Wolves 2 (Otto 65, Cunha 73)
Leeds U 4 (Harrison 6, Ayling 49, Kristensen 62, Rodrigo 90+7)
18th March 2023, Premier League.
Wow! Who saw that coming? A few of us were mildly confident (or maybe hopeful!) Leeds would win this one, but I’d guess that most, like me, thought it would be another cat-and-mouse affair where maybe one goal might settle it. The chaos that eventually unfolded made for one unforgettable game of football although the result, this time, was all important.
Molineux has provided a few cracking games in recent years and this was no different. Played in pouring rain from start to finish and with enough encouragement at times to get the home fans in a lather, it was helter-skelter from the first minute to the last. Well, from the sixth minute anyway.
Willy Gnonto didn’t take long to show that we may have missed a trick by leaving him on the bench recently; in those first six minutes, he was the regular recipient of long diagonal balls that, each time, he brought down as if placing the ball on some imaginary cushion. He’d then torment the Wolves down that left wing before they eventually dealt with his cross. Then, in the seventh minute, they failed to deal with one. Willy got to the byline, pulled the ball back and there was Jack Harrison, finding space enough to wrap his left foot around the ball and send it curling into the top right corner. It was a lovely move, a fine finish, but maybe it showcased one of the reasons Wolves are struggling; Jack had found the sort of space we have often accused our defence of leaving unguarded.
It was a magic moment of course, one that just had us pondering if we could hold on to that one goal lead then it might be enough, as we’ve seen so many games end recently with only a single goal scored. For the rest of the half, I have to admit it felt unlikely. Wolves dominated the rest of the half and only failed to at least level the game due to some disciplined defending from Leeds that saw bodies frequently put on the line to block shots, some clean handling from Illan Meslier and, thankfully, some poor finishing from the home side. For all their adventure though, there were few moments of real concern other than when Junior Firpo’s boot made the slightest of contact with a Wolves boot in our area. There were wild calls for a penalty from the Wolves but replays showed it would have been harsh in the extreme had VAR given that one. They didn’t.
So 0 – 1 at the break but then the next 45 minutes was total chaos! We were only four minutes into the new half when a right-wing Leeds corner flew through to the back post where that generous Wolves defending was in evidence again. Luke Ayling all on his own to throw himself down to head the ball in from almost no yards out. Cue one of those amazing Luke celebrations!
It got better too. Another 13 minutes passed and then Leeds made their first change as Rasmus Kristensen trotted on. There were a few expletives heard as the Leeds faithful saw it was Willy Gnonto coming off, and coming off with no apparent injury. That looked like Leeds deciding to put the shutters up but Rasmus, being Rasmus, immediately took up position on the right side of attack as Leeds had a throw-in on their left in the Wolves final third. The throw eventually broke free to Jack Harrison and he launched it towards that back post where our Rasmus was lurking. The cross was so deep that even Rasmus had a bit of a chase to get to it but get to it he did, cleverly dragging the ball back and away from Otto with his first touch in the game. He then jinked to the right of Max Kilman and shot through the legs of Sa with his second and third touches! Incredible!
With most Prem teams that would have been game over, but not Leeds; never with Leeds. Just a couple of minutes later and we managed to do what we have all too often done this season. We found a way to shoot ourselves in the foot. A long ball was pumped down the middle, Illan Meslier appeared to misjudge the flight of the ball such that he came out of his area and headed it away when surely he could have let it run into his box and caught it. Anyway, we then compounded the problem with Marc Roca trying to flick it to his left facing his own goal and he merely lobbed it to Otto. The Wolf was fully 40 yards out, but the ball fell perfectly onto his boot and he volleyed it over Meslier and into the net on the first bounce. It all felt very Leedsy and, worse, of course it lifted Molineux and gave the home fans something to work with. Eight minutes later and their comeback looked more than likely.
This time it was just a bit of bad luck as a Wober header fell to Matteus Counha and his shot cannoned off the heel of Wober and deceived Meslier to nestle in the corner of the net. Maybe Leeds were slow to close him down but the deflection was horrid. There were still at least twenty minutes to go, Wolves had their tails up, and the home crowd was now going mental. I couldn’t have been the only one thinking we were about to give up at least two points and, had we done, I doubt it would be overstating it to say that may well have killed off our season; so dispiriting would that have been.
Wolves did their best as they huffed and puffed trying to blow the Leeds house down but maybe they were trying a bit too hard. They threw on some subs, had a couple of shots and a corner and then Leeds twisted again, bringing on Summerville for Aaronson and Struijk for Firpo. The arrival of Crysencio proved a master stroke. He immediately became the out-ball to safety on that left wing while his fresh and busy legs worked tirelessly to win the ball back. Jonny Otto then careered into Luke Ayling and got a yellow card but with Luke looking seriously hurt and the game stopped, VAR intervened and soon referee Salisbury was trooping over to have a closer look. Red card was the outcome and few who have seen the replays would disagree with that one. Wolves down to ten.
Not that you’d have noticed though because it didn’t seem to interrupt Wolves’ flow and they continued to attack leaving Leeds to counter-attack as we’d done pretty much throughout. It was a tense, nervy last few minutes but then suddenly Roca and Summerville ambushed Wolves on our left wing and Summerville was away. He played a perfect pass infield to Rodrigo and his finish was sublime as he dinked the ball over Sa. Now we could relax! Or could we?
We soon became aware that VAR was looking at a possible foul in the lead-up to the goal and our hearts sank as ref Salisbury once again trotted over to the screen on the far side. The refs never overrule VAR do they… or so we thought. This time, Salisbury took an absolute age to study replay after replay but, to the delight of 3,000 Leeds fans, he pointed at the centre circle and the goal stood. Credit where it’s due, replays showed the tiniest of tugs on Traore’s shirt and although Traore stopped, claiming the foul, it would have been the softest of soft decisions. All power to Mr Salisbury for sticking to his guns.
So, a 2 – 4 win away, just our second away win of the season and not a moment too soon! Other results for the rest of the bottom nine were generally not as good as ours and up the table we zoomed, to 14th. In fact, we are the only bottom-nine side to win so far this weekend with Crystal Palace going to Arsenal tomorrow. It’s now tighter than ever though with now only four points covering those nine. There are lots of positives to take from this game – scoring four goals, having the likes of Rodrigo back, and three top-quality wingers now available, and, for the most part being disciplined and well-organised in defence. Let’s not forget though that Wolves hammered at us for large parts of the game, had twice the attempts we did and twice the number on target too. Better teams than Wolves might have broken through us more easily. Arsenal next up remember!
But, for now, let’s enjoy the result, have a couple of weeks off and hope that the boost this result will give us can carry us onwards and upwards to safety. There isn’t anything to choose between the bottom nine for me, so it comes down to who can be the best prepared, who can finish the few chances there will be, who can remain disciplined at the back and who will get the favour of Lady Luck. We can do all of that, of course we can…, but often we don’t
Wolves Leeds U
Possession 66% 34%
Shots 23 11
On Target 8 4
Corners 5 4
Fouls 14 9