen under Nuno there was a touch of the Showboat about us. Even Nuno got involved, rousing the fans in their rendition of ‘We’re shit in the Winter.’ You get the feeling that felt pretty sweet for him.
The popular school of thought in the aftermath is of a mutual respect for each other. Brentford fans, including the Beesotted Podcast were effusive in the praise of Wolves and – despite an overly heavy nod to our financial might – were happy to concede they were beaten by the better side. Wolves fans likewise applauded Brentford’s style and tactics, respecting the attempts to give us a game. Now forgive me for stamping all over the love-in, but I don’t necessarily subscribe to that belief. Brentford tried to play us at our own game. In my mind, that’s a little foolish. Perhaps they saw it as a free hit based on their results over Christmas and they were happy with their lot, but there’s a reason why teams park the bus against us – because they’ll concede chances and concede goals if they don’t. This isn’t a matter of respect or disrespect. We’re in the results business. It’s like throwing a featherweight into the ring with a heavyweight – you may score some points but it only takes one knockout blow and the fight’s over. Plaudits won’t always win you points and while Brentford may be every Championship fan’s soft spot, it’s going away to Sheffield Wednesday, getting a goal up and utterly suffocating them, that is the hallmark of a promotion-winning side. Add that to your locker and you may be on to something.
The to-and-fro between each stand has always been apparent since I’ve supported the club. Having spent the majority of that time in the South Bank I will always be a loyalist, but from my new vantage point in the Billy Wright Lower, it’s always interesting to look and listen to the dynamics going on around us – we are of course mere spectators rather than participants in the Billy Quiet of course. It did seem like the South Bank took a while to get going, although the game lacked the meat and potatoes approach of a typical Championship affair. Maybe that doesn’t play into the hands of our stadium driving force, maybe we don’t know how to get behind lovely interplay, except stare open-mouthed, jaw-to-the-floor and drooling. Maybe we’d rather see a Danny Batth thumping header away or a Conor Coady thunder-block. The point is we’ve got a team so much more worthy of our support now than ever before. Perhaps we need to change what we measure the football by, what we need to be the driving force behind the team’s performances.
I’ve always been a sucker for the intricacies of a football match, for the way no opposition team gives Ruben Neves space, but somehow he takes the space he rightfully craves, for the way Jota dribbles beyond his man without a step over, or a chop but seemingly by pure force of will. But that’s just me. I guess what I’m trying to say is fans will fan in the way they want to fan and it doesn’t make them any less of a fan. That errant desire to be vociferous, hostile and extrovert cannot be simply introduced as an idea for someone to adopt. It has to be ingrained in you, Much like footballers working hard, there should be one expectation of us – be there from minute 0 to 90-whatever-the-injury-time-is. It’s startling to see how people depart from all parts of the ground to get home ‘on time’, whatever that means. I do think it’s more pronounced in the North Bank due to the steepness in the stand, but no stand is exempt from criticism here. What I would say is that the bickering used to be a distraction from the poor quality of football on show – do we just need something moan about? Cos it certainly isn’t the football.