Sports Editor Kit Shepard reports from Molineux as Wolves are held by Southampton after the latest chapter in the VAR saga
Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo was in philosophical mood after Raul Jimenez had two goals disallowed by VAR in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Southampton at Molineux in the Premier League. “You have to get used to VAR…it’s fine margins” said Santo in his press conference after the match. “The stadium was celebrating and [then] came really down and then the other way celebrate a no-goal and the team goes up, this is VAR…we have to get used to it”.
Jimenez eventually got on the scoresheet from the penalty, cancelling out Danny Ings’ 53rd minute, and Southampton manager Ralph Hassenhuttl echoed his counterpart’s thoughts on the officiating in his post-game press conference. “I think it makes the game fairer” stated the Austrian. “It’s not always nice if you score a goal and then you have to wait and then suddenly it’s a mental booster for me or our team and a disaster for the other team…but I think in the end the result is more fair and finally we can be happy that VAR is there.”
Despite the measured reaction, Santo will surely be frustrated with the decisions, because if this game was played last season, Wolves may have been 2-0 up at halftime, rather than heading into the break goalless. Jimenez first had the ball in the net after 28 minutes, but the Mexican’s celebrations were cut short by the lineman’s flag, as he was adjudged to have handled in the process of taking the ball around Southampton keeper Angus Gunn. VAR swiftly confirmed that the assistant’s decision was correct. With this summer’s rule changes stating that any goal where the ball in is handled in the build-up is to be disallowed, this was not a controversial decision, albeit a harsh one.
Ten minutes later, hesitation from Southampton’s centre-backs allowed Jimenez to latch on to a looping ball and find Patrick Cutrone. When the 21-year-old’s shot was pushed away by Gunn, Jimenez was on hand to tap home. Wheeling away in celebration once more, the players were poised to kick-off again when the looming spectre of VAR filled the big screen. Sure enough, Cutrone was a fraction offside in the build-up, stimulating more frustration from the Wolves fans and leaving Southampton, who have now had five goals against them overturned by the virtual assistants, thanking their lucky stars.
Regardless of the referee decisions, the hosts only have themselves to blame for not taking all three points. Seeking to capitalise on their first-half fortune, the Saints started the second period the better and an Ings shot, the result of a head-scratching pass by Vallejo, forced a save from Patricio. This was a warning of dangers to come as a few minutes later, Coady failed to deal with a bouncing ball just outside his own box, leaving Ings through on goal. Having passed up a handful of opportunities already, the Englishman made the most of this gift, calmly slotting home to give the visitors the lead.
It was not an advantage they held for long. Right on the hour, Doherty weaved his way into the Southampton area before drawing contact from Saints skipper Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. Referee Peter Bankes did not hesitate in pointing to the spot and, despite another VAR review, his decision stood and Jimenez confidently stroked the ball past Gunn. After three consecutive clean sheets, Wolves response to going behind for the first time in nearly a month will certainly please Santo.
Surprisingly, Wolves struggled to build on their equaliser and take control of proceedings. Adama Traore occasionally threatened to wreak havoc with one of his trademark marauding runs, but he and his team-mates seemed a little short of ideas. After Ryan Bennett and Ruben Neves both picked up knocks which ended their afternoons before the interval, Santo’s ability to influence the game with a change of personnel was significantly limited.
Instead, it was Southampton who had the better chances to steal all three points. James Ward-Prowse could not make meaningful contact with a Hojbjerg cutback, and was later denied by a decent Patricio save from a free-kick.
In truth, neither side looked like finding a winner and the game largely fizzled out in its closing stages, meaning each manager will have conflicting feelings. For Wolves and Santo, the point stretches their unbeaten run to six games and cements their position in mid-table, but they would have likely won had it not been for a rare Coady mistake or for the intervention of VAR. Nevertheless, Santo remains in good spirits ahead of Thursday’s trip to Slovan Bratislava in the Europa League: “The boys work hard, I think we react to the goal… they did well, we could have done better, but we work hard, we work very hard”.
For Hassenhuttl and Southampton, a losing streak of three games has been ended, but they remain without a win since mid-September and are only outside the relegation zone on goal difference. “After the last three games where we didn’t take something, it was important for us to get the point here, take it, and now we must step on”.
Wolves (3-5-2): Patricio; Bennet (Vallejo, 18), Boly, Coady (C); Traore, Neves (Doherty, 46), Moutinho, Dendoncker, Jonny; Cutrone (Jota, 62), Jimenez
Southampton (3-5-2): Gunn; Bednarek, Vestergaard, Yoshida; Valery (Boufal, 76), Ward-Prowse, Romeu (Danso, 82), Hojbjerg (C), Bertrand; Redmond, Ings
Referee: Peter Bankes
Bookings: Jimenez, Vallejo, Coady; Valery, Bertrand.