It’s been a strange time being a Wolves fan. Bereft of what we love for the last 10 days or so, we’ve been left to lick our wounds having sampled defeat for once. It’s thrown us into a strange vortex of innuendo, loyalty-questioning and despondency. The nerves have jangled and the bums have squeaked. Big Bad Cardiff are on our shoulder now. In the famous words of Barry Al-Britani of Four Lions ‘These are bad times bro. We’ve got women talking back. We’ve got people playing stringed instruments. It’s the end of days.’ The build up to the Leeds game had that kind of feel. Nonsense was spoken as if it was plausible and anxiety was filling the air. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t the same, and the volume of the household in the hour prior to kick off was slightly up on even our normally high levels. This is what 10 days without Nuno’s Wolves does to you. The withdrawal symptoms were kicking in, but this result and performance could not have been more timely.
Firstly, I’d like to address the state of Leeds United. Whilst we were excellent, they were pretty much at the other end of the performance scale, somewhere between aberration and ‘We Won A Competition To Be Here.’ Vurnon Anita seemed to be on a one-man mission to piss off Paul Heckingbottom and I was more upset than any Leeds fan that Liam Cooper went off injured, but Matthew Pennington turned out to be about as useful as a chocolate teapot manning the back four. Pierre Michel Lasogga did a great job of resembling a statue, the problem being he was due to be resembling a footballer at the time.
With that out of the way, I can get on with the business of waxing lyrical about our boys. Naturally, our anxious selves did creep into the watching of the game, prior to the first goal at least. Leo Bonatini kept his place in the side and it’s clear that he has his detractors, but our best performances have come with the front three that started this game. Interestingly though, Danny Batth’s re-introduction was probably a bigger talking point. Ryan Bennett may have made a mistake in his last game but he has been an unerring presence on the tight of the back three. Batth’s last return clearly didn’t go to plan and you could sense there was a nervousness around his inclusion. That extended to his first few touches of the ball and there was a clear drop-off in the quality of the distribution from this area of the pitch.
Despite this, we were frankly excellent. I think it’s safe to say that Leeds have probably seen the best of us over the course of the two fixtures with them. While it took a while to break the deadlock, the regularity with which we broke beyond the Leeds midfield and created openings and genuine chances was very reassuring. Leeds did next to nothing to stop Bonatini receiving the ball at his feet and this was the springboard for almost everything we did going forward. While he’s clearly struggling in front of goal, Leo is a safe haven for the ball to remain. He very rarely loses it and he has a multiplier effect on those around him, most of all for Diogo Jota. I used to have the same gripe with fans that castigated Andy Keogh. While he wasn’t prolific and in no means as good a player as Bonatini, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake’s output would exponentially increase when in partnership with Keogh. Jota was at his menacing best here, clearly refreshed by the break and with an extra spring in his step, probably due to the space afforded to him by a porous Leeds defence.
So, obviously, we were going to score the first two goals via set pieces. Of course, having run rings around the back four, missed chances and led most of the Leeds defence on a merry dance, it was the trusty wand of Barry Douglas’ left boot that would create the goals for Romain Saiss and ,via a Danny Batth header against the bar, Willy Boly. Two things struck me about this: 1. How physically imposing we were in comparison to Leeds. Batth and Boly had absolutely no right to win their headers and yet, they made it look like one of those odd games on Youtube you see where three professional footballers take on 11,000 toddlers. Also witness Alfred N’Diaye shrug off Leeds’ own big (fat) lad Lasogga, in the build up to Jota hitting the bar. 2. That Barry Douglas may be an excellent crosser of a dead ball, but a moving ball is nigh on Kryptonite to him. The over-arching theme of this is that while we may be the most attractive team to watch at times, nothing beats a good old set piece to break the deadlock.
All this spelt trouble for Leeds. Sky Sports showed the incredible stat that in 23 games where we have taken the lead, we’ve won 21 games and drawn 2. Make that 22 wins out of 24 now. This is juggernaut levels of performance. The performance was rounded off nicely by a Benik Afobe goal. This may put pressure on Bonatini’s place from a fan’s perspective, but I cannot see Nuno subscribing to this belief. While we clealy had taken our foot off the gas, the number of chances we created and the fluidity of our play was significantly diminished. While Afobe offered a threat in behind – the goal being Exhibit A in this museum – most things that came into his feet, pretty much bounced off him. His running into the channels is some kind of asset, but if the end result is Afobe with the ball, 30 yards from goal, out wide and 30 yards from any of his teammates, is it really a useful option? Bonatini’s tendency to come deep for the ball is offset by the two wide men offering a threat in behind and keeping the defence honest. Bonatini’s space is manufactured by that and nobody can argue with his contribution up until the penalty area last night and I believe he will keep his place regardless of goalscoring. Don’t @ me.
I think the biggest positive to take from all of this is the enjoyment we all experienced watching this team. Cue much ROFL-ing in celebration at home, probably a parody of my own celebrations during the Bristol City victory. It did feel like a long time since we swept someone aside in this manner, even if the Sheffield United result was only a month ago. But this is the lay of the land in the Championship. It is a gruelling, withering, all-consuming journey for fans, clubs, players and managers. It does grind you down and a 46-game campaign can feel like a lifetime. That 1-0 victory over Middlesbrough feels like a decade ago and we’re still not quite there. This victory should add a spring to our step though and a similar performance takes care of Saturday’s game against Villa, no questions asked.
Much time, attention and column inches have been devoted to our ownership situation this season. Given the timing you’d think Fosun had only taken over last summer. But this is football. I’m not one to delve into the politics of football and I do prefer to keep my musings to on-pitch matters, but I can’t help but enjoy the pedestal that other clubs are putting us on. Yes, we have a relationship with a well-known, well-tanned and well-connected agent. Yes, we have plentiful finances. But instead of applauding Fosun’s approach – way advanced beyond any other Championship club owner in my opinion – the opposition seem hell-bent on changing the laws in order to prevent this happening again. Just admit it – it’s genius. Fosun have had everyone else’s pants down and now you’re kicking up a fuss about it because it’s going well. Your sour grapes will not taint our season. We will be Premier League next year. So, if we never see you again, we really won’t mind.