Wolves’ incoming head coach, Julen Lopetegui, will be buoyed by the desire and determination offered by his team, who played with a one-man deficit for the second half, but he will know he is entering a relegation fight with a squad short on confidence after this entertaining defeat.
It looked as if Wolves would hold on for a point, despite Nélson Semedo’s sending off prior to the break, until Pascal Gross turned home inside the area with seven minutes to go, sending Brighton sixth in the process. What Wolves lacked in quality, they made up with commitment, even briefly leading, but their 10 men were unable to withstand the pressure.
“I am delighted we scored two goals but really disappointed with the three we conceded,” Wolves interim head coach, Steve Davis, said.
“They could have been avoided. [We are] soft, really easy to score against; we showed a lot of resilience at times but at the key moments around the box we didn’t defend. We just made poor decisions. I’ve shown that frustration to them because I was frustrated. We should have won that game.”
Kaoru Mitoma has embraced the liberation afforded to him by Roberto De Zerbi and was involved in all three Brighton goals. For the opener he found Leandro Trossard inside the box, who drew Maximilian Kilman out of position, allowing Adam Lallana to curl the ball into the top corner.
Before conceding in the 10th minute Wolves had brought little to the fixture and were chasing shadows in their own half. Brighton’s love of risk opened up space for Gonçalo Guedes on the right who was found by a clever Boubacar Traoré pass. The Portuguese international drove for the box before slipping the ball past Robert Sánchez for his first Wolves goal.
It was the boost Molineux needed. The toxic atmosphere that enveloped their most recent home fixture, a 4-0 defeat by Leicester, was replaced by cautious optimism created by a mixture of Lopetegui’s appointment and the intensity of the performance.The hosts got the chance to take the lead against the run of play when Daniel Podence hit a cross into Lewis Dunk’s elbow from close range. The VAR took an age to see whether the ball made contact and if Podence was offside in the buildup. Eventually Graham Scott jogged over to the screen and pointed to the spot from where Rúben Neves lifted the ball into the top corner.
Despite the energy Wolves brought, they looked vulnerable in defence whenever Brighton attacked, summed up when Lallana worked to create space to dig out a cross on the edge of the box for Mitoma at the back post to head home after Semedo got stuck under the ball.
Semedo’s afternoon ended soon after in extended first-half injury time when he was once again outwitted by Mitoma, who took down a long pass from Dunk to get past the defender and run through on goal, only for the Portugal international to bundle him over on the edge of the box. Scott was left with no choice, not that the booing home fans agreed when the whistle went for the break.
“He [Mitoma] has a lot to do, so I am not sure it is a red,” Davis said.
The determination of the team invigorated the crowd, who almost got their reward when Neves played a smart free-kick down the side to Adama Traoré in the box but his vicious shot was tipped over the bar. It was the last of cheers from the home fans because Gross settled the match soon after to leave Wolves joint bottom and desperately hoping for a ‘new manager bounce’
For De Zerbi, the performance was better than in last week’s 4-1 win over Chelsea. He said: “This was the best game in my experience in Brighton, in terms of quality of play, build-up and to have many chances to score.”