Cham­pi­ons tamed as Wolves make their point

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - STU­ART JAMES

IT says much for Wolves that the last time Manch­ester City en­dured an af­ter­noon as frus­trat­ing as this away from home in the Pre­mier League was way back in Fe­bru­ary. Pep Guardi­ola’s side had racked up seven suc­ces­sive top-flight wins on their trav­els since draw­ing at Burn­ley six months ago, but Wolves were in no mood to roll over just be­cause the Pre­mier League cham­pi­ons were in town.

Nuno Espir­ito Santo’s side played with tremen­dous en­ergy, be­lief and courage, and fully de­served a point that was cel­e­brated like a vic­tory at the fi­nal whis­tle. “We’re on our way back” re­ver­ber­ated from the massed ranks of gold shirts in­side Molineux and it was hard to dis­agree at the end of a thrilling game of foot­ball.

There was a slice of good for­tune with Willy Boly’s goal, which clearly went in off the cen­tral de­fender’s arm and should also have been dis­al­lowed for off­side, but it was hard to be­grudge Wolves that bit of luck on a day when they caused City plenty of prob­lems with their pace on the counter-at­tack.

Guardi­ola’s side dom­i­nated the ball — they had 79 per cent of pos­ses­sion — but Wolves cer­tainly could not be ac­cused of park­ing the bus. They were pre­pared to com­mit play­ers for­ward at the right time — the pace of Helder Costa and Adama Traore caused plenty of prob­lems — and Wolves may even have snatched three points at the end, when Diogo Jota’s fe­ro­cious shot flashed inches over the bar.

Hav­ing lev­elled through Aymeric Laporte’s first goal for the club, City could also have won it at the death, with the re­lief among the home sup­port­ers al­most tan­gi­ble when Ser­gio Aguero’s 25yard free-kick hit the top of the cross­bar. That was the sec­ond time Aguero hit the wood­work and the third oc­ca­sion for City in to­tal, with Rui Pa­tri­cio pro­duc­ing an out­stand­ing save in the first half to tip Ra­heem Ster­ling’s swerv­ing half-vol­ley on to the bar.

Yet the cham­pi­ons were far from freeflow­ing here and although Guardi­ola said he was happy with the chances City cre­ated against a 5-4-1 sys­tem that has proved dif­fi­cult for them to break down in the past, the Spa­niard ad­mit­ted his side were noth­ing like as com­fort­able with­out the ball. Vin­cent Kom­pany had a par­tic­u­larly dis­ap­point­ing open­ing 45 min­utes.

“We didn’t con­trol the counter-at­tacks quite well to­day, but it is a good point be­cause of the qual­ity of the op­po­nent,” Guardi­ola said. “I think we cre­ated enough chances to win the game. But I’ve not too many re­grets. Maybe a bit of a lack of rhythm some­times. But in gen­eral I am sat­is­fied with the per­for­mance.”

Although Guardi­ola could be seen speak­ing to Martin Atkin­son, the ref­eree, im­me­di­ately af­ter the match, the City man­ager had no de­sire to dis­cuss Boly’s con­tro­ver­sial goal or get in­volved in a de­bate about whether the Pre­mier League should have im­ple­mented video as­sis­tant ref­eree tech­nol­ogy. City also had a cou­ple of penalty ap­peals turned down, although on one of them Aguero was lucky not to be booked for div­ing.

From Espir­ito Santo’s point of view, his game-plan worked per­fectly. “I think it was a good per­for­mance over­all,” the Wolves man­ager said. “We were play­ing against the best team, so we had to stick to­gether, cover, re­duce the space and al­ways have bal­ance. There are tasks for the play­ers — rules — that give you or­der and safety and con­fi­dence to play. So when we had the ball we cre­ated chances and played good foot­ball. If there’s a but, af­ter we score we should man­age bet­ter the next few min­utes that put City in con­trol of the game.”

In a bright open­ing 25 min­utes that set the tone, Raul Jimenez had a goal ruled out for off­side be­fore City went straight up the other end and hit the wood­work twice in quick suc­ces­sion. Aguero swept a low shot against the up­right and then came that Ster­ling ef­fort, which was swerv­ing to­wards the top cor­ner un­til Pa­tri­cio, stretch­ing ev­ery sinew, flicked it on to the bar.

Boly’s du­bi­ous goal ar­rived af­ter Costa, scam­per­ing clear on the left, saw his an­gled shot pushed into the side-net­ting by Eder­son. City seemed to be caught out by the short cor­ner that fol­lowed, with Joao Moutinho’s de­liv­ery ex­pos­ing some poor mark­ing. Matt Do­herty got the slight­est of touches be­fore Boly, at­tempt­ing a header, nudged the ball over the line with his right arm.

City were only be­hind for 12 min­utes. Ilkay Gun­do­gan, who was later re­placed by Leroy Sane as Guardi­ola chased vic­tory, swung in a fine free-kick from the right and Laporte, with a free run at the ball, headed pow­er­fully home. Gabriel Je­sus, an­other City sub­sti­tute, later nod­ded straight at Pa­tri­cio but Wolves held on for a point that felt like three.

Photo: Stu Forster

Wolves de­fender Willy Boly is con­grat­u­lated af­ter open­ing the scor­ing against Manch­ester City at Molineux yes­ter­day.

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