I was ready and waiting, itching to even. My thumbs were burning with fury, ready to unleash on to my Twitter feed a rant of unhealthy proportions. Lethargy, sloppiness and tentativeness had settled themselves as constructs within my brain, I couldn’t say anything else about this Wolves performance. But then, the night froze for a second and there was stillness, a gasp of air and a light rippling of the net – an entirely uneventful occurrence in isolation – that sent the population of Wolverhampton Wanderers fans, wherever they were situated, into raptures.
The night had promised much. We’ve had a few jaunts overseas so far this season, but this felt significant. Besiktas, a regular feature in Champions League campaigns, let alone the Europa League, were our hosts. British visits to Turkey are usually laced with notoriety, often for the wrong reasons and it didn’t lend itself to the most positive first ‘proper’ European tie away from home for nearly 40 years.
Here you had a potential cocktail of Wolves fans ticking off a bucket list item, in an environment which has never really taken to welcoming the visiting football fan in a warm manner. You only need to ask Leeds United about that. ‘Welcome to Hell’ is often the first thought that springs to mind when you think of Turkish football and European competition, amongst Graeme Souness inciting the wrath of some of the most dangerous football fans on the planet and the tragic life taken when Leeds visited Galatasaray during their recent spell of success at this level. While it wasn’t Besiktas who gained notoriety with the ‘Welcome to Hell’ slogan, the sentiments were clear. Social media exchanges were had, big’uns were given from both sides – it could easily have escalated.
Perhaps fortunately for Wolves fans, the ire of the Besiktas faithful was reserved foe their team, languishing in the relegation zone of their domestic league, something akin to Arsenal anchoring themselves in the bottom three of the Premier League. The fans were right to voice their concerns – Besiktas were awful.
For a team who in recent memory have an excellent record against the best England has to offer, they were as fragile and nervy as you could have hoped for. Relatively seasoned players at Europa League level – I’m looking at you Mohamed Elneny – were dallying on the ball and being robbed. There were so many signs of encouragement for Wolves. But we sat off.
As the home team, the Turkish side set the pattern for the game early on – turgid, slow and lacking penetration. Besiktas were an elderly bloke trying to relive the swinging sixties for the majority of the game. But still we sat off.
As the saying goes though, even a blind squirrel catches a nut from time to time, and this particular squirrel was inching closer and closer. There was a clearance off the line, we were giving free kicks away around the box, some last-ditch challenges. And yet, right up until the blowing of the half-time whistle, we sat off. 0 shots on target. At this point, my brother and I are quietly seething. Nuno’s getting it from all angles within The Kular household.
The second half started as the first should have, in our eyes – with the introduction of Adama Traore. For me, he should be playing each and every Europa League game as none of these teams will have anyone capable of matching his athleticism. He came on for the wrong man, but his substitution was a positive step,
But while this was a step in the right direction, Wolves still seemed to have the handbrake pulled up. We were frustratingly slow to get up in support and annoyingly happy to invite Besiktas on to us. The referee was of no help at all, but the game failed to build any sort of tempo. Free kicks were given left, right and centre and passes were consistently going astray. The longer the game went on, the more this felt like an opportunity slipping away. Sure Saiss pulled a save out of Karius, Cutrone pulled one just wide and we even had a legitimate goal disallowed, but we’re one game into a 6-game tournament with a defeat in the bank – we needed these three points. There was a lack of urgency, a lack of appetite seemingly and it felt as if Nuno had almost played this out deliberately. That was until the 93rd minute of course.
Perhaps it was meant to be, but it felt right that a player who had started on the road with Nuno got the chance to mark the occasion properly. Heck, this was a player who needed persuading to be a part of the project to begin with, a man who had bigger dreams than Wolves. Finally it seems as thought they’ve aligned themselves. Watching the goal, you have every reason to understand why Willy Boly may have initially turned his nose up at us. This was a 6’4″ centre back, darting back onside, gathering a floated ball into the penalty area with a feather-like touch and promptly steering it into the corner of the net, all seemingly in one movement. I have seen strikers take three touches to get that kind of ball under control and…well the chance would be gone. He may be our defensive colossus, but is this the moment the world wakes up to the man’s class? Cue bedlam, of course.
Now I’m not excusing the performance and thankfully Nuno didn’t either. The team selection debate will also come. We are miles better than what we showed tonight. But the record books will not care for this. All it will say is: Besiktas 0-1 Wolves – Boly (90+3}. I wish a safe journey home to all that travelled.