Football is always throwing up opportunities for retribution. The next game is generally always around the corner. By the end of the season we will have played four of our Premier League counter parts three times this campaign. It’s a small world football and while the heartache will remain from Wembley, this was a nice opportunity to offer up some kind of consolation against a side who we have been in direct competition with over much of this season.
A team, who have had our number on the previous two occasions, lest we forget. We have no real grievance towards Watford as a football club, but football is nothing without narrative these days and all talk was of revenge and wrestling masks – a real-life WWE plotline, with Troy Deeney playing the role of ‘heel’ – I have been reliably educated in wrestling parlance by my Wolves Fancast counterparts. The fact Deeney wasn’t even involved evokes an image of Raul Jimenez, in full Mexican wrestler gear, facing up against Gerard Deulofeu, with Deeney ominously circling the exterior of the ring with a scowl and a menace about him, FA Cup Semi Final belt slung across his shoulder. By the end of the ‘fight’ Diogo Jota would have emerged out of the blue and wiped Deeney out without warning and Jimenez would be the one gesturing towards Deeney about the next encounter.
Anyway, enough about wrestling and I must reiterate, I bear no grudge to Watford. They beat us fair and square, without any sense of injustice about it either. The only man who was ever going to irk the wrath of us Wolves fans is Ben Foster, who seems to have lived in a timewarp for the past few seasons and has conveniently forgotten about the surpassing of his former club and his current club by Wolves in the league table. His comeuppance would be complete by the end of this ninety minutes.
The game itself seemed quite a tense affair, with neither side willing to give an inch. There were plenty of exchanges of possession and it was becoming quite difficult to draw any real conclusions from the first half, apart from that it was a football match and there was lots of running about on a green patch of grass in Hertfordshire. But you’re never too far away from a moment of real quality at this level, especially with Diogo Jota in the vicinity. He’s not famed for his crossing ability, but Watford have found out to their peril on two occasions now the devil that he has in his supposedly weaker left foot. This time Raul Jimenez was the beneficiary, making himself our best ever Premier League goalscorer over a single season, entirely fitting given the role he has played for this side. Much has been made of the Callum Wilson-Ryan Fraser axis at Bournemouth and how productive it has been, but Jota and Jimenez – J-2-Goal anybody? – have been just as menacing in a more successful side. There is argument to be made that Jota is one of the most in-form players in the country at the moment.
But Watford are a side that have the ability to give us the spooks now and again. Entirely of our own making we allowed them back into the game, something they most definitely needed a helping hand with. Ryan Bennett will not need to be told by anybody, let alone every Wolves fan and his dog that this was a pretty poor error, but all of a sudden he seems to be the latest player sat in the departure lounge at Molineux according to many. Romain Saiss was similarly castigated after a poor showing at Southampton, but aside from this one errant, lazy pass Bennett performed perfectly well. Maybe it is just that basic need for football fans to have something to complain about and there is nothing wrong with a desire for ambition and upgrades, but if we went into the first game of next season with Ryan Bennett sat in the right-sided centre back position, I doubt there would be too much cause for concern. Defensively we’ve been excellent this season, this is not where our troubles lie.
The second period took much of the same kind of pattern. Not too much by the way of clear-cut chances and both sides defended their boxes well. Enter initially Javi Gracia and then Ben Foster. Gracia loves a game-changing substitution, and inspired by the magic he worked out Wembley he turned to Christian Kabasele who came on to help alter the tide of the game. Unfortunately for Gracia, it went the wrong way for him. It was an odd move to make, given how stodgy the game was and it didn’t seem like the kind of game that might introduce a new level of fluidity to proceedings. But all is well that ends well from a Wolves perspective. Perhaps it was a shift to a back three that confused all and sundry, but Ruben Neves’ ‘lump’ in to the box combined with the wind conspired to land the ball exactly at the feet of Diogo Jota, who obliged with the finish. Amazing how such a hopeful pass turned out to be so accurate.
The real joy of the goal was of course watching Ben Foster ogling at the ball like a child seeing their first ever rainbow. What is this phenomenon arching over my head? We may not be reaping the rich rewards of an FA Cup Final, but this felt a little sweet. From then on the game seemed to gravitate around Jota, whether he be twisting the blood of Watford defenders, being harshly treated on a legitimate penalty appeal or just being our favourite little shithouse. He’s a pest with a glorious ability to raise his levels above everyone else on the pitch, a real diamond in the rough who would fetch little change from £50m on this form.
Everything is back in our hands now. The curse of the white shirt has finally been lifted, no doubt never to be seen again anyway as we change strips for next year and we have already-relegated, Ryan Babel-inspired Fulham making the trip up to Molineux next weekend. We’ve been indomitable at home in 2019 and I fully expect to end our season at home on a high. Europe isn’t a given, but we haven’t allowed ourselves to become hung up by the Wembley defeat, which is all we could ask for.
I sense a spike in passport renewals/applications in the Midlands area over the coming months…