Adama Traoré has not scored since February but his ferocious first-half strike proved enough to overcome Crystal Palace and earn Wolves a place in the FA Cup fourth round.
Traoré was allowed more space than Roy Hodgson, the Palace manager, will care to have seen as he received Rúben Neves’s crossfield pass 10 minutes before half-time and cut back inside to unleash a left-foot shot into the top corner.
His last goal had come in the Europa League against Espanyol at the end of February last year and, with negotiations over a new contract progressing slowly, this seemed a big moment for player and club. The 24-year-old is widely recognised as the most effective dribbler in the Premier League but with his assists much reduced in recent months, this match-winning effort was a big boost. He immediately jogged right across the field to slap hands with an appreciative Nuno Espírito Santo.
The Wolves head coach laughed at suggestions he had been asking Traoré for more end product, and rejected suggestions that he could be tempted to a bigger club. “I ask all the players to get shots on goal,” he said. “Now I will ask Adama to keep doing this every game.
“I don’t have to say anything. He’s our player, he’s happy. He’s a Wolves player. It doesn’t have to change his attitude – he’s always looking for ways to improve his game and help the team. He’s hard working and special. He has good actions in the game, good delivery, good crossing that we have to take advantage of.”
Nuno confirmed that Traoré was substituted only because he had cramp and should be fit for Tuesday’s game with Everton. “He is so explosive in his actions we just didn’t want to push him any more with the busy schedule we have.”
This was only Wolves’ second win in eight games but, with Traoré returning to something like his best alongside Pedro Neto’s continued brilliant form and players returning from loans, they can approach next week’s home games with Everton and West Brom in good heart.
Equally important for Nuno, this was Wolves’ first clean sheet in 11 games since they beat Palace here in October. In truth, they should have won by a greater margin, but they restricted Palace to no shots on target.
“No shots on target,” Hodgson accepted, “but plenty of balls across the face of the goal which interest me much more than shots on target sometimes.
“We lost to a wonder-goal – that seems to be happening to us quite a lot unfortunately, but I thought we played a lot of good football in the second half, had a lot of good possession but unfortunately couldn’t create enough clear chances.”
Jack Butland, making his Palace debut, could do nothing about Traoré’s goal, getting a hand to the shot as it flew past him, but otherwise performed well, making an excellent save from the returning Leander Dendoncker as Wolves looked to put the game to bed.
Wolves had made only two changes to the side that let slip a 3-1 lead at Brighton but again Fábio Silva failed to convince, missing with three good headed chances.
The £35m teenager was replaced late on by Patrick Cutrone, back from a year on loan with Fiorentina, and Nuno was honest about the young striker. “Fábio had a good game but he missed chances that he should do better at, especially with the cross from Pedro [Neto],” he said. “You can’t always be sorry about it – there’s a lot of work to be done. He has to approach situations better.
“When you’re in the six-yard box you have to be decisive. In a lot of respects he has to be a lot better. We expect him to be more clinical and we will help him improve. Patience is good but at the same time we have to improve.”