A welcome teturn to domestic action. The frequency of international breaks can be a frustrating thing, most certainly when likely to disrupt a good run of form, such as the one we’ve been on. We’ve gotten used to our players being summoned to all corners of the globe now, but Nuno makes it abundantly clear the anxiety this gives him. The perils of working with a rather concentrated squad.
We were also faced with the prospect of Bournemouth away immediately after the break. To say Dean Court/The Vitality Stadium hasn’t been a happy hunting ground in recent years would be an understatement. Frankly, aside from a rather comfortable 2-0 victory at Molineux last season, there’s been very little to enjoy about playing plucky little Bournemouth. Let’s just say the team in red and black have enjoyed the rub of the green, or rather the rub of the genie in the lamp known as the referee.
It feels an age since we tasted victory over Aston Villa, but as stated we’re in a good run of form since a positive switch in formation released the shackles of our forward line in particular. Here, each of the front three had a significant impact on the game. Eddie Howe, in his infinite wisdom, decided to match up Wolves’ formation, dragging in the long-serving Simon Francis after what can only be described as an eternity after his last Premier League start. Both decisions would ultimately prove fatal for the Bournemouth boss.
Nuno and his coaching staff have been working with the Wolves shape since they arrived at the club, a system which is ingrained into the bone structure, the muscle memory of the Wolves players. A 4-4-2 Bournemouth side with an underused club captain wheeled-out for action were ripe for the picking – and so it proved for the first 45 minutes. Wolves were as close to rampant as we could expect away from home, consistently turning the Bournemouth defence and making in-roads through Adama Traore and Diogo Jota. It was the latter who induced the first major incident in the half, drawing the aforementioned Francis into a clumsy challenge on the far edge of the penalty area, the challenge of a man chugging away in an effort to keep up with the sprightly forward. What happened next was simply sumptuous.
It remains to be seen what Joao Moutinho will do post his playing days. By the end of this day, he’d have legitimate rights to add ‘scriptwriting’ to his CV amongst his large repertoire of skills. Filing it below set pieces would be a nice way to have done it. A day that began with him putting pen to paper on a contract extension, featured a wonderful, dipping, arcing free kick and some quick thinking off another set piece, before the announcement of that new deal in the aftermath of another Premier League victory. I think you can call that a good day’s work. I’ll let everyone else fill in the column inches on Moutinho’s importance to the team, but let it be known that he can only be described as one of the best in the division at this moment in time.
At which point, I feel it necessary to commend a figure I would very rarely comment upon – the referee.. We’ve had our fair share of run-ins with Bournemouth and officials over the past few years, to the point where the Cherries have developed a reputation – deservedly, in my eyes – for engineering situations in order for opposition teams to suffer at the hands of the law. Over the course of the first half, Bournemouth were repeatedly giving away fouls, but Simon Hooper was ready when required, with card in hand to dish out the punishment, with Simon Francis receiving it in the capital form. There pretty much ended a half in which Wolves had played some of their best football this season. It was an ideal scenario heading into the break, for every reason except the fact this is Wolves and we just cannot be relied upon to comfortably see out/press home this kind of advantage.
In a way, this forced Howe to revert to type and with a chance to remove one of his cautioned players in Phil Billing, he reinforced with players who by the end of the game can rightfully claim to start their next game in Arnaut Danjuma and Jefferson Lerma, who probably would’ve started had it not been for the travel he’d endured (although Raul Jimenez didn’t seem to struggle with that…). It’s too simplistic to suggest we were complacent, but you have to expect some kind of reaction from a team who had nothing to lose in the next 45 minutes. This is perhaps where there was a tinge of disappointment from my perspective. It could all have been very different though.
The subject of VAR isn’t one I’ve wanted to delve into – there are plenty of opinions elsewhere for you to engage with. But yesterday another of the issues VAR brings with it was laid bare. Diogo Jota’s disallowed goal, without VAR, would have been a sore point, but the referees would have received the brunt of the criticism. The referees now have a tool to help them make such decisions though and the fact is they didn’t apply VAR correctly at all. Maybe it’s a reflex action from assistant referees, but they have been advised to allow play to continue and raise any flags they think necessary once play has concluded. Here, the flag was raised to early and the whistle blown too soon, for a call that was so marginal, that the naked eye simply couldn’t make the decision. I’ve long held the belief that marginal offside calls have been ‘hunches’ and ‘a feeling’ that the player is offside, simply because the quickness of movement is often beyond human comprehension to an exact science. That’s not a criticism of linesmen: it’s just a fact. So why not just allow the technology to make the decision? At least then we can’t argue with it.
Anywho, we managed to prevail in the end, despite some unnecessary nerves. We lie 5th in the table after the weekend’s results, a position that seemed way beyond us at one point, a time when we were happy enjoying the rollercoaster of Europe while accepting a top ten finish would be an amazing achievement. Why does everyone seem to think that this is beyond our capability? If there’s one thing to take from the fact we’ref fifth in the league at this point, it’s that this league is not to be feared. The mass congestion in the middle portion of the table is there to be taken charge of, with a ‘favourable’ run of fixtures in the offing and our best players running into an excellent spell of form.
So don’t be afraid of dreaming bigger – another European spot is within our grasp.