Can I have my 90 minutes back please? Wolves, Brighton, Nuno, Chris Hughton – I’m talking to you. Yes, Nuno you as well, you played your own part in this.
Now I can’t imagine Nuno would turn to me, head bowed, in an apologetic manner if I levelled this at him. Heck, Chris Hughton sure as hell wouldn’t. But it takes two to tango, or rather it takes two to decidedly not tango, or waltz, or anything close to that. This was a Morris dance of a match, that Line Dancing crap they seem to think it’s worth teaching kids in early secondary school PE. Everybody form something akin to orderly and let’s produce some dross which is apparently entertainment.
Brighton will receive the ire of fans. They time-wasted from essentially minute one, but they also started Glenn Murray as a lone striker. If you intend to offer him next fo no support, you may as well play with ten men. They set their stall out immediately and we should have anticipated this. I spent some time with a Brighton fan this week and he made it abundantly clear that they have been sleepwalking their way to relegation. Five defeats in a row without a goal to their name, we were the unfortunate ones to come after the Lord’s mare of a show against Cardiff in midweek. They had to stop the rot in some way and they knew they had an opposition who struggle to break down obdurate teams.
That said, we could and should have seen this coming. A team who hadn’t scored in 5 weren’t about to open themselves up in search of a goal and we needed more dynamism from the outset. It seemed quite obvious to me that Ruben Vinagre and Adama Traore were required out wide. These are the most attacking, most positive changes we can make currently without upsetting the balance of our attack, which is doing well when it receives the ball in the right areas. To see Morgan Gibbs-White come in was refreshing and Ryan Bennett for Romain Saiss felt obvious. But it wasn’t enough for me and I felt underwhelmed at the sight of it all.
The game played out exactly how Brighton would have wanted it too. There were plenty of touches for the back three and plenty of side-to-side stuff from the midfield. I was struggling to see what Gibbs-White was tasked with as he basically took up Dendoncker’s station to the right of central midfield. If this was the case then he may as well have not started him. MGW’s successes this season have come from being played much closer to the front pairing and providing some kind of link between midfield and attack, but he almost seemed afraid of stepping on Jota and Jimenez’s toes here. The result was a distinct lack of penetration, with the ball being funnelled wide to Jonny and Matt Doherty. Jonny really struggled to get into good positions to cross and Doherty has never really been a prodigious crosser of the ball either, especially into a crowded penalty area. Dunk and Duffy, more builders’ merchants than centre-back pairing saw this as the proverbial ‘meat and drink’ and duly dealt with it all. Even Bruno, 38-year-old Bruno, wasn’t stretched, although we all expected him to suffer at the Amex and we were disappointed that time too. It was telling though, that he was removed as soon as Vinagre was introduced.
We really toiled for the rest of the game. There was the odd chance here and there, but the law of averages suggests that you will get those in such a game. It’s difficult to defend like Brighton and give away absolutely nothing but they got as close to doing that as a team might. I’d suggest the only time we truly broke them down was when Jota had a shot from the edge of the box in the first half that whistled wide. It was a good effort and if that had nestled the game would have opened up in our favour. But it wasn’t to be.
On last week’s Wolves Fancast I spoke of the need for another midfielder who has the guile to pick these kind of locks. Essentially you want Joao Moutinho both deeper and higher up the field – how’s human cloning getting along these days? Anti-ageing too for that matter. I have no doubts the club is planning for this kind of addition, but we have a squad at our disposal that is capable of more already. Seeing Traore amble on for a ten-minute spell against a defence that had settled somewhere in the Marianas Trench felt like a forlorn exercise, and yet he still managed to get into the penalty area. This is where we lacked something, we needed someone to commit defenders, to entice someone to hang a leg and draw a foul. Palace use Wilf Zaha to great effect in this sense and Bournemouth are notorious for this – there’s nothing illegitimate about it, so why not take advantage of our players with these characteristics?
Yesterday was a bit of a non-event in the end. Brighton were Muhammad Ali doing the rope-a-dope and we couldn’t land a punch. We could do with some work on our hand speed.