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Sky Sports' Johnny Phillips: Bubble burst? Not quite, but a little fizz has gone

By Johnny Phillips | Sport | Published:

As the players regrouped in Marbella, ahead of the five remaining Premier League fixtures, the dust began to settle on two defeats that appear to have burst a bubble.

The defeat to Southampton, following on from the heartbreak of the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, has drained some of the elation from Wolves supporters (PA)

The FA Cup semi-final loss to Watford, in agonising circumstances, followed by a meek surrender at Southampton in the league, drained supporters of the elation they felt just days earlier when Manchester United were beaten for second time at Molineux.

From the fans’ perspective, both defeats were difficult to stomach. On the inside they hurt deeply too.

The players, naturally, looked broken as they trudged out of the dressing room at Wembley. Not even the normally obliging and effervescent captain Conor Coady could muster a comment to the waiting media in the mixed zone. At the Southampton post-match briefing, Nuno Espirito Santo took exception to a question about this side’s away form, and left the room.

Fronting up after a defeat is always difficult. Doing so after these particular games proved even more so. In the most emotionally testing circumstances of the season so far, the players and management should be cut some slack.

A top 10 finish is nailed on, with seventh place still a realistic target. In reaching the FA Cup semi-finals, Liverpool and Manchester United were beaten.

Teams have gone all the way and won the trophy overcoming far easier challenges than that.

What happened at Wembley may have been gut-wrenching for all involved; a first FA Cup final in 59 years snatched away at the death.

But take a step back from the moment Michael Oliver pointed to the spot after Leander Dendoncker’s unfortunate intervention.

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There was so much about that day that should be celebrated.

Walking down the steps from Wembley Park tube station, looking up to see thousands of supporters decked out in gold and black all the way up to the arch, was truly memorable.

The noise and the colour on that walk up Wembley Way and through the concourses was inspiring.

That is what this Wolves team have done. And what about the second goal? All vision and technique.

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A move begun by Joao Moutinho finished clinically by Raul Jimenez. Two names that illustrate just where Wolves are as a team. It may have ended in defeat but there was a lot to take away from that day.

Supporters leaving the south coast last weekend did so with less goodwill.

It was an untypical Wolves display, characterised by individual and collective errors. Southampton, rejuvenated by Ralph Hassenhutl, seized their chance to kick a team while it was down.

There have been a handful of these dispiriting defeats where the team has looked off colour. Huddersfield twice and Watford at home spring to mind.

Wolves, like any team, have their weaknesses that can be exploited. They head towards the summer in good health, though.

There will be another significant round of team strengthening. To be able to do that from the base of a top half finish suggests they are ahead of schedule.

It was a home defeat to Watford last October which identified a weak spot in the structure of the team.

That was subsequently exploited by Huddersfield and Cardiff in successive games the following month. Wolves adapted brilliantly to the setbacks and their side became stronger for it.

Maybe this latest defeat to Watford has brought into focus the next area that needs addressing.

Gerard Deulofeu came on to turn the game in Watford’s favour at Wembley. Then Shane Long and Oriel Romeu entered the pitch for the final half-hour at St Mary’s to sure up the points with the game still in the balance.

The contrast with Wolves’ own changes could not have been starker. When Wolves do begin to spend money this summer, they could do with buying an entire substitutes’ bench.

Johnny Phillips

By Johnny Phillips

Sky Sports Soccer Saturday pundit, giving his thoughts on football across the country.

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