This game. Oh, this game of football. We spend the last 100+ years trying to figure it all out, we look like we might be getting somewhere close to it, it bites you on the backside and all of a sudden we’ve won a game again. I had a bad feeling about this one, if only because the last few games have seen the confidence visibly drain from the team. My wife happily reminded me that ‘we’re better against the good sides.’ I nodded agreeably but I maintained a concerned look. We’d lost our mojo. Cue the ‘I told you so’ at the end of the game.
If the last two fixtures told us anything, it’s that we had lost the principle methods that had got us this far. We were so far removed from Nuno’s plan against Hiddersfield and Cardiff, it was difficult to believe this was the same team that had torn Arsenal a new one. Chelsea have a swagger about them and it was all too evident for the first hour of the game.
Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, Willian even N’Golo Kante were moving about like a blue mist of air – you could see it but any time you wafted your arm towards it you couldn’t feel anything. They were elusive and carving pretty patterns about the pitch against a side quite clearly struggling confidence-wise. But the work ethic remained.
We went a goal behind, a fortuitous goal, off a man who seemingly is making a habit of being a master deflector. It was deserved, if fortunate as we couldn’t seem to make much headway into the opposition half. But the work ethic remained.
We came out for the second half and within seconds we’d been carved open again, the first 15 minutes were an exhibition in managing a lead by Chelsea – assisted regularly by Jon Moss but more on that later – and it felt like a game that would peter out into nothing, another toothless attacking performance. But the work ethic remained.
Until suddenly, out of nowhere we had a goal. Wolves were a remorseless, cold, winning machine last season and it’s not that often you see us play with personality. It had certainly been lacking over the past few games and it was a burst of exactly that which got us into the lead. Morgan Gibbs-White is many things but his outstanding characteristic is his desire to take responsibility. He threatened on a few occasions in the first half, bursting away from the midfield pack and driving towards goal. This time he had the Chelsea backline hurtling towards the own goal, with a runner in front of him and this was the key. Raul Jimenez was in a good position to get a strike at goal and that was all he did. What happened after that is up to Kepa to explain but out of nowhere we had dragged ourselves level from our first real opportunity in the game – an efficiency we’ve been sorely lacking for a while.
Momentum shifts in football seem to have more of an impact these days than they ever did before and the comeback win is more prevalent. Our tails went up and Chelsea’s dropped. This shouldn’t automatically mean that we will go on and score of course, especially given Moss’ obsession with his whistle. But on one occasion, he actually allowed us to play on and we capitalised. For what it’s worth, Moutinho on Willian was more of a foul than many of the things Moss had decided to pull up throughout the game, another example of refereeing inadequacy, but Doherty’s inch-perfect cross was met with a Diogo Jota finish that was reminiscent of last season but conspicuous by its absence this term.
Don’t get this twisted – this wasn’t a vintage Nuno performance by any stretch of the imagination. We gave up chances on goal and struggled to create them ourselves. But we stayed in the game. By hook or by crook – Moutinho’s consistent cuddling of Hazard was a particular highlight – we kept within touching distance which is so important. It would have been easy to lose focus and hope by watching Chelsea’s fluidity and movement but the the desire remained. There was no such thing as a lost cause last night. Ryan Bennett thundering into Willian as he bears down on goal. Willy Boly sliding in on Morata as he’s about to tap in – too many times I’ve seen defenders give up on that kind of cross for fear of turning it into their own net. Perhaps that luck we’ve been ruing for the past 6 games had come back to deliver for us.
There were many standout performances. Bennett, much-maligned and always seemingly the first name off the teamsheet when a change is required, came back with a vengeance – and a long throw (timely given my exchanges with Cardiff fans this week, cheers Ryan)! Romain Saiss, a man who I had reservations about adapting to the pace of the league having come in from the cold last week, was snapping away at any blue shirt that came into his realm. Joao Moutinho, little Joao, who was sprinting around like a four-year-old after bag of Haribo Tangfastics in the dying embers of the game, was a trojan. Ruben Vinagre, still a teenager, matched one of the best full backs in the world stride-for-stride. And Morgan, a player who just looks at home. I imagine playing with Gibbs-White can probably be a nuisance, he has a gobbiness and a demanding nature about him that belies his youth and stature within the squad. But my word can the boy play. The exuberance and innocence of youth, the positivity of everything that he does became infectious and he led press after press, from Rudiger to Christensen back to Fabregas and the same all over again. Nurture him Nuno, he is one of our own.
There remain a couple of concerns for me. Structurally, we were pulled apart too often last night and I’d argue from a tactical and footballing perspective this was our worst performance against one of the top 6 this season. But it fills me with joy that within the depths of our confidence levels we can still pull out a display that can win us a football match against the elite.
The final word goes to Jon Moss, a man who like the South Bank said, may as well have worn blue last night. I hate talking about referees because as far as I’m concerned they should be an irrelevance to the result of a football match but the way he managed yesterday’s game irked me too much. Good tackle after good tackle was blown up. To Wolves’ credit it didn’t deter us too much and for a spell there were a number of players on yellow cards who were at the heart of the action, on a disciplinary knife-edge which could have derailed the result for us. One particular card for Vinagre, after a tackle which deserved it’s own spot at The Louvre was particularly irksome. But Moss made Chelsea more untouchable than they ought to have been. Yes, at times we couldn’t get near them because of the slickness of their passing but anytime we did, Moss was their to wag his finger in disgust. It’s a contact sport Jon, you could do well to remember that.