Wolves 3 Reading 0 - Report and pictures
A Matt Doherty double sandwiched Benik Afobe's strike on the frontman's first start since returning to Wolves as the Molineux men responded in style to dispatch Reading, writes Lewis Cox at Molineux.
The popular frontman made it two goals in three games as he rewarded Nuno by netting Wolves’ second against the struggling Royals.
It was the ideal response after Wolves were turned over by rivals Villa on Saturday.
And Irishman Doherty was Wolves’ unlikely dangerman on the night as he broke the deadline with a well-directed header four minutes before half-time.
Afobe calmly converted another Helder Costa assist shortly before the hour before Doherty’s swept a classy finish into the net to give a deserved look to the scoreline.
An almost perfect night for Nuno Espirito Santo’s men, where Villa lost at home to QPR meaning the gap to third widens to 10 points, was soured slightly as influential wideman Diogo Jota was helped off midway through the first period with what looked like a bad ankle injury.
Nuno made four changes from the team thumped 4-1 at Villa Park last Saturday.
The highlight of his selection was the inclusion of Afobe, handed a first start back in the Wolves XI since he returned to Molineux on loan from Bournemouth.
Leo Bonatini, without a goal since early December, dropped to the bench.
Afobe was joined by Ryan Bennett, Romain Saiss and Helder Costa in the starting ranks.
Bennett came in for Danny Batth, who struggled at Villa Park. While Saiss started instead of Alfred N’Diaye and Costa was included for Ivan Cavaleiro.
Dave Edwards was one of two changes for visitors Reading, who started on his first Molineux return after ending his nine-year association with Wolves last summer.
Also in from the off for Jaap Stam’s Royals was former Molineux frontman Jon Dadi Bodvarsson.
Ahead of last weekend’s chastening Villa defeat, Nuno’s men had responding to rare setbacks in style this season - winning four and drawing one after a league reversal.
Reading began the evening with just one victory in 16 Championship outings.
Molineux was in good voice in the early stages of the rescheduled clash. Nuno’s men showed few signs of a Villa Park hangover. The hosts dictated the tempo and showed an imaginative range of passing without testing Anssi Jaakkola in the Reading goal inside 15 minutes.
Early signs of frustration from the crowd at Jaakkola’s leisurely goal kicks looked like being a running theme.
The hosts carved out an opening as the returning Costa turned on the style. He darted from right to left and let fly from 25 yards. The stinging drive was parried loosely by Jaakkola into the path of Jota, who was unable to sort his feet out for a simple tap-in.
Concern spread around Molineux midway through the first period as Jota stayed down after an innocuous challenge. The winger looked in agony and was helped off by Wolves medical staff with what appeared a right ankle complaint. Cavaleiro was his replacement.
As Nuno waved forward the hosts came closest yet through Afobe’s header. First Bennett connected with Barry Douglas’s corner before Afobe craned his neck to loop a header goalwards. Jaakkola did well to recover and parry away.
Any lingering nerves were banished four minutes before the break. A delicious right-sided delivery from Costa was headed back across goal by Douglas for his opposite wing-back Doherty to convert a bullet header for his third goal of the season.
As Reading trudged out after the break Wolves - and Afobe - had a glorious chance to put more daylight between the sides.
Doherty picked the on-loan man, totally unmarked near the penalty spot, with an inch-perfect low cross but after taking a first touch and spinning, Afobe could only pull an effort wide.
Wolves had upped the ante and Douglas’ fierce 22-yard free-kick was deflected narrowly wide of the angle.
The Royals, who have more than one nervous eye glanced over their shoulder at the Championship trapdoor, appeared to have weathered an early second half storm.
But comeback hopes were quickly dented as Afobe this time made no mistake. A magnificent driven crossfield pass from Neves released Costa down the right, he beat Reading’s hapless Tyler Blackett before squaring for Afobe to pounce from 10 yards.
Wolves exuded confidence as Cavaleiro and Costa toyed with Reading’s beleaguered players.
Doherty doubled his goal tally for the season with 18 minutes remaining as he swept home from the edge of the box after being found by Cavaleiro as Wolves delightfully worked the ball from a tight spot in their own right-back position.
Reading were desperate to hear a full-time whistle as hungry Wolves ploughed forward for more with their flairy attackers looking dangerous.
Nuno clapped the Wolves crowd as they chanted their players over the line in a professional, classy and accomplished display.
Ruddy; Bennett, Boly, Coady ©; Doherty, Saiss (N’Diaye), Neves, Douglas; Costa, Jota (Cavaleiro, 25); Afobe (Bonatini, 73).
Subs not used: Norris (gk), Batth, Gibbs-White, Miranda
Jaakkola; Gunter ©, Ilori, Moore, Blackett; Edwards, Evans (Bacuna, 63), Clement; Aluko, Barrow, Bodvarsson (Smith, 83).
Subs not used: Mannone (gk), Kermorgant, Rinomhota, Loader, Holmes.
Referee: Robert Jones.