Wolves strengthen top-four case with win over Crystal Palace
Wolves - Crystal Palace was an encounter full of close, controversial refereeing decisions which all seemed to go one way — Wolves’ way — as Nuno Espirito Santo’s side ultimately cruised to a 2-0 victory at Molineux Stadium on Friday.
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Rayan Ait-Nouri and Daniel Podence bagged first-half goals — the former on his Premier League debut — while Crystal Palace were thwarted and frustrated by painfully close calls time and again.
3 things we learned: Wolves - Crystal Palace
1. A yard or two difference, a completely different game: By rough estimation, Palace were a combined 18 inches from matching Wolves goal-for-goal in the first half. Instead, the game’s two most important calls each went against Palace, sending Wolves on their way to a comfortable victory in the end.
2. After a slow start, Wolves firing on all cylinders: Wolves lost two of their first three games this season and conceded seven goals between the defeats to Manchester City and West Ham United. Since then, Nuno Espirito Santo’s side has won three of four (3W-1D-0L) and conceded just one goal. If the PL remains as chaotic and unpredictable for 38 weeks as it was for the first six, who’s to say Wolves won’t still be sitting in or near third place come May?
3. On the flip side, Palace not a million miles away: It’s rather difficult to evaluate Crystal Palace on Friday’s performance, as even just one of any number of close calls going their way would have made for a completely different game played on completely different terms. Roy Hodgson’s men found dangerous spaces in possession, tended to recover quickly after losing possession, and limited Wolves to more speculative efforts on goal. The Eagles came into the weekend 8th in the PL table, and most of what we saw from them on Friday seemed to indicate they were there on merit.
Crystal Palace thought they had gone ahead in the 16th minute, thanks to Michy Batshuayi’s delicate finish of Patrick van Aanholt’s brilliant through ball, but the Belgian was offside by 12 inches.
Straight down the other end of the field, Wolves played in behind Palace’s backline and Ait-Nouri bounced his first-time strike under one defender, over another and out of goalkeeper Vicente Guaita’s reach.
Wolves needed just nine minutes to make it 2-0. Batshuayi gave the ball away on the halfway line and Raul Jimenez quickly launched Wolves’ counter-attack, finding Pedro Neto on the right wing. Neto crossed the ball into the box and Podence arrived at the back post to apply the straightforward finish.
Palace were again punished for a narrow offside decision. It was Van Aanholt who ran in behind and was tripped inside the penalty area. A penalty kick was initially given, but a lengthy video review saw that decision rescinded as Van Aanholt was a half-step early and offside by a leg.
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The game was very nearly put to bed in the second minute of first-half stoppage time, though the intent of Neto’s forever-floating ball destined for the upper-90 remains unclear. The Portuguese winger hit his cross-shot from all of 35 yards out, with Guaita somewhat off his line. Guaita scrambled backward and got just enough of the ball to push it over the crossbar and avoid a new level of humiliation.
Crystal Palace were perhaps hard done by early in the second half, as Hodgson’s side came down on the wrong side of a refereeing decision for the third time in 53 minutes. Ait-Nouri appeared to take Wilfried Zaha’s foot out from underneath him as Zaha positioned himself to shoot. No foul on the field initially, and no foul after video review.
Things went from bad to worse for Palace with barely five minutes left in the game, as Luka Milivojevic was sent off for an incredibly dangerous, potentially ankle-breaking slide tackle on Joao Moutinho.