On the night when Wolves fans chanted “Bruno, Bruno” on the final whistle to indicate their new manager Bruno Lage is definitely proving more of a success at his new club than his predecessor Nuno Espírito Santo has been at Tottenham Hotspur, the mantle as the Premier League’s most under-pressure manager is now heading towards Rafael Benítez.
Everton were woeful in a first half when Max Kilman scored his first Premier League goal before Raúl Jiménez hit his first at Molineux in over a year. Even if Alex Iwobi’s strike early in the second half presaged a spirited rally, this is an alarming slump for a team who had lost only one of their opening seven games.
Never had a Benítez team conceded five goals in a Premier League game before the collapse against Watford a week last Saturday and at half-time at Molineux there was the serious possibility of a repeat. Wolves were slicing with ease through a midfield in which Jean-Philippe Gbamin, the £25m signing from Mainz, was suffering his own belated Halloween nightmare. He was replaced by Fabian Delph at half-time.
On the day Nuno was dismissed just 10 league games into his reign at White Hart Lane, there could be question marks over the stability of Benítez’s tenure. When the new Everton manager claimed that “we are missing something” it needed clarifying that he meant “not only one or two but three or four important” players through injury rather than something more integral such as spirit or tactical confidence. Both were severely lacking in the first half.
Without Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Yerry Mina and Andre Gomes, Everton were indeed missing an important spine and the impact Delph had in the second half, despite not being match fit, backed up Benítez’s stance. “You can see he can take the ball, pass the ball, bring players around him into the game and win the second balls.
“The character and mentality of this squad is to fight, as they showed in the second half.” Benítez admitted that he was “surprised” by his side’s first-half inferiority when Wolves managed to combine the best of their early-season form with the goals they lacked in those three opening defeats.
They have now gained 13 points from a possible 15 with Jiménez back to his rampant best, leading the press from the front that enables Lage’s game plan to work at its best. Rúben Neves is also back in his pomp and, restored to the starting lineup, he dispatched a fulsome volley from the edge of the area that was brilliantly parried by Jordan Pickford, who also tipped over Francisco Trincão’s shot.
Hwang Hee-Chan had a goal disallowed for offside but broke through after another run of conviction by Jiménez earned a corner which Rayan Ait-Nouri dispatched for Kilman to head home.
Four minutes later Jiménez was sharp again, reacting quickest to Ben Godfrey’s backpass that was vaguely towards Pickford. Clean through, the Mexican dinked a sumptuous shot over the keeper for his 50th goal for the club, after nine months out with a fractured skull.
Everton switched to 4-3-3, in a bid to stem the flood, and they got their first sniff of goal when Romain Saïss sliced an attempted clearance to offer Demarai Gray a great chance but the in-form forward fired well wide.
After the interval it was a much closer affair. Conor Coady injured himself in blocking Richarlison from what appeared a certain goal after José Sá, receiving a routine back pass, inexplicably played the ball straight to the Brazilian forward inside the six-yard box.
Having taken heart, the visiting team were able to play higher up the field, penning Wolves back. Godfrey, coming inside, shot low and Iwobi converted a rebound from Coady’s block. Game on. Wolves finally came back out of retreat and should have made the game safe. Hee-Chan Hwang laid the ball off for Trincão to jink inside but shoot wide before Jiménez headed against a post.
Everton kept pushing for the equaliser, Sá tipping the substitute Anthony Gordon’s header to safety, but after that shocking first half, Wolves deserved the win that takes them seventh.