Well this feels weird. Here we sit, on the back of a first defeat since October. We went all that time without a loss. It was like a wet November, December and half of January, drunk on victory. Saturday was a sobering experience for us all.
When it comes down to it, human beings don’t like change. Whether it be from wild inconsistency to a run of defeats, or from wild consistency, the like of which we’ve seen recently, to a single bad result, that unfamiliar stench of defeat does no good for our nostrils. It infiltrates and envelopes us. We go loopy. We castigate things we’ve never castigated before. My fury for time-wasting reached new heights on Saturday. The ball’s there you dimwit, why are you pretending to search for the ball when you know it’s there? I castigated the referee, when in reality he had little to do with the end result.
Let’s get to the game then. What struck me early on is how relatively open the game was between the two boxes. There was a dominance of possession on Wolves’ part but Forest were happy to spring into attack. Ben Brereton played like Mick McCarthy era Kevin Doyle, running and carrying and hassling and holding up, but posing very little threat to the goal. Kieran Dowell is a lovely player, destined to make a mark on Everton’s midfield on his return and the wiry Matty Cash bullied the even wirier Barry Douglas for the first 45 minutes.
Never underestimate a goal’s ability to change a game. There wasn’t too much threat to either goal until Ivan Cavaleiro’s shoddy header laid the ball on a plate for Dowell who was fortunate with his finish. It was always going to take something like that to breach our rearguard because Forest weren’t posing a threat. Like a cyclist in first gear, they pedalled around the pitch furiously, making little progress though. You could see the effort in every part of their game, which was commendable. Then, we simply froze. Perhaps it was that unfamiliar feeling of going a goal behind, but the second was mostly of our own making, Coady for once culpable. The cross and finish were well measured but a genuine gasp seemed to emit from each corner of Molineux as the score read Wolves 0-2 Forest.
The thing is, there were moments where we clearly looked the better team still. This wasn’t an absolute stinker of a performance. Diogo Jota showed in glimpses exactly why Joe Worrall scythed through him early on. It was right in front of me, Worrall almost launching himself from 30 yards away in an attempt to break the triple jump world record. If there was one thing that Bobby Madley got wrong, it was the colour of the card. Ruben Neves remained the maestro we all know and love. I lost count of the number of times Neves carved out that familiar path to Matt Doherty, but there was a particular pass that stuck in the memory. Neves looked up and almost knuckle-balled the pass out to Doherty, the ball never reaching above head-height, arriving as quick as a flash. It meant there was no way a defender had time to go out and press Doherty, compared to them being able to watch the floated ball over and make their way out to engage our wing back. Much of what went wrong going forward came with the amount of waste excreted from Douglas and Doherty. Nuno spotted this and his changes were emphatic.
The second half saw a real injection of tempo with two very attacking wing backs in Cavaleiro and Costa. I thought having them on their natural sides worked well, but their end product, like the first half, was lacking. What ended up really killing our attacking threat was when Nuno switched Costa and Cav. The constant cutting inside caused a sardines-in-a-tin level of congestion in the middle of the park, which Forest were happy to invite. Despite having Bonatini and Mir on the pitch, their presence was futile. We’re not a team that thrive off crosses, and we’re not creators of lots of chances. We’re a team that create very good chances, which almost always result in goals. When we’re squeezed out of our danger zone we struggle to unpick the lock. On a positive side note, Morgan Gibbs-White looks the least 17-year-old footballer I’ve ever come across, seamlessly slipping into his duties and simply involving himself plenty. It’s a personality thing, which can only bode well for the future.
I guess the crux of it all is that we were perhaps due this. Performance levels have dropped and a newly invigorated team with an organised manager and a touch of luck took advantage of that. We remain by far the best team in the league, there is no question. But it may just be getting to our heads. I did enjoy the concerted effort to rally round the lads yesterday, it was noticeable. But the dissenting voices need to be checked. There is no crisis. These players will progress us. We will be Premier League next season. But we’re in a nurturing phase that requires empathy and understanding. 9 points clear – keep it in perspective.