It’s been a while peeps – how are we all? First and foremost I sincerely hope everyone’s health is in a good way and has been over the past three months of lockdown. It’s been a strange time and much has changed over the course of the period. Heck, I’m 10 kilos lighter myself. Change is good. But we had some creature comforts yesterday that we just couldn’t do without.
We’ve missed you, Wolves.
I could regale you with the days, hours, minutes and seconds it’s been since we all tasted some gold and black joy, but we all know in our heart of hearts it’s been too long. Even the mundane became a re-experience for us all as football truly came back in to our lives.
The sound of Nuno’s utterly predictable interviews. Conor Coady saying ‘it really, really is.’ Wolves utter disdain for the first 45 minutes of a football match. I was in thrall of it all. But while it was good to simply be back, it should never be lost on us the opportunity we have in front of us as we reach this season’s climax.
The stars are beginning to align. Sheffield United, Tottenham and Manchester United dropped points. Arsenal Arsenal’d themselves back into their groove. And Wolves had West Ham as their first game back. I’m starting to think Nuno has been scripting this.
Since we came back to the Premier League last season, if there is one time I have utter confidence in us beating, it’s The Hammers. Arguably the flakiest team in the division. Not necessarily the worst, but a team that if it were a boxer they would be Amir Khan – technically quite sound but built with a glass jaw that succumbs under pressure.
Three games against them and three wins, without the concession of a goal as we went into this game. Each victory collected with more comfort each time. At this point I picture Nuno channeling his inner Fergie as he walks into the dressing room pre-match. ‘Lads: it’s West Ham.’
As is our way, we were certainly safety-first in our approach and given the three month hiatus it was totally understandable that Nuno decided to go with the 3-5-2 system to begin with. As we’ve seen, teams have flagged towards the end of games and this one would again go to Nuno’s script.
You never felt at any point that West Ham were on top of Wolves, even if we did concede territory at times. Even the surrounding of Rui Patricio at corner kicks often just led to him plucking the ball out of the air as it came in – isn’t that what they’re trying to stop happening? We started the game well and dominated possession before retreating back into our shell, all it seems in preparation for our substitutions.
I’ve seen some fume towards Match of the Day for their highlights package, but let’s be honest, there really wasn’t much to shout about from a Wolves perspective. This game was all about efficiency and exertion, as opposed to wastefulness and unnecessary over-exertion.
If you asked Nuno what he would have wanted pre-match I’m sure it would have been along the lines of a clean sheet, no injuries and ‘to compete’. Chuck in two goals from the only two genuine chances we created and you do start to wonder if Nuno has a side job as Executive Producer on this season’s Premier League Years episode.
Business-as-usual. Normal service resumed. This is the genius of Nuno and this Wolves team. It’s just so normal that we dispatch teams with a richer Premier League history than ourselves with such ease. The system and the mechanics are so in tune that no team will approach the return to football with so much comfort. It’s not a stretch to say that Wolves are the most tactically adept side in the division in all disciplines.
Finally, a word on the goals. Nuno hasn’t always got it right off the bench, but you could almost see in the way Diogo Jota and Leander Dendoncker trotted off the pitch, emotionless and cold, that this was always part of the plan. Adama Traore and Pedro Neto are two of the most exciting subs a manager could have at his disposal, but they still have to deliver. And how they delivered.
A Traore-Raul Jimenez goal combination is becoming a staple of English football these days, but the purity of the cross and finish gave it the look of a training exercise. The ball into the box from Adama was just sumptuous as it evaded everyone that it needed to. Funnily enough, while Traore always seems to get a bad rep for his lack of end product, the provider of the second goal was of greater surprise to me. Matt Doherty is an exceptional wing-back but he somehow manages to get away with murder when it comes to his final delivery (maybe it has to something to do with him not being a black footballer whose outstanding attributes are constantly portrayed as physical ones, but who am I to call out any racial profiling of footballers at this moment in time?).
This time though, Doc plucked the sandwedge out for Pedro Neto’s Big Bertha of a left foot to drive the ball into the roof of the net. Simply beautiful.
No, it wasn’t the same and yes, we all wish we could be there with the players, celebrating heartily. But the show must go on and the way we perform over the next eight games could have huge ramifications for where we can celebrate with this club in future. The Pack is well and truly back.