As I was off gallivanting in Bristol with the wife, this will be written from the perspective of my brother and father who were amongst the 5,600-strong throng that descended on Deepdale at the weekend.
The beauty of a Punjabi Wolves away day is that you’re pretty much guaranteed a good time, an eventful day and a story to tell, regardless of the result. Buckets on heads, selfies in Blackpool and road-blocking horses were just some of the things that awaited us as we departed Jack’s Bar. That and a guy being stretchered from the stadium for throwing up on himself prior to kick off. Wolves Ay We.
The game itself was always set up to be frantic. The reverse fixture at Molineux was littered fouls, mistakes, fouls, tackles, fouls, goals and yet more fouls. You don’t become the most carded team in the league by rolling out the red carpet to visitors and the midfield rascals of Preston North End were probably doing all but sharpening their studs in preparation for Wolves.
The start of the game went as expected. Any Wolves player in possession was hounded out of it, but Nuno’s Wolves are a bit too savvy to rise to that kind of bait. Preston were allowed to pass the ball around, safe in the knowledge they needed Wolves to come out of shape in order to break us down. The odd occasion we did manage to slip the Preston press – Press-ton if you will – our chances were let down by poor execution or decision-making. Helder Costa blasting over the bar springs to mind. This was unlike recent weeks, when our fluid front three have clicked to a thrilling extent. Where Preston did manage to threaten us was through set pieces though, which has gone from being a weakness to a strength for us.
What came after half-time was almost blitz-like. It was as if Preston had gone into the dressing room and had some of Michael Jordan’s ‘Secret Stuff’ from the movie Space Jam. We were pinned to the ropes and made to suffer and a carbon copy of a chance from the first half was converted by that man Alan Browne. Yes that one who suffered the indignity of having to reappear for his second yellow card at Molineux. It had to be one of the rascals didn’t it? True to form, the little rascals then decided to see red. Regardless of the fact that foul was given as a yellow card, the sheer number of fouls that Preston commit means they deserve to be carded at some point. Sitting deep to defend I can appreciate. Just spoiling by continuous kicking, chopping, sweeping and pulling is the definition of anti-football.
Our response couldn’t have been more emphatic. Led by the glorious, galloping stallion that is Ivan Cavaleiro – more on stallions later. Cavaleiro’s turn away from three Preston players in the middle of the park – dangerous territory for our forward players for the entire 90 minutes – was the act of a man who sees no opponent too tough, no game too difficult and no situation unrecoverable. He is the oil that lubricates the wheels of the Wolves machine and the way he burst through the middle of the park prior to setting up Costa resembled a stampede of Wildebeest buffeting its way across the Savannah, leaving everything in their wake. There was a degree of fortune about the goal, but Helder Costa is back amongst the goals and that can only be a good thing.
The rest of the match had a rather familiar feel to it. Opponents were pinned to the edge of the box and we struggled to break them down. The introduction of Benik Afobe gave us extra penalty box presence. The change in formation that brought about an almost 3-3-3-1 made us top-heavy and this was an obvious move to make, but whenever we move away from our traditional 3-4-3, we seem to struggle to prise teams open. It’s a recurring theme and it’s probably the one situation Nuno seems unable to overcome for the moment. It doesn’t threaten to derail our season and when we do get promoted, it won’t be a situation we face on a regular basis, but it is a string yet to be added to Nuno’s bow.
So, a point. I think deep down we all anticipated a tough game and coming away with a draw is no shame. Perhaps with them being down to 10 men more could have been done, but we are going into a run of tricky fixtures having built up another unbeaten run, full of goals and good performances. Having seen Aston Villa and the way they’ve played in their run of consecutive victories, the idea that anyone may catch us doesn’t exactly fill me with dread. They’ve quite blatantly been overachieving based on performances and this was shown up by their loss to Fulham. We’ve deserved every point we’ve earned since the Nottingham Forest defeat.
Other notable points include the disappointment of Alfred N’Diaye’s last two performances. Despite his goal against QPR, they clearly targeted him in possession and here, he failed to impose himself despite the physicality of the game. This, a man who basically throttled a Preston player last time out. With Romain Saiss back in the squad his place is vulnerable, especially with the likelihood of squad rotation amidst a congested fixture list. The other remarkable thing to point out would be Ruben Neves and his amazing ability to avoid a yellow card. Based on stats he’s received a yellow card every 3.4 games, leaving him 1 away from a 2 game ban. He’s now gone 6 games without a yellow card, knowing he would be sorely missed with some big fixtures coming up. If he managed to reach the watershed towards the end of March without receiving a yellow card it would be truly astonishing. I realise I may have put the nail in that coffin, but feel free to berate me if it happens against Norwich.
And so a frantic game had it’s rightful ending as our coach departed minus some of its passengers as they managed to ‘run into a police horse’ and were subsequently held up by coppers, whilst the coach made its way back to Wolverhampton. Our very own Newcastle United moment. Well, when you take 5,600 people to Lancashire, some are bound to get up to some shenanigans. Besides – Wolves Ay We?