Wolves continue to gather momentum in their quest to secure European qualification under Bruno Lage. The manager arrived with expectations he would change the defensive mindset that characterised Nuno Espirito Santo’s final days but, rather than throw out the playbook, he has allowed the team to build on their strengths.
Southampton, themselves running into form, tested them rigorously, but it is no accident that Wolves had conceded only two goals in their previous eight Premier League matches before this one.
Lage, who had Ruben Neves missing because of Covid-19, gambled on replacing Romain Saiss, away at the Africa Cup of Nations, with the untried Toti Gomes, yet his back three still looked formidable, and after a first-half penalty converted by Raul Jimenez, a Conor Coady header extended their lead in the second half before Adama Traore, who may yet be bound for Tottenham, came off the bench to score his first goal of the season.
This was not a victory without controversy, however. The penalty from which Jimenez gave them the lead came only after a long deliberation by video assistant referee Robert Jones and scrutiny of the pitchside monitor by on-field official Michael Salisbury, who ruled that Rayan Ait-Nouri had been brought down by Jan Bednarek despite a strong argument that the Polish defender had played the ball first.
Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl wondered why the same consideration had not been given when Leander Dendoncker clattered into Oriol Romeu early in the second half, when play was allowed to continue without recourse to a second opinion.
“I spoke with the referee and asked him what was the difference?” Hasenhuttl said. “I didn’t see any difference yet the second one goes without him looking at it again. I think these were the decisive moments in the game.”
Southampton ensured a tough baptism for Gomes, recently recalled from loan at Grasshoppers Zurich, especially at set-pieces, where he found the physicality of Mohammed Salisu difficult, but he timed his tackles nicely.
The visitors had more goal chances in the first half and Wolves needed their last line of defence several times, with goalkeeper Jose Sa saving two Salisu headers, a low drive from Romain Perraud and a further shot from Romeu.
Yet Wolves took an advantage into the second half after Jimemez kept his cool to send Fraser Forster the wrong way from the spot and extended it when Ait-Nouri’s deep free kick from the left was met by Max Kilman, whose header looped over Forster, hit the far post, and was headed in on the rebound by Coady.
James Ward-Prowse made them uncomfortable, beating Sa from all of 35 yards with a sensational free-kick of such power and swerve the goalkeeper had no chance of stopping it, and a Perraud header hit the bar as the Wolves lead suddenly threatened to be snatched from them.
Yet the result was confirmed when Traore, who had moments earlier blazed over an open goal, accelerated past his marker and slotted past Forster.
“Southampton put us under pressure at the beginning, but we were better in the second half and it was a good result for us,” Lage said.