In one of the most important matches of the year, Wolves, reduced nine men after two dubious red cards, defeated promotion rivals Middlesbrough by two goals to one at the Riverside Stadium, Wolves’ first victory there since 1951.
Hélder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro scored for Wolves only five minutes apart in the first half. Patrick Bamford netted for Boro in the 94th minute but it never appeared that Boro would threaten to scrape any kind of result, although they had a two-man advantage for almost 30 minutes.
Wolves dominated the game in the first half, led by the midfield talisman Rúben Neves. In the 32nd minute, Neves launches a ball to his teammate Matt Doherty, who passed to the winger Costa. His initial shot was saved by the Irish keeper Darren Randolph, but the ball eventually found its way to the league’s leading assists man, Barry Douglas, who found Costa again, who blasted a shot into the roof of the net.
Just five minutes later, Wolves won a corner. Douglas crossed a beautiful ball onto the head of the titan Willy Boly, who headed towards goal. Randolph saved initially, but the ball made its way to the head of Ivan Cavaleiro who doubled Wolves’ advantage.
However, the match completely changed around the 55th minute. Neves found Costa on a brilliant counterattack. Costa was clearly clipped from behind by a Boro defender with nobody in front of him. However, not only was no red card given but no foul was given either. After this puzzling refereeing decision, Neves was shown a yellow card for arguing with the referee Stuart Attwell, widely considered one of the worst in the game. Only two minutes later, Neves was shown a second yellow and thus a red after a foul. Wolves were unjustly reduced to ten men. Twelve minutes later, Matt Doherty was shown a second yellow and then a red for a dubious foul. Inexplicably and unjustly, Wolves were forced to play with nine men with thirty minutes to play.
Wolves showed strong resilience after this setback. Substitutes Alfred N’Diaye and Morgan Gibbs-White cemented the rock-solid Wolves defense and cut off the circulation in the Boro attack. Their only chance resulted in a goal, where an excellent ball from Adama Traoré found Patrick Bamford in space, who scored brilliantly. With the exception of two fluffed chances from Stewart Downing, Middlesbrough could not scrape anything together, and Wolves deserved the three points. After the full-time whistle, the head coach for Wolves, Nuno Espírito Santo, ignored his counterpart Tony Pulis, the former manager of Wolves’ major rival West Bromwich Albion, who had been verbally abusing the Wolves bench during the entirety of the match. Nuno celebrated pointedly in Pulis’s face, did not offer a handshake, and ran onto the pitch to celebrate with his players, showing his passion and commitment to the Wolves’ dream of returning to the Premier League.
Wolves sit in first place with seven matches to play and only need to win three of those to achieve automatic promotion, assuming generously that Fulham and Aston Villa win their remaining matches. They will lose Neves and Doherty to suspension in their next game against Hull City at Molineux. Middlesbrough, meanwhile, will visit last-place Burton Albion in their next match.