Wolves 3-0 Everton. Wolves ended the year on a positive note with an impressive Premier League victory over lacklustre Everton and paid tribute to Mario Lemina, after the midfielder’s father died on Friday.
Manager Gary O’Neil has made his mark on the hosts, who lie in 11th position, just three points shy of a European place, since he took over in the summer.
Wolves were the side probing early on and deservedly took the lead on 25 minutes when skipper Max Kilman bundled in from close range after Jordan Pickford initially made a sharp save from team-mate Jarrad Branthwaite’s wayward clearance.
It was the only effort on target in the first half and the hosts celebrated by holding up Lemina’s shirt.
“He is a big part of everything we do,” said O’Neil. “There’s no way we would be anywhere near 28 points without him.
“I know we’re enjoying this moment and it’s hard when you mention him because I know he’s suffering, but hopefully he gets a small lift.
“I spoke to him and he understands he has as long as he needs to get back to the moment and he has our full support.”
Kilman said: “That game was for [Mario Lemina]. He has been brilliant and it’s really tough what he’s going through. He deserved it.”
The home side added a second on 53 minutes when Hwang Hee-chan picked out an easy finish for Matheus Cunha at the far post and the Brazilian then turned provider when Craig Dawson poked home a low cross.
Struggling Everton failed to work goalkeeper Jose Sa into a save and their three straight defeats leave them only one point above the relegation zone.
A summer of cost-cutting measures saw Wolves lose captain Ruben Neves, as well as other key players including Raul Jimenez, Matheus Nunez and Nathan Collins, so a season of struggling may have been expected for the club.
But ex-Bournemouth boss O’Neil has performed a sterling job so far, leading the side to three consecutive Premier League wins for the first time since January 2022.
O’Neil said: “An incredible week really. Nine points in six days with players missing – an incredible effort from everyone. The work that goes in behind the scenes has helped the team.
“It was probably my favourite performance of the season. The togetherness is huge.”
Wolves played Everton off the park for much of the contest and are making Molineux a fortress, extending their unbeaten run at home to eight matches and netting in their last 17 matches there.
Cunha’s shot from outside the box which flew wide gave the Toffees’ defenders an early warning sign before defender Kilman put his side in front ahead of the break.
Having chanted Lemina’s name during the game and applauding his father’s memory in the fifth minute, the celebrations after the opening goal were poignant, with Kilman leading the tribute by holding aloft the midfielder’s number five shirt.
Wolves blew Everton away in the second period with Cunha and Dawson converting – but it could have been so much worse for the forlorn-looking Sean Dyche and his side.
In-form Hwang smacked the post and then drew a stunning save from Pickford and Joao Gomes’ drive was straight at the England number one, while Hwang and Pedro Neto both had goals ruled out for offside.
Wolves face Brentford in the FA Cup third round on Friday (19:15 GMT) and enjoy a break from Premier League action until Monday, 22 January, when they travel to Brighton (19:45).
Everton’s 10-point deduction did not look to be much of a problem when they claimed four wins in a row, but consecutive defeats since leaves them teetering above the bottom three.
They were far from their best in the Midlands and gave Sa a comfortable game, unable to manage a shot on target – and the injury problems are mounting up too.
With key man Abdoulaye Doucoure and Idrissa Gueye already out, fellow midfielder Amadou Onana limped through most of the game and defender Branthwaite also seemed to be nursing an injury.
Giving a start to Michael Keane and deploying three centre-halves backfired for Dyche as they were outfought and outplayed in key areas.
Captain Seamus Coleman came on in the second half for a club record-equalling 354th Premier League appearance, but that will be of little joy to supporters as they end a tumultuous year with a miserable loss.
Dyche said: “We have just come off the back of a run of [lots of] games with injuries. We’ve come a long way since the second game of the season but we lacked that bit of fizz and energy to take the game on.
“We fell short with the physicality of the game. They played really well and exposed moments when we looked jaded.”
Everton travel to Crystal Palace in the FA Cup third round on Thursday, 4 January (20:00 GMT) and are in Premier League action on Sunday, 14 January (14:00), hosting Aston Villa.
source – BBC