Kalvin Phillips can curse his luck for being Leeds’s finest performer and being the unfortunate whose deflection ensured Raúl Jiménez’s shot settled this contest and allowed Wolves to move from 15th to sixth in the Premier League.
On balance Nuno Espírito Santo’s side deserved the victory, having turned their opponent’s early ascendancy around, doing so convincingly following the break. A pleased Wolves manager said: “It was a good performance with some aspects to improve. We were better in the second half, but at the start it was very difficult for us.”
Marcelo Bielsa’s verdict on the defeat was contradictory. “I don’t think they were better than us but they neutralised our game better,” said Leeds’ manager, the latter words summing up why Wolves took the points.
Bielsa was forced to make a late change, with Pascal Struijk brought in for the captain, Liam Cooper, after the warm-up. The manager said he did not have any information as to how serious Cooper’s problem was.
In Leeds’ early domination, Hélder Costa caused Wolves all kinds of problems along the right. A cross was headed firmly by Rodrigo and though misdirected, no visiting defender challenged the forward. Next a sweeping play that took in Jack Harrison, Patrick Bamford, and Rodrigo moved Leeds into Wolves’ area, the latter teeing up Costa whose shot was wide.
This prompted the maroon-shirted visitors to catch the mood in a sequence in which Nuno’s men zipped the ball about until Maximilian Kilman attempted to emulate Rodrigo’s defence-splitter but overhit badly. A further sign of Wolves evening the contest out had Neto racing down the right, Leeds being stretched precisely where they would not want.
After a lull the contest reawakened: Luke Ayling’s attempt skidded over the turf and was stabbed away by Kilman. Then, Neto – once more – forced the issue for Wolves and won them a rare corner, as like prizefighters the teams traded blows. Joâo Moutinho pinged in from the right quadrant and the unmarked Jiménez spurned a gilded chance to score. Patrick Bamford was soon guilty of the same charge: Harrison’s ball found the No 9 with goal gaping but he missed. And, on half-time, Illan Meslier made a first save, beating out Daniel Podence’s 10-yard shot.
Leeds began the second half with Phillips continuing his chief orchestrator act, finding Harrison along the left, before a free-kick was claimed that the No 23 swung in. But this failed to threaten and Wolves responded.
A Neves-Podence counterattack had Leeds back-pedalling and, a little later, Romain Saïss’s strike beat Meslier before VAR chalked it off due to Podence being marginally offside before receiving along the right from Conor Coady. David Coote, the referee, was the VAR official who controversially missed Jordan Pickford’s challenge on Virgil van Dijk in the weekend Everton-Liverpool draw that caused the latter a serious knee injury. Coote also ruled that Jordan Henderson’s late strike was offside – again to some dispute.
Here the technology came to Coote’s aid. As Nuno said: “There was a proposal from Arsène Wenger [Fifa head of global development] for daylight for offsides, VAR is fine margins and we want them to make good decisions. It is a challenge for referees to improve, to be better, be faster and let the game flow.”
Podence’s increasing influence had him forcing Meslier to make a second sharp save though the resulting corner was a disappointment – Rúben Neves’s touch lacking poise.
Wolves began to dominate as the half wore on. Neves scampered across Leeds’ area and only a slip prevented him unloading a shot.
Leeds had lost the rhythm that had bewitched Wolves before the interval. The previously incisive Phillips was reduced to hitting a dead ball sideways and when it came back the midfielder this time went backwards to Meslier. Still, the home side remained on terms. Required was a flash of inspiration, a moment to elevate one of the protagonists into a winning position. Instead Phillips’s misfortune gave Wolves a lead they hung on to despite a late rally from Leeds who should feel that they allowed this match to slip.