Wolverhampton Wanderers returned to Premier League football in dramatic fashion on Monday afternoon, with Julen Lopetegui marking his first league game in charge of the club with a last-gasp 2-1 victory over Everton – a result that could well prove crucial in the fight for survival come the end of the campaign next May.
Indeed, with the Toffees going into the fixture four points above then-bottom-of-the-table Wolves, Rayan Ait Nouri’s 95th-minute winner – a goal which came very much against the overall run of play in the match – saw the Old Gold climb to just one point behind Everton in the top-flight standings, as well as one point from safety.
However, while it will undoubtedly be the France U21 international’s late strike that steals the headlines on Tuesday morning, arguably the player Lopetegui will have to thank the most for his debut win in the Premier League is Daniel Podence – the 27-year-old who Express & Star journalist Nathan Judah claimed had his “best game of the season” against the Toffees.
Indeed, prior to his withdrawal in the 73rd minute of the match due to injury, the £13m-rated talent was a constant thorn in Frank Lampard’s side at Goodison Park, enjoying 44 touches of the ball, completing 22 of his 28 attempted passes and bagging the equaliser 22 minutes into the match, as well as making one key pass, completing one dribble and one long ball.
The £60k-per-week forward also chipped in for his side in a defensive capacity, making four tackles, one clearance and winning five duels, as well as breaking up Everton’s play by committing four fouls.
These returns saw the player who Josh Holland dubbed “unreal” average an extremely impressive Sofascore match rating of 7.20, with journalist Liam Keen dubbing the Portugal international as “easily Wolves’ best player” while reporter Connor O’Neill also awarded Podence a joint match-best eight in his own ratings for Birmingham Live, as well as stating of the winger:
“Wolves’ Man of the Match. Constantly had the beating of Nathan Patterson down the right and finished well when presented with the opportunity to. Booked during the second half.”
As such, while the late introduction of Ait Nouri ultimately proved to be the moment that won the game for Wolves, Podence was undoubtedly Lopetegui’s real star on Monday afternoon, as the 27-year-old well and truly ran the game on the left wing.