Wolves 0 Brighton 0 – Report and pictures
Wolves endured a frustrating 0-0 stalemate as they failed to break down a stubborn Brighton side.
A drab first half of little goalmouth action saw Diogo Jota twice go close, firing just wide and then looping the ball onto the crossbar.
Jota hit the post after the break with a header – and Leander Dendoncker's follow-up was brilliantly saved by Mat Ryan as Wolves, who had 22 shots to Brighton's five, played out their first 0-0 of the season.
It would be a crying shame if Wolves' fabulous season petered out from here.
But unless they can rediscover their spark in the next week, that's exactly what will happen, writes Tim Spiers at Molineux.
From the very first minute of this incredibly frustrating afternoon it was abundantly clear that Brighton were playing for a 0-0 draw.
Wolves, though, just couldn't find a way through the wall of garish green shirts. It wasn't due to a lack of effort or endeavour, far from it. They hit the post twice and dominated possession and play.
But what Wolves did lack was ingenuity and nous in the final third. Joao Moutinho's set pieces were their best route to goal, especially in the second half when they did manage to create a few decent opportunities against opposition with fewer attacking ambitions than any seen at Molineux this season.
It was reminiscent of last season's goalless stalemate against equally defensive-minded Sunderland. Indeed, the more possession Wolves enjoy in a match (68 per cent here) the less likely their chances seem to be of winning.
Counter-attacking at pace is their forte. When teams sit deep and try to frustrate them, Wolves sometimes don't have enough in their ranks to break them down.
That will have to change next season when there'll be no element of surprise against Premier League managers who will see them coming.
For now, though, there's an immediate task at hand – reviving a slightly forlorn Wolves for the final four games of the season.
If that doesn't happen by this time next week, seventh place will surely be out of reach.
Ryan Bennett and Morgan Gibbs-White were handed starting berths as Nuno Espirito Santo made two changes from the team that lost 3-1 at Southampton. Romain Saiss and Leander Dendoncker made way.
Gaetan Bong and Jose Izquierdo were recalled for a Brighton team desperately low on form and confidence after five successive defeats in all competitions without scoring a single goal.
That run had seen the Seagulls plummet to 17th in the Premier League table, just two points ahead of Cardiff, and their intentions in the first half were painfully clear.
The visitors lined up in a deep-lying 4-5-1 formation and set out denying Wolves space and freedom in the final third.
They were more than happy to let Wolves have the ball – and Nuno's team enjoyed 80 per cent possession in the opening 20 minutes – but keeper Mat Ryan wasn't forced into action during one of the dullest 45 minutes witnessed at Molineux this season.
Wolves' early route to goal looked like being via the lively Gibbs-White, who was a boundless ball of energy in midfield, recycling possession briskly and looking for pockets of space and that piercing through ball.
Chance, though were at a premium. Gibbs-White floated a decent ball to Diogo Jota but he couldn't get a shot away under pressure. Then Jota played a delightful one-two with Raul Jimenez and burst into the box, but again a Brighton defender snuffed him out.
The in-form Jota was Wolves' liveliest attacking threat. He wriggled into some space 20 yards out and fired across goal and just wide. And then on the stroke of half-time he latched onto a deflected Ruben Neves long-ranger and toe-poked the ball onto the top of the bar from just a few yards out.
That was as close as Wolves came during an agricultural half of football that failed to raise the noise levels at a sun-kissed Molineux.
As for nervous Brighton, their half could be summed up by two moments – 1) Midfielder Davy Propper pulled a hamstring when hoofing the ball into the stands, 2) The loudest the away fans were was when their team won a throw in Wolves' half.
The second half continued in much the same pattern although Brighton looked a tad more adventurous. Indeed, Beram Kayal's 25-yard thunderbolt skimmed just a few inches over Rui Patricio's crossbar.
Wolves were lacking creativity and a spark. Moutinho's corners were a threat but dogged Brighton were scrambling them clear. Gibbs-White over-hit a couple of crosses, Doherty got to the byline but couldn't pick out a team mate, Jota threaded one towards Jimenez but it was cut out. Wolves just weren't playing the crucial incisive pass they needed.
Nuno injected pace via Ruben Vinagre who replaced Otto in the 67th minute and instantly had the right idea when he bombed to the byline and crossed to Jimenez, whose looping header came to nothing.
Moutinho's corner was cleared to Jimenez whose 15-yard half-volley spank wasn't too far over, but with time running out Wolves weren't getting anywhere.
Dendoncker replaced Gibbs-White, whose influence had waned after the break, with 17 minutes to go.
Within seconds of his introduction the Belgian almost broke the deadlock – Jimenez clipped it to Jota who sent a header bouncing off the post, it rebounded to Dendoncker but from point blank range he was somehow denied by a sprawling Ryan in the Brighton goal.
Wolves had their tails up now but they just couldn't find a way through.
Nuno's final roll of the dice came seven minutes from time with Adama Traore replacing Doherty. Moutinho's free kick was met by Jimenez who headed towards Dendoncker – he nodded at Ryan from a great position. It just wasn't happening for Wolves.
Vinagre and Traore were the best route to goal in the closing stages but there was no way through and Brighton escaped with a point.
33 - Close! Nuno's side very nearly take the lead. Jota wriggles his way into some space on the edge of the box and looks for the far corner with his right foot, missing by a matter of inches.
54 - Seagulls man Kayal decides to look for the top corner. His ambitious, powerful strike from 30 yards flies narrowly over, much to the relief of Patricio who was rooted to the spot.
74 - How are Wolves not in front?! Jimenez delightfully chips the ball over to Jota, whose header comes back off the inside of the post. Dendoncker seems set for a tap-in but Ryan, somehow, saves.
84 - Nuno's charges win a free-kick in a promising position. Moutinho's delivery is headed by Boly to Dendoncker, who then heads into the grateful hands of Brighton shot-stopper Ryan. No breakthrough.
Wolves (3-5-2): Patricio; Bennett, Coady (c), Boly; Doherty (Traore, 83), Gibbs-White (Dendoncker, 73), Neves, Moutinho, Otto (Vinagre, 66); Jimenez, Jota
Subs not used: Ruddy (gk), Saiss, Costa, Cavaleiro
Brighton (4-4-1-1): Ryan; Bruno (Bernardo, 70), Duffy, Dunk, Bong; March, Stephens, Propper (Kayal, 10), Izquierdo; Gross; Murray
Subs not used: Button (gk), Burn, Jahanbakhsh, Andone, Locadia
Attendance: 31,096 (2,748 Brighton fans)
Referee: Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire)
8th (48 points from 34 matches)
Wolves are back at Molineux on Wednesday night when Arsenal are the visitors, kick off 7.45pm.