A very late Leigh Griffiths penalty earned Wolves a hard fought 2-1 victory in the big Friday night clash.
After a draw, two wins and two clean sheets, Wolves’ start to League One was certainly a positive one. The team looked to be gelling well and with the new signing of Kevin McDonald waiting in the wings to start, suddenly the squad looked healthy once more.
Friday night came around and the fans were looking to see if their team could continue their hot streak and leap to the top of table (for 24 hours at least). Crawley arrived having a mixed start to the season, one win, one draw, and one loss. They came to Molineux off the back of a two-one home defeat to Rotherham after having a relatively bright start to the season. Crawley sat tenth in the league with 4 points.
Richie Barker made two changes to the side that lost to Rotherham, James Hurst and Mark Connolly were dropped and replaced by Joe Walsh and Dannie Bulman, with this in mind, the Red Devils lined up like this: Paul Jones in goal, Mat Sadler, Kyle McFadzean, Josh Simpson, Joe Walsh, Andy Drury, Dannie Bulman, Nicky Adams, Mike Jones, Billy Clarke and Gary Alexander. Crawley looked to play a 4-4-2 formation, with Clarke and Alexander the front two.
The home side made just the one change from the team that snatched a win away at Bristol City. Jackett saw fit to drop Leigh Griffiths, who did not have his best game last week and everyone’s favourite Icelander, Bjorn Sigurdarson, replaced him. So with just the one change, Wolves, like Crawley, lined up in a 4-4-2. Ikeme kept his place in goal, in front of him were Matt Doherty, Danny Batth, Richard Stearman and Sam Ricketts. The midfield four was Bakary Sako, Lee Evans, David Davis and Zeli Ismail. With the front two consisting of Kevin Doyle and Bjorn Sigurdarson.
The weather was hot and humid, the atmosphere was palpable and the teams were out. The first five minutes went by without too much action, neither side could get any sort of tempo going and they were unable to fashion any chances in the opening stages. Wolves offered up the first chance of the game, Lee Evans displaying, once again, his excellent vision and Nenad Milijas-esque passing range to launch a 30 yard ball in to the box. The cross in found the toe of Bjorn Sigurdarson, unfortunately Paul Jones showed quick reflexes to deny Wolves an opening goal. What was positive about this opening exchange was the delightful build up play, the midfield four were not just a rigid bank of four. They were swapping and interchanging, aware of each other’s movement, it was extremely impressive.
With just 7 minutes gone, Wolves took the lead. Bjorn Sigurdarson had the ball just outside the 18-yard box, he slid the ball out left to Kevin Doyle. He battled well to beat his man, getting the ball to the by line and standing the cross up for Bjorn Sigurdarson to nod in an easy header at the back post. With such little time gone, it was a bit of a shock, Wolves were not expected to take the lead so easily and so quickly, it was virtually the first chance of the game and it gave Wolves the lead.
This sparked the game into life, it brought Crawley out, and they now had to score. Their first decent chance came just after the goal, when Nicky Adams shot wide after he latched on to the end of a low cross into the box, it failed to trouble Carl Ikeme. Crossing was the attack of choice for the game, soon after Sako hit a low ball into the Crawley penalty box that was dealt with and cleared.
Zeli Ismail displayed some of the skill and quick thinking which has seen him break into the first team after all this time. He burst down the right hand side, jinked his was past his marker and delivered, like Sako did a few moments earlier, a low ball into the box. Wolves were trying to break down the Crawley defence, in the opening exchanges both Sako and Ismail were swapping wings, allowing either one to cut inside and display their shooting talent.
Jackett was becoming animated on the touchline, he wanted another goal, 2-0 would almost kill the game as a contest. He recognises Wolves inability to capitalise on one goal leads and was encouraging his men to get forward and net another. Doyle delivered a cross onto the head of Bakary Sako whose finish glanced just wide.
Wolves were looking good, they looked vibrant, energetic and enthusiastic about playing in front of 17,000 fans and the nations media. They were relishing it, not hiding from it, the naivety of youth you could call it. The team were hitting neat little 5 yard passes in the Crawley half, Evans, Sako, Doyle and Davis in particular, were linking up well and seemed to have a real understanding of where each other were on the field. You would expect this sort of communication 15 or 20 games in, to see with just 3 games gone was refreshing. They seem to be taking on board Jackett’s ideas and implementing them well, you can see why he wanted to clear out the old and tired regime. By doing this he has completely rejuvenated not just the first team, but also the whole club. He has taken out the root of the problem and suddenly all looks well on and off the pitch.
Crawley applied some pressure midway through the first half, the back four had to do some defending, their first of the game. Both Batth and Stearman did well to scramble away a Crawley corner. The ball was delivered back into the now panicky Wolves penalty area but referee Simon Hooper called for a foul before any real danger was incurred. Moments later, Ismail was caught dawdling on the ball in the centre circle, it was stolen from him and Crawley broke quickly, the ball was at the feet of Billy Clarke who fired high & wide from 20 yards.
Wolves hit back though, Evans threaded an expertly weighted ball to Sako down the left, who once again, hit a low cross that evaded everyone. Batth and Ikeme did well to close down Billy Clarke after he showed some impressive pace and sill to get to the by line of the Wolves penalty area, fortunately, the aforementioned pair got to him before he could deliver a cross.
Crawley’s best chance came when Nicky Adams drove at Wolves’ back four and forced a good save from Carl Ikeme, who had to get down low to stop Crawley equalising. Crawley were looking good, they passed the ball around excellently and were creating chances. It was edging toward the latter stages of the first half and Wolves looked a bit complacent, they were allowing Crawley back into the game, they may have underestimated them slightly. Whatever the reason was, Wolves had lost their momentum and their tempo.
Wolves had a few decent half chances, once they got their act together, Evans, once again, hit a pin point pass to Zeli Ismail on the left hand side who jinked his way past Josh Simpson and crossed a low ball in which was cleared by McFadzean and co.
It was nice to see two young Wolves player, combining to make a chance, just such an uplifting sight. These measured, young men who are not focused on themselves or their egos. They just seem happy to be playing football in a vibrant and attacking side, under a manager that seems to treat them well.
Half time was called and both teams looked pretty even, Wolves looked the brighter at the beginning but Crawley, to their credit, got back into the game and finished the stronger.
The second half began as the rain began to bucket it down. Wolves started the brighter after Nicky Adams turn and ran with the ball and shot low to force Ikeme into an early save. Wolves looked to have a lot of intensity and verve but failed to fashion this into chances in the early stages of the first half. Once again, Crawley hit back and, once again, it was with Micky Adams. Who yet again turned and ran at the Wolves defence, who would have thought that something so simple could be so effective, Adam’s must have done it half a dozen times and every time it worked.
Crawley continued their good work, Mike Jones hit a low shot, which was tame and easily collected by Karl Ikeme. Both teams failed to get into any sort of rhythm, the game became very bitty, not much in the way of chances. One highlight of the opening exchanges was a shot from Sam Ricketts, who showed everyone that he could hit them from far out. He smashed a dipping shot that was just about tipped over by Paul Jones. It drew gasps from everyone in the crowd, we did not expect that kind of behaviour from our new captain.
Wolves began to get a foothold in the game, David Davis played a through ball to Ismail whose low ball was collected by the Crawley keeper. It was frustrating, Wolves were going down the same route over and over and the Crawley defence were diligent in their work. It was difficult for Wolves to find an inroad into the Crawley backline. The crowd knew that another goal know would give Wolves all three points but Barker’s men were stern and were not going to get rolled over by their opposition.
Wolves were countering when Gary Alexander cynically tripped Kevin Doyle just outside the Crawley penalty area, Simon Hooper saw fit to award Alexander with a yellow card. Sako lined up to take the free kick, the 2000 fans that were at Bristol last week were expecting a repeat of the goal that saw them take the lead at Ashton Gate, and they nearly got their wish. His free kick was palmed away just in time, it was extremely close to doubling Wolves’ lead. Paul Jones did extremely well to palm the free kick out for a corner.
The home side were on the up, beginning to build up the tempo and intensity that saw them take the lead in the first half. Unfortunately, Joe Walsh fell to the ground, injured, he was given treatment, and this took all the tempo and rhythm from Wolves’ game, once again. Crawley’s first sub came soon after, Mark Connolly replaced Joe Walsh. Wolves also saw fit to change it up, they took off the goal scorer, Sigurdarson and Lee Evans were substituted for Lee Griffiths and new signing Kevin McDonald, who were making his home debut.
Ismail, again, looked bright, mobile and agile as he cut on his left to force a diving save from Jones. Crawley countered and forced a corner, it was taken by Andy Drury, who put to action a training ground move, he hit a 20 yard pass out to Mike Jones whose first time shot was always rising and going wide.
Crawley were advancing and forcing corners from Wolves, Barker made a further two changes Drury and Bulman were taken off for Luke Rooney and former Swansea man, Jamie Proctor, Barker obviously seeing the chance for the Devils to score a goal that would level things with 15 minutes or so to spare. After some fluid Crawley moves around the Wolves penalty box, the home team counter attacked and the ball was found on the Wolves left hand side. Sako let the ball bounce and hit a screwed volley that bounced just over.
With just a few minutes left it looked as if Wolves would hold on to the lead that was until Micky Adams got the ball, again. He ran at the back four slipped the ball to Procter who, first time passed it short to Billy Clarke whose low drive slipped past Carl Ikeme and into the net. Heartbreak for the home crowd, ecstasy for the away ones. Nightmares of last season recurring once more Wolves were unable to close a game out. Expletives, curses and frowns were the order of the day, absolutely gutting, with just four minutes of injury time left it looked like Wolves would miss out on the chance to go top of the league.
The game restarted, Wolves went hell for leather, they had no other choice, the imposing (to say the least) Kevin McDonald played a one-two with substitute Leigh Griffiths, McDonald ran into the penalty area, he went to deliver a cross, the ball subsequently hit Kyle McFadzean on the left arm and the assistant referee signalled to his compatriot that a penalty had to be given. Leigh Griffiths was handed the ball, Hooper blew the whistle and Griffiths smashed the ball into the bottom corner, Jones guessed right but the power sent it home. Madness then ensued and Molineux went wild. From heartbreak to ecstatic relief in less than a minute, which other sport could do that?
Wolves remain unbeaten in League One and go top of it till at least 6pm tonight. It is good to see that Wolves can play poorly and still win, in a weird way, this result might be quite important. It shows to the players and the manager that the team are not invincible, we are going to need to dig deep in some games and last night is the first time we have been properly tested. We passed that test and that surely is a positive sign.
4 down, 42 to go, 10 from 12, 0 lost, scored 8 and conceded 2 – all good numbers. The most important number, however, is, in fact