Wolves have Matt Doherty to thank for keeping their unbeaten run going after netting late on against the men from the West Country.
The weather was bleak and grey, but the mood in the away end of Ashton Gate was the complete opposite. Wolves were excellent from front to back and thoroughly deserved the first away it what feels like ages.
Both teams went into the match after both taking part in emphatic games the previous weekend. Bristol finished on the bad side of a 5-4 result against Coventry, after coming back from being 3-0 down. In contrast, Wolves had an unforgettable 4-0 win, at home, against Gillingham
Sean O’Driscoll’s first eleven was made up of the former Derby and England man, Frank Fielding, between the posts. The back four was Moloney, Williams, Flint and Cunningham. The five-man midfield consisted of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, new signing Marlon Pack, Wagstaff, Wynter and Kilkenny. The former Hammer Sam Baldock occupied the lone striker.
The Wolves boss, Kenny Jackett, named the exact same eleven that so effortlessly swept Gillingham aside the previous Saturday. The eleven chosen to wear the rather fetching lilac were as followed: Ikeme in goal, a now rather settled back four of Matt Doherty, Richard Stearman, Danny Batth and Sam Ricketts. The four men in midfield were Bakary Sako, Lee Evans, David Davis and the precocious talent Zeli Ismail, who made his second consecutive league appearance. Kenny Jackett’s front pairing were Kevin Doyle and the mercurial Leigh Griffiths.
The referees whistle coincided with the opening of the heavens, the rain began to bucket down. Wolves looked confident, mobile and hungry in the opening stages of the match. Lee Evans displayed his excellent vision and delivery to pick out Matt Doherty down his right hand side who was in top gear to meet the oncoming pass. He did, but so did the Bristol left back who did well to match the pace of the Irishman and see the ball out for a corner.
Bristol looked shaky and nervous as they scrambled a corner away after Zeli Ismail delivered an excellent ball in. Jackett’s men continued to put the Red’s under pressure. Once again, Lee Evans slipped a ball into the path of Wolves’ new number nine, Leigh Griffiths. Unfortunately, the linesmen judged the Scot to be offside and the attack was snuffed out.
Bristol’s first chance came on fifteen minutes. Not before Leigh Griffiths got the chance to dispatch a rasping 25-yard drive which warmed the fingers of Frank Fielding. The aforementioned Bristol chance fell to the feet of the former Ipswich man, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, whose low drive failed to warrant any interest from Karl Ikeme.
Wolves were getting the ball out into the wide positions, confident that the wingers could dominate the two young full backs, Moloney and Cunningham. They duly did, especially on the left hand side, Sako was finding it incredibly easy to beat his man, Cunningham, time after time.
It seemed, very early on and as the game developed, that Jackett got his tactics spot on. He opted to deploy Kevin Doyle in behind Leigh Griffiths. This gave Doyle license to roam and pull the Bristol defenders out of their positions.
We were witnessing a strike partnership being forged. A partnership where the older player puts in the hard graft. In order to let the young, precocious, mercurial talent do what he did so well for Hibernian last season. Score loads and loads of goals.
It took the referee, Darren Sheldrake, 20 minutes to brandish the first, of what would become many, yellow cards. Derrick Williams was put into the referee’s book after a cynical and unsporting foul on Kevin Doyle.
The resulting free kick caused the deadlock to be broken at Ashton Gate, who scored? Who else but last year’s player of the year. Bakary Sako sat the ball to the right of the D, 20 yards out, he then dispatched an almost now trademark curling free kick into Frank Fielding top left hand corner.
This sent the Wedlock away stand into rapturous cheers and applause directed at the now lilac pile on. It comes to something when a player as excellent as Sako is expected to score free kicks in that area. He duly did and it gave Wolves the advantage with 25 minutes of the first half left.
Wolves players were expecting a fight back from Bristol, but their efforts never hugely tested Karl Ikeme and the Wolves defence withstood Bristol’s limp attempts to find an equaliser.
Wolves hit back, looking extremely effective from corners. The deliveries of Zeli Ismail and Bakary Sako were giving Wolves a different attacking option. Something the Bristol defence were finding hard to combat. Furthermore, Flint and co could not handle the substantial aerial presence that came from the away defence. Danny Batth was clearly the main target for Ismail and Sako, this was shown after he glanced two headers towards Frank Fielding who had to pull off a couple of expert saves to deny the man from Brierley Hill, either side of a header from Leigh Griffiths who rose higher than anyone to head just over. Once again, Fielding showing that his ability was for higher than the league he is playing in. A player who not two years ago was touted for a move to the Premier League and featured regularly in the England squads.
Bristol City’s chances were rare and fruitless, their second meaningful chance came from former Charlton man, Scott Wagstaff. He hit a crisp shot that rose, rather comfortably, into the arms of Karl Ikeme.
Wolves coped well with neutralising the threat of Bristol’s best player, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Sam Ricketts was helped by either Kevin Doyle or Bakary Sako. Doubling up on the talented winger, neutralised his influence on the game.
It was excellent to see attackers tracking back and working hard, putting in some graft. What was made clear is how classy an operator Sam Ricketts is. He looked so comfortable and at ease operating on that left hand side against players who were quicker and five or six years his junior.
O’Driscoll made his first change in the first half hour. Neil Kilkenny was hauled off for the young midfielder, Joe Bryan. Soon after, Frank Fielding had to pull off yet another expert save after Kevin Doyle hit the sweetest of volleys that was dipping into the top corner.
The rest of the already frantic first half went by without too much action. A few half chances from both sides were saved and defended comfortably by both teams. Sheldrake blew the half time whistle and the teams went into the tunnel, as the rain continued to pour down.
The second half got underway and Wolves continued to pile the pressure on The Robins as the pitch was now becoming extremely greasy. The first meaningful chance came from Kevin Doyle who was unable to get a toe on the beautifully weighted pass from Bakary Sako.
Bristol hit Wolves on the counter after clearing the aforementioned attack away. Wolves have been punished in the past for making defensive errors, no goal conceded in the first two league games gave promise, but, like a bad smell, the defensive errors returned. Forgotten man Richard Stearman decided to commit to a challenge down the right hand side against the on coming Sam Baldock, who, rather cleverly, slide the ball inside to Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, whose low drive eluded Karl Ikeme and nestled into the bottom corner. Both the away fans and players were shell shocked by this, groans and moans began to eek out. “Here we go again” – another game where Wolves fail to capitalise on their early goal and go on to draw or even lose. There are a plethora of examples from the previous season where Wolves have scored early and gone on to lose two or even three.
Wolves were shell shocked by this and had to pick them selves up after soaking up further Birstol pressure. The young substitute, Joe Bryan, hit a shot that tested Ikeme in the Wolves net. O’Driscoll could see that Bristol were on the up, so he decided to freshen things up to maintain that pressure on the away side. The former Cheltenham youngster, Marlon Pack, was substituted for Marvin Elliot as O’Driscoll saw the chance to further punish Wolves.
Bristol looked a completely different team, the impressive Sam Baldock forced Karl Ikeme to make two incredible point blank saves. He cut in from the left hit a lot shot which was palmed away by Ikeme who then got back up to tip another shot from Baldock over the bar. It drew gasps of relief from the away fans that were thanking the stars that we had such an excellent keeper in order to block two of the best chances in the game.
This was the first time Wolves looked under the cosh, we had lost the fluidity and intensity that we had in the first half. Our passing was out of sorts and our tempo was lost. Jackett recognised this and mixed things up, off came the rather anonymous Leigh Griffiths for Bjorn Sigurdarson and Zeli Ismail was hooked and replaced with Jake Cassidy.
These changes changed the tempo of the game, Bakary Sako came into his own. Time and time again Sako was beating his full back with that laissez-faire style of wing play, he slipped a low ball to Kevin Doyle whose point blank shot was expertly saved by Frank Fielding. Both keepers were playing out of their skin, both showing their class and ability. Moments later Sako had beaten the bedazzled Moloney and delivered another smart cross that went just over.
The game became very bitty going into the last ten minutes, both teams were searching for a winner but neither could find a clear chance. Emmanuel-Thomas had a shot that went miles wide and Kevin Doyle had a pass that was nicked away by the Robins defenders. Wolves were trying to find the perfect ball, the midfield insisted on playing the ball thorough the defence, threading passes that were not quite right.
With five minutes to go it looked as if the game was heading for a 1-1 draw. That was until a spell of Wolves pressure resulted in Bakary Sako crossing from the left hand side, his cross eluded everyone and found the tip of Matt Doherty’s foot whose tap in was scrambled in. Cue pandemonium. The goal scorer ran to the away fans to embrace them, followed by all ten-outfield players. It was a moment of utter joy, it felt as if Wolves were a club that we could love again, the players and the fans all banded around together and shared in a moment. Yes it was just three games in and there will be some low moments, but at 4.40pm yesterday, you would not have found a happier bunch of fans. It was utterly joyous to see and be a part of.
Wolves finished the game the stronger after some Bristol half chances from corners, Jake Cassidy dinked the ball over Frank Fielding but failed to find the net from an acute angle. It was unfortunate, but not detrimental to the final result. The whistle went and Wolves fans and players stayed behind to applaud one another in a real show of unity.
So, three games gone, seven points picked up and Wolves are third in League One. It seems Kenny’s cubs are starting to mature. However, it is one result and we should be wary that there is a long way to go. But for those five minutes after that winning goal something happened that a lot of Wolves fans will not forget.
The good times are back and lets be thankful for that.
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