Wolves did not get a win on their Premier League return but there was plenty of optimism in the air at Molineux during their 2-2 draw with Everton, writes Adam Bate.
Nuno had a dream, as the song goes at Molineux, but it’s these Wolves fans who are living it. After six years out of the Premier League and a little over four years since they were playing in the third tier of English football, Wolves are back. And not just back, but back with a bang as the boot of Ruben Neves lit up an atmospheric evening under the Molineux lights.
The sense of anticipation outweighed some of the quality on offer in their 2-2 draw with Everton. Indeed, when Richarlison bundled Everton ahead after 17 minutes, Wolves looked set to become the third newly-promoted team of the day to be exposed to the harsh realities of top-flight existence. Neves went some way towards changing that just before half-time.
Phil Jagielka’s error in failing to control a pass across his own area was the catalyst, his studs-up lunge towards the ankle of Diogo Jota earning him a red card. But it took Neves to really send the crowd into a frenzy, curling in the subsequent free-kick to level the scores just as the number of players on the pitch had been tilted in the home side’s favour.
2:50 Highlights of the 2-2 draw between Wolves and Everton at Molineux
Neves is better than Zinedine Zidane, according to the supporters on Molineux’s South Bank. On this occasion, they settled for him being better than Jordan Pickford, the Everton goalkeeper who got a fingertip to the shot but could not keep it out. This was Neves’ Premier League debut but his seventh goal from outside the box in 43 Wolves appearances.
Despite the man advantage, Wolves could not find a winner and even went behind again after some fine work by Richarlison midway through the second half, with the Brazilian netting the second goal of his debut. But some more Neves magic, whipping the ball onto the head of Raul Jimenez with 10 minutes left ensured Wolves had a point to show for their return.
That’s more than they came away with in the first game of their two previous stints in the Premier League and, while a draw at home to 10-man Everton did not exactly have the masses dreaming of glory days ahead, nor was it enough to dampen the spirits either – even in the August rain. This journey they are on just feels a bit different to these fans.
Wolves are the oldest club in the Premier League but suddenly everything feels new – from the statue of Sir Jack Hayward that is now in front of the stand named after him, to the grand plans for further redevelopment at Molineux. Managing director Laurie Dalrymple says the aim is to get the attendances up and beyond 55,000 in the “short-to-medium term”.
There were 31,231 packed into Molineux on Saturday evening, the biggest attendance in 37 years and a record since the stadium was rebuilt. Some way off their ambitious plans but there is a waiting list for season tickets for the first time in the club’s long history – a further indication of the growing appetite to see the football being served up by Neves and the rest.
After all the fuss, there were only four new names in the Wolves squad but given that three of them played at the World Cup in the summer and happen to have more than 250 international caps between them, perhaps the excitement is understandable. Jimenez, in particular, was lively throughout and the experienced Joao Moutinho oozed class in midfield.
And yet, it did not quite click for Wolves. The head coach Nuno Espirito Santo pointed to the difficulties that his team had in terms of getting the balance right between chasing the game and keeping it tight. There were times when his players appeared anxious, overhitting passes as the prospect of a balloon-bursting defeat began to loom large.
Nuno did speak warmly about the atmosphere in his post-match press conference, but he was not so enamoured with the performance. “We will be working hard because there are a lot of things we need to correct,” he said. “At home, honestly, I think we cannot concede two goals. We must improve. This is the first step. You have to be organised in defence.”
So will he compromise the style to achieve it? “Honestly, no,” he added. “We have to build something with a shape that is able to adapt to all of the difficult opponents that we have in front of us. But don’t change your beliefs. What you believe and what you work for every day is what you must do on the day of competition. We believe in what we do.”
Wolves vs Man City
August 25, 2018, 11:30am
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Wolves have some quality individuals. But, as a team, the fact that they found themselves scrambling for a point in the closing stages is a reminder that the challenge of the Premier League will still be a huge one for Nuno and his players. In that sense, Everton, the division’s second oldest club, made for appropriate visitors to mark Wolves’ return.
After all, they are a club with ambitions of their own but one whose struggles to break into the elite group of English teams expecting to see Champions League football on a regular basis only underlines how difficult it will be for Wolves to achieve their targets. Reportedly, those ambitions include winning the Premier League within seven years.
For all the fun and fireworks on show at Molineux, that still looks an awful long way away and may well prove to be beyond even the billions of their Chinese owners. But for the club’s supporters, the reality, like the victory, can wait. This was about being back in the top flight with a team that is able to compete. That dream, at least, is now realised.
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