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Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

Wolves unable to justify market confidence

Mark Langdon turns the spotlight on the Molineux men

Wolves manager Nuno has much to ponder at Molineux
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Sky Bet Championship
Wolves 1    Cardiff 2
Bonatini 67  Ralls 54, Mendez-Laing 77

Molineux played host to a fixture between two Sky Bet Championship sides with perfect records on Saturday but only one of them looked like genuine promotion candidates and it was not the title favourites.

Wolves have been all the rage in the market, backed into promotion favourites after beating Middlesbrough, Derby and Hull, but they met their match at Molineux as Cardiff ran out deserving winners of an absorbing contest.

Maybe in the long run this will prove to be a positive outcome for Wolves backers - the cash-rich owners surely won't become complacent in the final days of the transfer window as there is much work still to do if Wanderers are to return to the Premier League - and super-agent Jorge Mendes was at Saturday's match to witness it all.

Home boss Nuno Espirito Santo complained afterwards (and with some justification) about a lack of protection from referee Scott Duncan against an aggressive Cardiff side but it would be wrong to say the Bluebirds simply kicked Wolves off the pitch.

Yes, Cardiff were direct at times and some of the cynical aspects of their play was trademark Neil Warnock, but City were also the better side and their front three of Junior Hoilett, Kenneth Zohore and match-winner Nathaniel Mendez-Laing were far more threatening.

Wolves keeper John Ruddy was the busier of the two custodians and Nuno's 3-4-2-1 formation was nullified as Cardiff offered a vision to other sides who visit Molineux this season.

Right centre-back Miranda was dragged out of position to allow Joe Ralls to finish off a sweeping move for the first goal, while the otherwise solid left centre-back Willy Bony missed a bouncing ball for the winner as Zohore fed former Wolves man Mendez-Laing, who was the standout performer.

However, the main issues for Wolves came in other areas. The wing-backs Matt Doherty and Barry Douglas were pinned back for large periods and an upgrade is needed in the striking department.

Leo Bonatini grabbed the equaliser with a tap-in but was too lightweight and otherwise offered no threat.

He often dropped deep but that meant Wolves had little up front and offered no penalty-box threat until they chased the game while Zohore was far more of a danger for the visitors.

It was no surprise that the two influential players for Wolves were their biggest signings, central midfielder Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota, who arrived in the summer from Porto and Atletico Madrid respectively.

Neves possesses a beautiful range of passing but Warnock recognised that and made sure Loic Damour was never far away to rough up the playmaker when he was on the ball, although his Portuguese pal Jota was the one singled out for most of the treatment.

Cardiff's Lee Peltier was all over Jota - think Ander Herrera on Eden Hazard last season, only more physical - until Nuno swapped his main creative spark to be stationed on the opposite side on the hour mark.

Maybe that should have been done earlier as Jota was involved in the leveller but Wolves need to get used to this special attention as Warnock has set a template that others are likely to follow. It could even be that Wolves are a bigger danger on the road where their counter-attacking qualities can be used to greater effect.

Nuno also needs to sharpen up his side at set-pieces, a vulnerability which was exposed in the win at Hull and again on Saturday when Sol Bamba hit the bar from close range, although in fairness few can match Cardiff in the corners and long-throw department.

The biggest concern, however, was that Cardiff deserved their victory as they made it four straight wins and on the evidence of Saturday I would rather back them for promotion at 3-1 compared to the 6-4 about Wolves.

Wolves 3-4-2-1: Ruddy; Miranda, Coady, Boly; Dohery, Saiss (Ronan 83), Neves, Douglas (Dicko 78); Enobakhare (Cavaleiro 58), Jota; Bonatini.

Cardiff 4-2-3-1: Etheridge; Peltier, Bamba, Morrison, Richards; Gunnarsson, Ralls; Mendez-Laing, Damour (Manga 90), Hoilett (Ward 83); Zohore.

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It was no surprise that the two influential players for Wolves were their biggest signings, central midfielder Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota
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