When a youthful Wolverhampton Wanderers side fell behind to an emphatic Lewis Dunk header during the early stages of Sunday’s Premier League outing, many would have feared another tepid showing was imminent.
Instead, the makeshift side displayed their guile and resilience to earn their first ever top-flight victory over Brighton & Hove Albion on the 11th attempt, albeit aided by Dunk’s dismissal early after the interval.
The red card gave the inexperienced team the belief and incentive to overturn the deficit and take control of the match through goals from Adama Traore and Morgan Gibbs-White.
The latter of the two will be particularly satisfied with their late strike having squandered a glorious opportunity to win the match moments earlier – the goal was also Gibbs-White’s first in the Premier League.
To aggravate the woes of Brighton’s forgettable day, Neal Maupay was sent off deep into added time following a confrontation with referee Jonathon Moss.
Budding talents a good omen?
Make no mistake about it, the 20/21 season has been one fraught with disappointment and disruption for Wolves. Injuries haven’t helped in the slightest as the side languish in 12th place with only three fixtures yet to be played.
Consecutive seventh placed finishes and a laudable European campaign were achieved after the side finished in monumentally winning the Sky Bet Championship in 2019.
The promotion - during Nuno Espirito Santo’s maiden season at the club – propelled Wolves back into the forefront of English football, but since the birth of the coronavirus pandemic Wolves have faltered and will almost certainly finish the campaign in the bottom half.
The good news?
With the season curtailing and little to play for, Santo has opted to merit inclusion for the younger players in the squad recently and has been rewarded with a number of striking performances.
Gibbs-White took his chance and scored a dramatic winner to hand the club their win against Brighton in the Premier League, whilst Vitinha has looked assured and composed in the beating heart of Wolves’ midfield whilst displaying a shrewd eye for goal with a number of impressive attempts.
During his post-match interview with BBC Sport, Santo said, “All the young players did well, it’s the right moment to try and build and improve players.”
His comments hint at further appearances for such players as he looks to use the closing stage as means to determine the exact qualities of the younger ‘fringe’ members of his squad.
The Traore revival
With Raul Jimenez and Pedro Neto both suffering lengthy injuries at different stages this season, Wolves have taken a detrimental blow to their offensive play with their struggles certainly noticeable.
Santo’s squad have only mustered 35 goals since the season’s inception – a tally only worsened by the bottom-four clubs – which lingers as a statistic that reflects the issues that Traore has faced in front of goal after captivating the nation in the previous season.
Indeed, 29 games into the campaign the enigmatic Spaniard had yet to register a single contribution and had seen his stock diminish as he struggled to reignite the best of his dazzling abilities.
However, Traore found his feet and announced his return to form with a stunning assist against West Ham United last month and has accrued two goals and assists apiece in his last six games.
The unique, physical abilities of Traore presents an obstinate challenge for opposition defences on a weekly basis, and his return to clinical form will undoubtedly aid Wolves immensely as the season enters the culminating stage.
Has the tide been turned?
A few months ago, Wolves looked a team devoid of inspiration and innovation having haplessly fallen to a run of two victories in fourteen league meetings.
A defining win against Arsenal at the start of February resulted in the turning of the tide for the club – the arduous period was ended along with a nine-game winless run.
Wolves have now only lost four games across 15 since and with Sunday’s win over Brighton have now won three of their last five games, losing only once.
There is an element of composure and an air of rejuvenation surrounding Santo’s squad that had eluded them for some time, and the foundations have now been laid out ahead of what Wanderers fans will hope to an exciting and successful campaign after the summer break.