Wolves 2 (Ait-Nouri 18, Podence 27) Crystal Palace 0
A goal from Rayan Ait-Nouri inside the first 20 minutes of his gold and black debut helped Wolves to a dominant Premier League win over Crystal Palace.
A first-half of scintillating football saw Wolves in control thanks to goals from debutant Ait-Nouri, who left fire with a first-time effort into the bottom corner, and Daniel Podence, who tapped the ball home from two yards out midway through the first period.
VAR ruled out a Palace goal for offside, denied the visitors a penalty and handed the opposition a red card in a busy night for the video assistant, but Wolves were well worth their three points in a dazzling display under the Molineux lights.
After a moment of reflection with the game being Wolves’ designated remembrance fixture, the hosts began the game flying, holding possession well while creating several opportunities in the final third during the opening 10 minutes, the best of which fell to Leander Dendoncker and Podence.
Following neat footwork Podence lifted the ball into the box and the Belgian jumped highest to plant a looping header back across goal, but just wide of Vincente Guaita’s far post. Moments later, the Palace keeper had to be at his best to palm over a dangerous Podence effort from the edge of the area, which looked destined to drop underneath the crossbar.
With much of the attacking play in the opening stages was coming down the left-hand side, and with Ait-Nouri – making his debut in gold and black – heavily involved. The young Frenchman, signed on a season-long loan from Angers, wasn’t shy at having an attempt on goal, with the Palace defence having to deflect an effort from distance out for a corner. Willy Boly misjudged a header from the resulting set-piece.
Despite Wolves’ positive start to the game, it could have been the visitors who opened the scoring when Michy Batshuayi turned the ball into the net, but the assistant’s flag was up for a clear offside against the Palace striker.
Just moments later is was 1-0 to the hosts and it was Ait-Nouri who got it. Following great play by Podence down the right, the forward lifted a tantalising ball into the box which was flicked out by Palace, but only as far as they 19-year-old who fired a stunning low drive inside the far past, to notch his first goal in professional football.
Wolves continued their high pressing football throughout the opening 20 minutes, with Nelson Semedo and Dendoncker coming close as the crossbar denied the latter, but it didn’t take long for the hosts to extend their advantage through Podence.
Winning the ball from a Palace throw, Raul Jimenez fed Pedro Neto who got in behind the defence to skim the ball across the box where the onrushing Portuguese forward could hammer the ball into the back of the net from a matter of yards.
Shortly after Dendoncker proved his worth at the other end with a goalline clearance, the visitors thought they had a first chance to get back into the match when they were awarded a penalty with just under 40 minutes on the clock, as referee Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot after a challenge by Boly on Patrick van Aanholt, but VAR ruled that the Palace man was offside when he collected the ball, so no penalty was to be taken.
Moments before the half-time whistle blew, Guaita had to pull off another top quality save to stop Wolves from going three goals ahead, as he was at full stretch to deny an audacious Neto effort. The Portuguese forward was 35 yards out from goal and spotted the Palace stopper off his line before letting fly into the top corner, but Guaita recovered well to tip the ball over the crossbar.
Half-time: Wolves 2 Palace 0
The visitors came out of the blocks strong in the second period, with Wilfred Zaha using his trickery down the left to cause Wolves trouble, and the Palace man was involved in another VAR call when he went down in the box under a challenge from Ait-Nouri, but the teenager’s tackle was deemed fair.
However, Wolves attempted to catch the Eagles out on the counter-attack. Firstly, Ruben Neves hit a shot from distance that narrowly missed the crossbar, before a quick break saw Neto lifted a delightfully weighted ball on to Dendoncker, who had made the burst into the box, but the Belgian couldn’t keep his volleyed effort from sailing into the South Bank.
After Luke Milivojevic fired a free-kick over Rui Patricio’s crossbar from 30 yards, Wolves had another chance to extend their lead to three when Podence was picked out neatly in the box by a Neto flicked header, but the Portuguese couldn’t get his effort on target having turned his marker in the box.
With the game entering the final ten minutes, substitute Adama Traore found space down the right-hand side after Jimenez started Wolves on a quick break, and after finding his strike partner in the box, Traore could only fire his shot straight at Guaita.
In the build-up to Traore’s chance, fellow substitute Joao Moutinho took the full force of a challenge from Milivojevic and following a VAR check which saw Atkinson check his pitch-side monitor, he brandished the red card at the Palace skipper.
With Wolves brining Fabio Silva on in place of Jimenez for the four added second-half minutes, the hosts were looking to add a third, and it was Traore who came close as he swung his foot at the ball while on the ground, flashing his shot just wide of the post from a tight angle. With the game already beyond doubt, the full-time whistle blew to signal the end of Wolves’ most complete performance of the 2020/21 season so far.
Full-time: Wolves 2 Palace 0
Wolves: Patricio, Semedo, Boly, Coady, Kilman, Ait-Nouri, Neves, Dendoncker, Podence (Traore 75), Neto (Moutinho 75), Jimenez (Silva 90).
Unused subs: Ruddy, Hoever, Saiss, Otasowie.
Palace: Guaita, Clyne, Kouyate, Dann, Van Aanholt, Townsend (Ayew 72), Milivojevic, Riedewald, Schlupp (Eze 65), Batshuayi (Benteke 83), Zaha.
Unused subs: Henderson, Kelly, Sakho, McArthur.
Referee: Martin Atkinson