Adama Traoré tends to specialise in the spectacular.
Wolves had been waiting for him to turn on the style and, with an hour gone in a seesawing contest, Traoré took matters into his own hands, bouncing in off the left flank and breezing beyond two defenders before sending a thunderbolt crashing against the bar and in, via the Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier, to earn successive league wins for the first time since October.
The sad thing for Traoré is, his handiwork – a preposterous strike from outside the box – will go down as an own goal, given his effort cannoned into the net off the backside of a hapless Meslier.
Leeds left the pitch ruing their luck and dumbfounded as to how they departed empty-handed. Patrick Bamford had an emphatic equaliser ruled out for offside in front of the watching England manager Gareth Southgate and, on another day, the Leeds captain Liam Cooper would have walked off the pitch cradling the match ball after spurning a hat-trick of chances from set pieces.
Raphinha, who was lively throughout, also dribbled a shot wide but it was Traoré’s billowing effort that settled an entertaining match-up between teams keen to shirk their mid-table status.
“Where the ball went, in the upper corner, it was almost unstoppable,” Nuno Espírito Santo said. “I think we deserved that luck and it was a fantastic action. The momentum of Adama’s movement was amazing.”
Traoré had been tamed until bursting in from the markings of the touchline, turning Luke Ayling with ease and leaving the Leeds full-back for dust before driving to the edge of the D, keeping Pascal Struijk at arm’s length and dispatching a vicious shot at goal.
It was a sickener for Leeds who had a sniff of goal seconds earlier, when Cooper sent a header at Rui Patrício from Raphinha’s free-kick, the Wolves goalkeeper able to bat away his tame effort.
Wolves rode their luck and into five minutes of second-half injury time the substitute Hélder Costa was superbly denied by Patrício, who was kept busy. “When you watch a game and you see many, many actions by the goalkeeper, it tells you it was a very open game,” Nuno said. “Leeds created enormous problems.”
Suddenly the mid-winter concern surrounding Wolves seems a little silly. They have now won three of their past four league matches and, while Leeds have received plenty of plaudits for their attacking punch, this victory lifts Wolves above Marcelo Bielsa’s porous side.
Leeds, as they so often do, looked dangerous throughout but the reality is only bottom club West Bromwich Albion have conceded more goals in the top flight this season.
Leeds will, however, wonder how they failed to leave with at least a point, or even a goal, to their name. “There were very few periods where we were not the dominant side,” Bielsa said.
Pedro Neto was again busy but Leeds perhaps shaded the first half, with Mateusz Klich rattling the frame of the Wolves goal. He surged to the byline and miscued a cross that caught Patrício off guard at his near post but the ball cannoned off the woodwork. The Wolves goalkeeper then prevented Struijk powering in the initial rebound before Leander Dendoncker got across to block the leftovers.
When Bamford was ruled offside, Leeds’ animated director of football, Victor Orta, vented his fury from the Steve Bull Stand and, at full-time, the substitute Ezgjan Alioski summed up the visitors’ frustrations as he trudged off the pitch, booting a water bottle towards the away dugout in anger. “We had 10 chances and we weren’t able to score a goal, they had five and scored one,” Bielsa said. “That explains the game. I can’t be upset with the goal because it wasn’t Illan’s fault. The offensive game we had was sufficient to score at least one goal and in a game of small margins I had the feeling we were the superior side.”