Wolves 2 Cardiff City 0 – Report and pictures
Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez were on target as excellent Wolves beat Cardiff City 2-0 at Molineux,
Jota opened the scoring on 16 minutes when he finished a sublime team move, before the Portuguese forward teed up Jimenez for a second just two minutes later.
Leander Dendoncker hit the post and Jimenez and Ruben Vinagre both came close to scoring after the break, but dominant Wolves had to settle for 2-0.
At 2pm no one knew quite what to expect from this game, when Nuno Espirito Santo made one of the boldest team selections of his Wolves tenure.
At 4.30pm they were singing "Nuno's the special one" as Wolves cantered to one of their most comfortable victories of the season., writes Tim Spiers at Molineux.
Yes, any doubts over whether dropping five of his key performers this season – Joao Moutinho, Ruben Neves, Matt Doherty, Jonny Castro Otto and Rui Patricio – as well as trying Adama Traore in a new position, were well and truly banished.
Just a few days ago Wolves' XI looked set in stone. But Nuno showed his flexibility and his ingenuity with several brave decisions, which all came off.
Wolves won 2-0 but the scoreline didn't reflect the opportunities they created (Leander Dendoncker hit a post and Neil Etheridge made a number of excellent saves) or the silky football they produced.
With wing-backs Ruben Vinagre and Traore flying down the flanks Wolves were football's equivalent of the Red Arrows and Cardiff's defence struggled to cope.
Vinagre enjoyed his best game of the season, Traore was back to his explosive best, Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota combined beautifully for the two goals, Morgan Gibbs-White was bright and inventive and Romain Saiss and Dendoncker marshalled the midfield.
Ruddy, after a nervy start, was solid between the sticks and the back three coped well with Cardiff's aerial bombardment.
It was a hugely impressive team display and the perfect response to Tuesday's defeat at Huddersfield.
If Nuno thought long and hard about the XI he picked, how on earth is he going to select a team for Chelsea now?
Nuno had dropped a team news bombshell in his pre-match press conference on Friday but there was more to come at 2pm when he made five changes, resting Moutinho, Neves, Doherty, Otto and Rui Patricio, with the latter not even on the bench.
Adama Traore started at right wing-back, Ruben Vinagre was on the opposite flank, Romain Saiss and Morgan Gibbs-White came into midfield and John Ruddy started his first league game for 11 month with Will Norris taking Patricio's place in the squad.
Cardiff's line-up was bold too; Oumar Niasse and Kenneth Zohore were up front with Bobby Reid in behind and playmaker Victor Camarasa back in midfield after injury.
The Bluebirds had lost their two previous games 5-1 (to Watford) and 3-0 (to Everton) but Neil Warnock's team started impressively, taking the game to a flat-looking Wolves who were struggling to play out of their own half.
There was an early scare when Ruddy initially spilled an Aron Gunnarsson shot but then gratefully gathered at the second attempt. Cardiff were spraying it around nicely and troubling Wolves via set pieces and long throws.
It looked like it might be a long afternoon for Nuno Espirito Santo's team. And then two goals in the space of just two minutes completely transformed the game as Wolves sparked to life in sublime style,
Their opening goal was a beauty. Willy Boly brought the ball upfield and then Jota, Jimenez and Gibbs-White combined with some gorgeous interplay, slicing through Cardiff's defence with five passes, the last four of which were all one-touch, before Jota coolly sidefooted home. It was a breathtaking move.
Two minutes later it was 2-0. Jimenez robbed Bamba on the touchline, ran inside and chipped for Jota who played back to the Mexican for an easy finish.
Rampant Wolves were on fire and set about trying to extend their lead further still. They were finding more space than Neil Armstrong, with a porous Bluebirds defence struggling to cope with the pace of Vinagre and Traore, with the latter getting better as the half went on, adopting full Roadrunner mode.
Vinagre bounded down the left to cross for Gibbs-White who couldn't divert goalwards, before Dendoncker spurned a wonderful chance when the ball hit his boot from a corner, ricocheted off the post and then Neil Etheridge brilliantly pushed over his rebound.
It was all Wolves and they were enjoying themselves, epitomised by Jota nutmegging Gunnarsson. Traore also embarked on a George Weah-style run from his own half, leaving both Camarasa and Bamba on the floor, with the latter fouling Traore and injuring himself in the process to leave he field on a stretcher.
It wasn't plain sailing though. Ryan Bennett earned his 10th booking of the season to earn a two-match ban (and was perhaps lucky to avoid a second booking from another sliding foul), while Gunnarsson volleyed inches wide with the last kick of the half to act as a warning that it wasn't over yet.
Wolves suffered a blow at the start of the second half when Jota has to be substituted inside a minute. Doherty replaced him and Traore went up front.
The Spaniard seemed on a one-man mission to score a wondergoal. Twice he charged from deep as Cardiff's defenders ran scared, but twice his shot from outside the box was off target.
The visitors tried to get back in the game but organised Wolves weren't giving them a sniff. And with Vinagre and Traore in full flow they were a constant threat on the break.
Vinagre came close to netting his first goal of the season when his left-footed effort was pushed wide by Etheridge after a fine counter involving Jimenez, before the Mexican striker somehow failed to make it 3-0 when, after being teed up by Doherty, he shot too close to Etheridge from 10 yards and the keeper made a fine save.
Traore was withdrawn to a standing ovation with Ivan Cavaleiro his replacement, not long after Moutinho came on for Gibbs-White.
The closing minutes were fairly eventful, with Wolves repelling Cardiff's crosses and long throws. Ruddy had only a simple save to make.
The impressive Vinagre again almost netted with a wonderful pacey run down the left and a powerful shot which the excellent Etheridge tipped over.
Without him it would have been far more than 2-0.
15 - GOOOOALLLL!! Jota finishes off a sublime move to put the hosts ahead! Jimenez and Gibbs-White combine superbly, and the former feeds Jota, who takes a touch before slotting home. Liquid football.
17 - GOOOOALLLL!! In a flash, Wolves double their advantage! Jimenez bursts down the left flank and floats a cross to Jota. He takes a touch and cuts the ball back to Jimenez, who gratefully fires in from six yards.
45 - Wolves, and namely Ryan Bennett, get away with one. On a booking for pulling down Reid, he slides in late on Joe Bennett near the touchline but is allowed to carry on. Could have easily been another yellow.
74 - Stunning Etheridge save! Jimenez is presented with the ball a few yards out. He pretends to shoot with his right foot but shifts it onto his left and looks to pass it into the net, with the Cardiff man somehow making the stop.
Wolves (3-5-2): Ruddy; R Bennett, Coady (c), Boly; Traore (Cavaleiro, 75), Dendoncker, Saiss, Gibbs-White (Moutinho, 63), Vinagre; Jimenez, Jota (Doherty, 47)
Subs not used: Norris (gk), Otto, Neves, Costa
Goals: Jota (16), Jimenez (18)
Cardiff (4-1-2-1-2): Etheridge; Peltier, Morrison (c), Bamba (Manga, 45), J Bennett; Gunnarson, Camarasa, Ralls, Reid (Paterson, 59); Niasse (Healey, 76), Zohore
Subs not used: Smithies (gk), Bacuna, Arter, Harris
Attendance: 31,309 (2,968 Cardiff fans)
Referee: Andre Marriner (West Midlands)
7th (43 points from 29 matches)
Wolves travel to Stamford Bridge where they face Chelsea next Sunday, kick off 2.05pm.