AYALA’S GIFT MAKES LEO FEEL RIGHT AT HOME...
New-boy Bonatini quick to settle
FROM Brazil, via Portugal and Saudi Arabia, to Wolverhampton is a long and bizarre journey.
Leo Bonatini only completed the trip on Monday but still got manager Nuno Espirito Santo’s era at Wolves off to a successful start.
The newWolves boss, known as Nuno, knew about Brazilian Bonatini from his Portuguese days and has taken a bit of a gamble bringing him from Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia on a season’s loan.
Bonatini, 23, is so short of match practice that Nuno could only give him less than an hour’s playing time, but he took a gift and Wolves have lift-off to the season .
Bonatini should thank Boro defender Daniel Ayala for his 33rdminute goal. You need a bit of help on your home debut and Ayala was generous to a fault.
The game was dull, no one risking anything, people still getting to know each other, when Ayala tried a pass from just outside his penalty area.
No pressure, no danger, and what did Ayala do? He played the ball straight to Bonatini.
Bonatini might have taken a moment to make sure Ayala wasn’t one of his team-mates. Ayala was in a Boro shirt, wasn’t he? It was all a bit new. Wolves had seven making their debuts, Middlesbrough six, easy to get confused.
Anyway, Bonatini got on with it. What’s that English saying about gift horses in the mouth? He moved forward a few steps, looked up, took on keeper Darren Randolph one-to-one and left footed the ball past him.
So easy. And it was enough to beat disappointing Boro.
Middlesbrough are looking for an instant return to the Premier League after last season’s relegation, but won’t get it like this.
For all the big money spent they were toothless and had one decent chance when £15m Britt Assombalonga charged at the Wolves goal and keeper John Ruddy got the ball away.
Some said Ruddy was outside the area when he handed the ball clear, but Boro boss Garry Monk didn’t make a fuss.
Monk has bigger worries as his expensive team takes time to gel while the points tick away in early season.
“It’s not the result we would have wanted,” admitted Monk. “This was a difficult season opener. Wolves were the better team in the first half. We made too many simple mistakes with the ball.
“But we upped our level of urgency in the second half and we had the game’s best chances so I don’t think we deserved to lose. We should have had a goal or two out of those chances.
“On another day we would have taken one or two of those and come away with at least a point.
“We are not going to get down about losing our first game. We have not even scratched the surface with the forward players yet. They do need time. They will get better and better.
“We have shown how dangerous we can be as a team without being at our best. They are new players, gelling together.”
Wolves, who are on their third manager in a year and with two false dawns behind them, are in the same boat with a new staff getting to know each other. But they have the benefit of this win as a boost.
“It was a tough game, but a good game” said Nuno. “It was a very good first half when we controlled the game and we did not suffer too much in the second half when Middlesbrough played well.
“They were good but we were organised as a defence at the right moments.”
It all helped Nuno, who is more used to Champions League football with Porto than an afternoon in the Black Country, make a good impression.
“Thank you for the support of the fans,” he said. “We are pleased with the team, the boys worked well. Thank you all.”
NO WAY: Wolves keeper John Ruddy denies Britt Assombalonga of Middlesbrough
ALL NEW: Leo Bonatini scores his first goal for Wolverhampton Wanderers and, inset, fans mark another big-money arrival, Ruben Neves