It almost feels strange to write about a defeat such has been North End’s excellent start to the season.
This first defeat in 10 came in an all action encounter away at league leaders, Wolves, but Alex Neil and his boys will feel aggrieved that they did not take something from the game. Three down just after the hour it looked all over for North End but a change in formation and a spirited fightback saw North End come within a whisker of pulling off the comeback of the day if not the comeback of the season. We dominated the game for the first half hour but conceded just on half time and in the second half we started slowly but having said that there was more than a touch of controversy about the Wolves third goal. Much will also be said about the performance of the referee, Mr Martin, who had a day he may want to forget in a hurry. North End started the game with the usual 4-2-3-1 and made two changes from the side that started at Fulham last week, with Fisher and Harrop replacing the injured Maguire and the unlucky Callum Woods. After the very early exchanges I thought that North End settled down and footballed the league leaders to death for half-an-hour in which time we had two good chances to take the lead both of which fell to Daniel Johnson. The midfielder failed to convert both and it proved to be very costly later in the game. Josh Earl, in particular, was causing real trouble down the left flank but North End fell to the sucker punch just before half time when Wolves took the lead via a scrappy goal, from our perspective, scored by Cavaleiro. It was one of the hosts first shots on target and it really knocked the stuffing out of us well into the second half. We started the second half very sluggishly, in my opinion, and seemed to lose our momentum for a period of time. Wolves doubled their lead after an hour when Harrop was adjudged to have fouled wing back Doherty in the penalty area. It looked a penalty from where we were on the opposite side but, apparently, Harrop got a toe on the ball. Either way the referee couldn’t wait to point to the spot in front of the big home crowd. Bonatini converted and North End were clearly up against it. Things went from bad to worse shortly after when Bonatini scored again although this time the referee got it totally wrong. First of all Mavididi was almost having his arm pulled out of its sockets when chasing the ball from Maxwell and subsequently the ball was played back up leading to the goal. Bonatini had looked to have elbowed Pearson before the goal in an off-the-ball incident that went unpunished in what was a certain straight red card. North End were fuming and so anger turned to aggression and finally momentum as Hugill pulled one back with a header from an Alan Browne cross. An own goal from Coady after great work by Barkhuizen down the by-line saw Wolves visibly teetering but somehow they managed to hold on as North End went all out for what would have been a deserved equaliser. Browne’s sending off for a second yellow added insult to injury but it wasn’t to be for North End and ultimately disappointment for the 1.987 fans who gave fantastic support to the team for the whole ninety minutes. A disappointing day, then, for North End but there was little lost in this defeat against a team assembled for around £40m. I thought that we made a few too many errors in giving the ball away and that a little bit of inexperience showed with one or two of the younger players playing on the big stage. Having said that I must re-iterate that North End were unlucky not to get a point from a game that had people on the edge of their seats right up to the final whistle. I thought that the referee and his team were very poor on the day although not with being inconsistent but with the amount of infringements, some quite serious, that they all appeared to miss. A good chance to quickly get back to winning ways starts with Brentford on Saturday and then Aston Villa the following Wednesday. If nothing else the younger players will take experience from this game and be more ready, next time, to build on what they have learned.
Our nine-match unbeaten sequence came to an end when we were beaten by league leaders Wolves at Molineux. The defeat was a touch harsh on Alex Neil’s side who had been the best team for most of the game, apart from the opening 20 minutes of the second half when the previously composed defence crumbled under a wave of pressure from the home side and conceded a further two goals to add to the one conceded just before the interval. At three down, most sides would have given up but to our credit we battled back pulling two goals back in a period of sustained pressure and gave the home side the jitters, having them whistling for full-time even though we had Alan Browne sent off late in the game. There aren’t many occasions when you come away from a defeat feeling optimistic but every team has to lose sometime and this performance was no disgrace and pleasing on the eye to a raucous following who packed into a full away section. We might never get a better chance to reach the promised land of the Premier League but although we have assembled a good squad on a shoestring budget, I think promotion will be a tall order, especially with big teams like Aston Villa Norwich City and Middlesborough ready to enter the promotion fray which appears to be wide open this year.