Half an hour or so before kick-off, the pitch announcer at Molineux read out a list of the mascots who would accompany the Wolverhampton Wanderers players on to the pitch. ‘This is Raj,’ she said, as the boy’s picture appeared on the big screen, ‘and his favourite player is Ruben Neves.’
The next kid’s picture flashed up. ‘This is Gabriel,’ she said, ‘and his favourite player is also Ruben Neves. This is Jack and his favourite player is also Ruben Neves.’ William and Callum did not veer from the script. Another Jack also picked Neves as the his Old Gold hero.
But as the team who have come up from the Championship surrounded by such high expectations faced up to Manchester City, it soon became obvious to anyone who didn’t know already that they are an awful lot more than a one-man team. Neves is a fine player but his supporting cast was good enough to give City a scare and hold them to a deserved draw.
Manchester City defender Aymeric Laporte bagged his side’s equaliser with a powerful header from a free-kick
The former Athletic Bilbao man rose highest above any Wolves defender to fire a fierce header into the back of the net
Wolves goalkeeper Rui Patricio stood no chance of saving the header as he helplessly watched it fly into the goal
Willy Boly had earlier opened the scoring at Molineux when he managed to bundle in a free-kick to take the lead for Wolves
Replays showed the French defender looked to flick on Matt Doherty’s header into the far corner with his hand
The newly-promoted side jumped all over their team-mate in celebration as the home crowd went wild
MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS, LEAGUE TABLE AND MATCH ZONE
Wolves: Rui Patricio 8 – Bennett 7, Coady 7, Boly 7 – Doherty 5, Moutinho 6, Neves 6, Jota 7 – Jonny 6(Vinagre 84), Jiminez 7, Costa 7(Traore 72).
Subs not used: Gibbs-White, Ruddy, Saiss, Hause, Bonatini.
Goals: Boly 57
Manager: Nuno Espirito Santo
Manchester City: Ederson 6 – Walker 6, Kompany 6, Laporte 6.5, Mendy 7 – David Silva 6, Fernandinho 6.5, Gundogan 6(Sane 77 6) – Bernardo Silva 6(Gabriel Jesus 63 6.5), Aguero 7, Sterling 7(Mahrez 84).
Subs not used: Stones, Delph, Otamendi, Muric.
Goals: Laporte 69
Bookings: Kompany, D Silva
Manager: Pep Guardiola
Referee: Martin Atkinson 7
Man of the match: Rui Patricio
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Wolves defender Willy Boly finished off a well-worked set piece but replays showed the ball went into the net off of his hand. Click HERE for more from our MATCH ZONE.
Sure, City dominated possession and showed flashes of the genius and the fluency that lit up the Premier League last season. And sure, Wolves rode their luck, scored with a goal that should have been ruled out for offside and defended for their lives. But that does not tell the whole story. They caused City plenty of discomfort, too. In their technique and their ambition, they were far from embarrassed.
Remember this: it was January 14th before City lost in the league last season and there were a few moments here when it seemed as if their unbeaten record might go before the end of August. It is to their credit that they fought back for a draw but they never quite got of second gear here. They were not at their best and Wolves were good enough to take advantage of that.
Before the game, Wolves goalkeeper Carl Ikeme, who was diagnosed with acute leukaemia in July 2017 and announced his retirement from football at the age of 32 last month walked on to the pitch with his two children to take the plaudits of the crowd. He was given a rousing ovation and the noise level rarely dropped until half time.
Wolves responded to it. They spent much of the opening period under pressure as City probed for openings but the home side defended superbly and broke with pace and assurance. It will not come as a surprise to anyone who watched them win the Championship that they are a technically accomplished side who did not look embarrassed next to the champions.
Managers Nuno Espirito Santo and Pep Guardiola share an embrace and have a chat on the touchline before kick-off
A number of fiery pyrotechnics welcomed both sets of players onto the Molineux pitch in front of a packed crowd
Kyle Walker, under pressure from Wolves attacker Diogo Jota, returned to the line-up after being left on the bench last week
Wolves striker Raul Jimenez vies for the ball with Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling in the early stages of the game
David Silva tries to wriggle away from Jota’s pressure and launch a Manchester City attack in the opening 45 minutes
Manchester City defender Aymeric Laporte slides into a challenge with Helder Costa to clear up a rare attack from the hosts
German midfielder Ilkay Gundogan tries to bend an effort into the far corner but the effort was eventually cleared to safety
When City’s chances came, Wolves hung in there. After quarter an hour, a curling ball from Mendy was nodded into Gundogan’s path with a beautifully cushioned header from Aguero but the midfielder could only sidefoot it tamely at Rui Patricio.
A few minutes after that, Wolves thought they had scored. Kompany, who is getting close to that point in his career where his stature and his imperious presence is undermined by the years, overran the ball in midfield and was dispossessed.
Diego Jota ran at the back-pedalling City defence and his shot squirted across goal where Raul Jiminez tapped it in from an offside position. As Wolves protested, City restarted quickly and when Kyle Walker drilled a cross in from the right, Aguero clipped it against the outside of Patricio’s left hand post.
Midway through the half, Sterling produced the outstanding moment of the half. When a long ball out of City’s defence was headed clear by Ryan Bennett, Sterling pounced on it, controlled it beautifully and hit a curling, dipping shot towards the top corner. Patricio launched himself to his left and tipped it on to the underside of the crossbar.
Wolves thought they had taken the lead when striker Raul Jimenez finished off a slick counter attack only to be flagged offside
Espirito Santo was forced to cut his celebrations short and looked to question the linesman’s decision to rule out the goal
City went down the other end and almost took the lead but Sergio Aguero’s effort from the edge of the box hit the post
Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany rises highest to head away a corner under pressure of Wolves attackers
Sterling almost gave the Premier League champions the lead with an audacious effort from distance that required saving
Bernardo Silva had a good chance to open the scoring late in the first half but he was denied by Wolves defender Willy Boly
Wolves’ club-record signing Adama Traore made his first appearance for the club at their home ground
City stepped up the pressure and Willy Boly denied Aguero with a brilliant saving tackle before Patricio kept the Argentina forward out again five minutes before the interval when he smothered his close-range prod.
But Wolves began the second half more strongly and ten minutes after the restart, Costa burst between Kompany and Aymeric Laporte and bore down on Ederson. With a clever feint, Costa appeared to have tricked Ederson into committing himself early but the Brazilian keeper recovered and deflected Costa’s shot away with his body for a corner.
It was only a brief reprieve for City, though. A minute later, Moutinho swung in a cross from the Wolves left and even though he just eluded Bennett, Boly flung himself at it and deflected it past Ederson into the corner of the net. Replays showed it had come off his forearm but there is no VAR in the Premier League. The goal stood.
Wolves did not sit back. Ten minutes later, they should have gone further ahead. They stretched City at the back and when Jota pulled the ball back for Neves on the edge of the box, he had time to pick his spot. Neves is a sublime striker of the ball but this time, he dragged his shot well wide.
Guardiola cut a frustrated figure on the touchline as Wolves caused his side a lot of problems in the opening 45 minutes
Wolves defenders try to grab hold of Kompany as they try to block the Belgian defender at a Manchester City set piece
Ederson watches the ball go into the net as even the Brazilian goalkeeper failed to notice Boly’s use of the hand
Wolves manager Espirito Santo celebrates with his elated coaching staff in the technical area after Boly’s opening goal
It was a perfect time for Laporte, a January signing last season, to get his first Manchester City goal
Laporte gestured to the Manchester City fans after he scored and ran back to the halfway line to try and find a winner
Manchester City fans celebrate Laporte’s equaliser as light blue smoke begins to fill the away end at Molineux
Wolves soon regretted that piece of profligacy. When Sterling was tripped on the edge of the box, Ilkay Gundogan curled the free kick in with pace and Laporte met it ahead of Boly and powered it past Patricio from point blank range. City rushed to retrieve the ball so they could pursue victory.
They nearly secured it 13 minutes from time when Mendy curled in a delicious cross from the left and substitute Gabriel Jesus headed it down and goalwards from six yards out. Patricio barely had time to react but the ball hit his legs and rebounded to safety. Jesus held his head in his hands in disbelief.
Traore came on for the home team in the dying minutes and he lifted the siege on Wolves’ goal long enough to set up a half chance for Jota but he could not keep his shot down. Aguero clipped the top of the bar with a free kick deep in injury time but defeat would have been rough on Wolves. They deserved their point.