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Sky Sports' Johnny Phillips: Always remember to enjoy the game

By Johnny Phillips | Football | Published:

“Enjoy the game” we are told. From the earliest age it is the parting cry. The well-wishers sending their instructions.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp gestures

To the young child wrapped up in scarf and hat leaving the family home. To the mates leaving the warmth of the pub. Enjoy it. The game. Sometimes, amid all the external noise of the beast that is the Premier League in 2020 it is easy to forget the game.

For Wolves, this past week has brought with it two pulsating contests to remind us all why we should never lose sight of what we are in it for. Southampton away was one to tug at the opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.

The background noise surrounded Wolves’ transfer business. The squad was too thin, injury-ravaged and starting to tire. Sign someone. Sign anyone.

A desperately poor opening 45 minutes - as bad as anything seen all season, surely - did little to alleviate the growing clamour for team-strengthening.

It was almost as if the players were toying with the visiting fans. The angst from the stands, the meltdown on social media, filtering through to the away dressing room: come on then lads, a joke’s a joke, they’ve suffered enough, let’s get back out there and stop messing about.

Nuno Espirito Santo’s team emerged for the second half and tore into their opponents. Wolves swept away their hosts with a performance full of energy and imagination.

A shell-shocked Southampton trudged off the pitch as the jubilant hoards spilled out from the away end onto the streets surrounding the stadium. A chorus of ‘Si Senor’ drifting its way over the old iron railway bridge and up into town, everything appeared well with the world again.

There has been no suffering, though. Wolves fans have been on to a good thing all season. For most, it has never been better. So why the wailing and gnashing of teeth when there is a dip in form or a hiccup? It has been a feature of every season under Nuno, but perhaps it is to be expected. It is not a Wolves problem, or even football’s problem.

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Football holds up a mirror to society and we live in an age of immediacy and instant gratification. There is no time for anything. No chance to step back and take a deep breath. Reactions are instant.

Of course, this is the most distracted month of the season, where the actual football suffers at the hands of speculation. The transfer window is to football what the One Ring was to Gollum. Its all-consuming influence corrupting and twisting the mind. The media fuels the fire of transfer talk and supporters are both seduced and repulsed by the ‘precious’ gossip.

And so to Thursday night, back home. Enjoy the game.

The fires of Molineux burnt brightly through the swirling mist as the teams emerged. The South Bank and North Bank cranked up the atmosphere before a ball had been kicked. This place always sounds so much better in stereo. Time to test the resolve of the Champions-elect.

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The home fans jeered as Trent Alexander-Arnold’s early free-kick deflected high into the South Bank. Football likes to bite at hubris. The corner was met by Jordan Henderson who headed on to his shoulder past Rui Patricio at the near post. Scruffy and silencing.

But it was only a temporary hush because these are the night’s Nuno’s Wolves live for. “Proper game, this” said the Scouse scribe a couple of seats along in the brimful press box. And it was a game deserving of a proper Wolves goal.

Have they scored a better one this season?

From Rui to Raul. The length of the pitch. The best team in the land taken apart in a move of stunning brilliance.

Raul Jimenez of Wolverhampton Wanderers scores a goal to make it 1-1 (AMA/Sam Bagnall)

The South Bank sensed a winner. Wolves had imposed their game on Liverpool. Diogo Jota, on for a welcome cameo, just needed to slip Adama Traore through. Do it. Just do it. But he didn’t, and that is why this is the best game in the world. The fine margins, the sliding doors moments, the joys and the injustices.

Liverpool had soaked it up. They had done to Wolves what Wolves so often do to others. The best teams have a habit of leaving it late.

When there’s little time for a right of reply. Their own Senor, Bobby Firmino, ghosted past an off-balance Conor Coady to devastating effect.

Yet still there was time. Traore beat his man one more time, Jimenez cut it back, and Jota reached for the finish. It was beyond him. The game beyond Wolves.

Jurgen Klopp embraced his players like the champions they will become. Could any other team in the land have won it like that at this moment in time? 22 wins and one draw.

Of all the games Wolves have played this season, none has had the sustained quality of this one. “A fantastic game of football,” said Nuno.

But it hurt. The void that full-time brought was unnerving. There was an emptiness. We needed another hit. Addicted to the game. Can we do it all again? Right now?

Instead there is a hiatus. A nine-day break until Manchester United. The external noises will grow louder during that time, talk may move to matters away from the pitch and the actual football will recede into the background once more.

But, for their very different reasons and different outcomes, these were two matches to treasure. It’s what we are all in it for.

To enjoy the game.

Johnny Phillips

By Johnny Phillips

Sky Sports Soccer Saturday pundit, giving his thoughts on football across the country

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