Stale Solbakken’s Championship education continued last night with a lesson from someone who surely doesn’t belong in it.
Bigger and better things lie ahead for Crystal Palace’s highly coveted 19-year-old Wilfried Zaha but unfortunately for Solbakken’s Wolves he was on hand to rip this contest from their grasp.
Two goals in six minutes, the second of which will struggle to be bettered at Molineux this season, meant that a fifth victory in a row proved a step too far for the work-in-progress that is Solbakken’s team.
They should not spend too long beating themselves up about it. The Norwegian could mount a strong case for this being a better all-round performance than any which brought about his winning run.
Bu if he didn’t know before he certainly does now - the Championship makes a fool of footballing logic as it winds its marathon course through 10 gruelling months during which the only certainty is this will not be the last time Wolves will be confounded by an outcome.
This was a game they looked as if they had in their pocket after Sylvan Ebanks-Blake had taken advantage of a defensive howler from Palace defender Damien Delaney to claim a 53rd minute lead.
Before and after that strike, there were enough opportunities for the team to put the contest safely to bed especially with Bakary Sako continuing his new love affair with an increasingly appreciative Molineux audience.
But the chances slipped their grasp and how Zaha, a target for any number of Premier League clubs and watched by Villa manager Paul Lambert last night, punished them.
It brought Solbakken his first home defeat in front of Wolves' lowest league gate for five-and-a-half years although he was more worried by the loss of another wide player, Slawomir Peszko, to injury which left his team lop-sided for the final 20 minutes.
Out on the left flank, however, he continues to see Sako produce the kind of football which is rapidly turning him into the great new hope of the Molineux throng and Wolves will be kicking themselves they were unable to make more of his regular supply of menacing deliveries.
He remains the most exciting of Solbakken’s summer recruits and a player already assuming high importance for the progress of this team which unveiled another dose of the controlled, patient, possession-based game to which their new manager leans.
There are still obvious signs of difficulty as old habits clash with new demands but Solbakken still saw his Wolves work plenty of openings to have made it five on the bounce.
Inside the first 10 minutes, for example, Roger Johnson had been unable to take advantage of the first of a stream of corners Sako arced into tempting areas while a lovely exchange which finished with Kevin Doyle squaring a thoughtful pass to Ebanks-Blake proved just too acute an angle for the striker to punish.
Palace keeper Julian Speroni distinguished himself on 31 minutes with a one-handed save after Stephen Ward and Sako had opened up Palace for another Ebanks-Blake effort before Doyle just failed to reach another opening crafted by some crisp exchanges involving Ebanks-Blake and Peszko.
It was encouraging football, though, from a home side which negotiated the half having protected Carl Ikeme satisfactorily from Palace’s obvious, Zaha-inspired threat out wide, one tremendous saving tackle by Kevin Foley on Yannick Bolasie their only moment of real concern.
The rewards that had eluded Wolves before the break were then handed to them on a plate when Delaney dithered and mis-controlled on the edge of his area. Ebanks-Blake, alert and powerful, dispossessed the centre-half and smashed home his gift.
Wolves were in calm control at this point but maybe the game turned against them in the moment before Palace’s 67th minute equaliser. With David Davis replacing Karl Henry to add impetus to a sweeping move upfield, a blocked Sako shot fell to Doyle who lashed the loose ball against the bar.
Having escaped a 2-0 deficit, Palace were level within a minute. Zaha struck with a cool finish after Wolves had been caught out by a straightforward ball over the top in which two Palace players Solbakken insisted were offside escaped attention.
But the way in which he defeated the efforts of Johnson and Christophe Berra’s to shut him down before beating Ikeme with a crisp angled finish was a warning of what would follow.
In the 73rd minute, substitute Andre Moritz’s crossfield pass found the Palace striker isolated with Ward, who conscious of the lack of support around him, opted to stand off Zaha. It was a reasonable decision but a fatal one – the England Under 21 man took his yard of space and let fly with a piercing 25yd drive which left Ikeme motionless.
Berra might have equalised from yet another swinging corner by Sako but headed over before the game finished with the French star's one free-kick chance rising high into the new stand in stoppage time.
It was that sort of night. But then it’s that sort of Championship.
By Martin Swain