Wolves 3 Preston 2 – Report and pictures
Leo Bonatini scored twice as Wolves beat Preston 3-2 in a thriller at Molineux.
Wolves took the lead just before half time when Ivan Cavaleiro turned home a Barry Douglas pass.
Then Bonatini scored twice in three minutes around the hour mark, notching a penalty after Matt Doherty was fouled and then tapping home from close range.
But Preston, who were the better team in the first half, responded with a Jordan Hugill header and a Conor Coady own goal to make it 3-2 going into the closing stages.
However Wolves clung on during nine minutes of stoppage time, during which Preston's Alan Browne was sent off for two bookings.
Nuno said Wolves would need to be patient in this game...he wasn't wrong.
Their supporters may also need counselling after a tension-filled end to this game that will have seen fingernails deposited all over Molineux.
For 44 minutes Preston were doing a number on Wolves with an effective physical, high-pressing game that Nuno's side had little answer to.
For the next 19 minutes either side of half time Wolves then proceeded to race into a three-goal lead with Leo Bonatini scored his sixth and seventh goals of an increasingly impressive start to English football (taking his tally to four in three games).
And then for the final 25 minutes Preston scored twice and gave Wolves a number of scares in a game that lasted 99 minutes owing to a late red card and a host of stoppages in a game that referee Stephen Martin miserably failed to control.
This was the league unstoppable force in second-top scorers Wolves versus the immoveable object of the league's meanest defence in Preston.
And in truth there was little between the two teams in terms of chances and play. Not that they were alike in style – if Wolves resemble a classical symphony when in full flow Preston are unashamed late 1970s punk – there's nothing subtle about their approach and they gave Wolves a hell of a game here.
But Wolves' winning habit when not at their best resurfaced yet again. A number of challenges were thrown their way in a rugged opposition and a dodgy referee, but they came through it.
Yet another positive sign in what's become a dream first two and a bit months of the season for the convincing table-toppers.
Nuno made one change from the team that beat Villa 1-0 last week. In came Leo Bonatini after scoring twice off the bench in Wolves' last two matches, with Helder Costa dropping to the bench.
Preston were without new Republic of Ireland international Sean Maguire who strained a hamstring last weekend. He was replaced by ex-Man United forward Josh Harrop.
The visitors arrived having only lost once this season – and the reasons behind that were evident in a largely frustrating half for Wolves.
Undoubtedly the hardest-working team Wolves have faced so far, Preston harassed and harried them with a very effective high pressing game that Nuno's team struggled to cope with.
They consistently won the ball back in the Wolves half and, try as they might, the hosts just couldn't get their usual slick passing game going.
Referee Stephen Martin didn't help Wolves' cause, setting the tone early on by allowing Josh Earl to escape without a booking when he wiped out Matt Doherty.
Thereafter an irate Nuno and his backroom team grew more and more irritated by what they perceived to be rough tactics from the opposition – who have conceded more fouls and earned more yellow card than any Championship team.
The crowd raise the noise level as the fouls continued, but it all masked what was a lifeless Wolves performance particularly in the final third where there was no urgency or creativity to speak of.
Yet Wolves still went into the break 1-0 up when, just before half time, Ivan Cavaleiro turned in Barry Douglas' cross after good work from Doherty in the build-up.
It was scarcely deserved – Preston enjoyed more of the ball in good areas and had wasted two excellent opportunities via Daniel Johnson who forced John Ruddy into a good save and also blazed over from close range – but Wolves have made a nice habit of winning when not at their best under Nuno and that looked like being the case at half time.
The pattern of play continued in the second half but then two goals in three minutes from Bonatini saw Wolves take complete control of the game.
First he converted from the spot after Doherty was bundled over by Harrop and then the in-form Brazilian was in the right place as the ball hit him from Diogo Jota's saved shot and rolled over the line.
Molineux went absolutely berserk and a cry of "we're Wolverhampton, we're top of the league" echoed round the stadium.
Preston must have been wondered how on earth they'd gone from drawing 0-0 and the better team to 3-0 behind in the space of 19 minutes.
But they responded with a goal of their own just two minutes later when Hugill edged ahead of Danny Batth to nod a cross past John Ruddy.
And then, after Bonatini and Cavaleiro had enjoyed standing ovations, Preston pulled another back when Tom Barkuizen's ball inside was deflected off Conor Coady for an own goal with 14 minutes to go.
Molineux was hosting a party just a few minutes earlier but now there was tension in the air.
However despite a frantic finale during which Browne was sent off for two bookings – although bizarrely he left the field before actually being shown the card owing to the ref having to deal with the third melee of the match and had to return from the dressing room to be ceremonially sent off – Wolves saw it through, with Batth and Miranda making crucial blocks and Alfred N'Diaye doing a great job of breaking up play.
It was tension personified but Molineux erupted with joy and relief as the final whistle finally blew.
29 – Jordan Hugill wins the ball off Roderick Miranda and feeds Tom Barkhuizen whose cross is slammed over by Daniel Johnson from close range.
44 – GOAL – Matt Doherty bursts from deep, the ball is worked to Diogo Jota whose shot is blocked and then a Barry Douglas cross is turned in by IVAN CAVALEIRO.
59 – An outstanding block from Ben Davies denies Jota. Bonatini barged forward, Cav was in and flicked to Jota...shot blocked.
60 – GOAL – Doherty is brought down by Josh Harrop as he cuts into the box. LEO BONATINI rolls the resulting penalty into the corner.
63 – GOAL – Romain Saiss picks out Jota – his shot is blocked at point blank range and the ball hits LEO BONATINI and trickles into the net.
65 – GOAL – A right-wing cross is met by JORDAN HUGILL who nods home from six yards.
76 – GOAL – Tom Barkhuizen cuts inside Douglas and the ball deflects off CONOR COADY for an own goal.
90 – Alan Browne is sent off for a second booking as he pegs back N'Diaye
Wolves (3-4-3): John Ruddy; Batth (c), Coady, Miranda; Doherty, Neves, Saiss, Douglas; Cavaleiro (Enobakhare, 75), Bonatini (Costa, 75), Jota (N'Diaye, 82). Subs: Norris, Bennett, Price, Marshall.
Goals: Cavaleiro (44), Bonatini (60, 63)
Preston (4-2-3-1): Maxwell; Fisher, Huntington, Davies, Earl; Pearson, Johnson; Barkhuizen, Browne, Harrop (Mavididi, 61); Hugill. Subs: Woods, Boyle, Gallagher, Horgan, Robinson, Hudson.
Goals: Hugill (65), Coady (OG, 76)
Attendance: 27,352 (1,983 Preston fans)
Referee: Stephen Martin (Staffordshire)
1st (29 points from 13 matches)