Wolves 1 Crystal Palace 0
It was still 2019, the year Wolverhampton Wanderers reached the FA Cup semi-final, when Adama Traoré previously scored a goal, but on Friday night his ferocious first-half strike proved enough to overcome Crystal Palace.
Traoré was allowed more space than Roy Hodgson will care to have seen as he received Rúben Neves’s crossfield pass and cut back inside to unleash a left-footed shot into the top corner.
Nuno Espírito Santo’s faith in a winger who can look a world-beater on the same night that he can appear positionally clueless, gained tangible reward even though the player had to be withdrawn through what appeared to be a hamstring injury, adding to Wolves’ list of unavailable players.
Equally important for Nuno, this was Wolves’ first clean sheet in 11 games since they beat Crystal Palace here in October.
A combination of injuries and poor recent run did not stop Nuno from selecting his strongest outfield lineup available as Wolves set about Crystal Palace from the off.
Ensconced in mid-table, well clear of the relegation zone, these sides could afford to aspire to a long run in this competition. Notwithstanding next midweek’s Premier League programme, Wolves made only two changes from the team that let slip a 3-1 lead at Brighton & Hove Albion last Saturday, with Leander Dendoncker back from a knee injury and John Ruddy getting a run-out in goal.
Palace went the other way, retaining only two players from Saturday’s first win in six matches, over Sheffield United, but still looked strong. It was Wolves, however, who took control with Traoré’s goal 10 minutes before half-time.
The home team had threatened from wide positions, Fábio Silva heading over after brilliant wing play from Neto down the left-hand side, and Traoré was obviously intent on getting more shots away.
His last goal had come in the 3-2 victory over Manchester City at Molineux in December 2019, and he posted signal of his intent when he cut inside on to João Moutinho’s pass and shot wide of Jack Butland’s near post.
There was little the former England goalkeeper, making his Palace debut after joining from Stoke City in the last transfer window, could do however when Traoré did score.
Again Palace left Traoré in space on the right flank, providing an easy target for Neves to pick out with his long-distance radar. Once more the winger was allowed to come inside and, after drifting past a couple of token challengers, he seized the opportunity to blast his shot into the near top corner, Butland getting a mere touch en route.
Traoré, seeking to agree a new contract, has been challenged to come up with more end product, as his assists have dried up in recent months, and he immediately jogged right across the field to slap hands with an appreciative Nuno.
Traoré, Nuno has admitted, has been playing with a foot injury but last night he showed signs of returning to his best. As he leapt into the air to pluck Moutinho’s pass down with his chest, he showed Patrick van Aanholt just enough of the ball before touching it round the other side of the left-back and producing the perfect low cross for Dendoncker whose sidefooted shot was brilliantly tipped over by Butland.
Sadly, he felt his hamstring after this and had to be replaced by Morgan Gibbs-White, one of two players recalled from loans to bolster a thin squad.