Traoré clinches win over Southampton as Wolves maintain push for Europe
Bruno Lage recently misunderstood a question about Europe as an enquiry about his plans for a mid-season warm-weather training camp but there was no mistaking what the Wolves fans were singing about as they dispatched Southampton to rise to eighth in the Premier League. The substitute Adama Traoré completed the scoring, a couple of minutes after Romain Perraud headed against the upright in search of a Southampton equaliser. Wolves looked comfortable but it turned into a grandstand finish after James Ward-Prowse leathered a late swerving free-kick in from 30 yards.
These are two managers with little sympathy for their rivals submitting postponement requests to the Premier League. Ralph Hasenhüttl has been critical of the league for allowing clubs perceived wriggle room to delay games to suit themselves and a look at the Wolves lineup reflected the lengths they have gone to ensure they have adequate numbers to fulfil their fixtures during a strained period. Without Romain Saïss, who has captained Morocco to the knockout stages of the Africa Cup of Nations, and Ruben Neves after he returned a positive Covid test, Lage shuffled his pack and handed the 22-year-old Toti Gomes a debut in defence, one of three players recalled from loans this month in order to bolster a thin Wolves squad. The Wolves head coach also named two goalkeepers and three teenagers among his substitutes.
Wolves were determined to foster further momentum after starting the year with an impressive victory at Manchester United and breezing into the FA Cup fourth round here last weekend. Southampton arrived fresh from beating Brentford in midweek and despite making a promising start they were on the back foot when Jimenez sent Fraser Forster the wrong way from the penalty spot. Jan Bednarek made a cumbersome challenge on Rayan Ait-Nouri inside the box and, despite initially awarding a corner, the referee, Michael Salisbury, changed his verdict after visiting the VAR monitor. Hasenhuttl was still cussing a couple of minutes later, shaking his head on the touchline.
Southampton came close to an equaliser before the interval but the Wolves goalkeeper Jose Sá twice saved from the head of Mohammed Salisu. Oriol Romeu scooped a cross towards the back post and Salisu made clean contact but Sá scrambled to his right to repel his header and, in first-half stoppage time, Salisu again threatened in the air, meeting Ward-Prowse’s corner and nodding at goal, only for Sá to tip his effort over. Hasenhüttl crashed back in his chair in disbelief and then it was Wolves’ turn to bemoan the messy officiating, with the referee blowing for half-time just as Joao Moutinho telegraphed a wonderful ball behind the Saints defence.
Hasenhuttl stuck with the same team and system that started on Tuesday to match up Wolves’ three-man defence, but reverted to his favoured 4-2-2-2 formation at the interval, with the striker Che Adams replacing Ibrahima Diallo. But Southampton lacked the thrust that saw them score four against Brentford and failed to break down a notoriously trusty, if different, Wolves back line.
Wolves had no such problems and had Forster to thank when they doubled their lead approaching the hour. Aït-Nouri sent a free-kick towards the back post and Forster wandered out of goal to meet the ball, only to halt his run halfway. Max Kilman did not think twice and sent a header looping over Forster and against a post. The rebound was there for taking and Coady obliged. Ward-Prowse rattled in from distance to tee up a tantalising finish but it was Wolves who had the final say.