Birmingham City 0-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers Seven Things: right result

Bonatini’s opener crosses the line –

Leo Bonatini’s early strike saw league leaders Wolves defeat West Midland neighbours Birmingham 1-0 on Monday night. Here’s seven things from the game.

Blues’ solid start

The first seven minutes provided encouragement for Steve Cotterill, whose side looked compact and pressed in the right areas. That forced the visitors into flat, sideways passes, rather than the longer, curling ones that have seen them unlock so many sides this term. Early questions could be asked about whether Nuno Espirito Santo’s men were missing the suspended Ruben Neves, who was absent for the first time and normally switches play with unique quality.

Wolves took control

Cotterill’s plan though went out of the window on eight minutes. Jonathan Grounds’ misplaced pass allowed Ivan Cavaleiro to shoot from range and though David Stockdale was equal to both his effort and the follow-up from Diogo Jota, Michael Morrison couldn’t stop Bonatini from forcing the ball over the line. Blues were caught in two minds for the rest of the half because they hadn’t been told to press up the pitch, but they knew they couldn’t sit back forever. The result was a lack of cohesion as Wolves kept the ball at will and picked their moments to move forward, with Cavaleiro’s 20-yard effort forcing another good save from Stockdale midway through the first half.

Gleeson’s impact

Birmingham’s passing out from the back in the opening period had been very sloppy, but Stephen Gleeson’s introduction at the interval at least gave centre-backs Marc Roberts, Morrison and Harlee Dean an option in possession. The hosts began to look after the ball better and get further up the pitch as Romain Saiss and others became more pre-occupied with tracking runners than they had been in the first half.

Final third frustrations

Although Blues improved in some areas after the break, their quality in advanced areas remained lacking. Cotterill deserves credit for introducing Gleeson but the man he replaced, Jota (not to be confused with Diogo Jota of Wolves) might have fared better in a team seeing more of the ball. Instead, Cheikh N’Doye struggled when pushed further forward due to his limited technical ability. Jeremie Boga was shepherded into safe areas by a solid Wolves rear-guard led by Willy Boly, who dominated Lukas Jutkiewicz.

Wasteful Wolves

Santo was not entirely happy with his side’s second half display, but they had the better chances and could have ended up with three or four goals had they been more ruthless on the break. Diogo Jota was denied only by a vital interception from Roberts on the hour mark and six minutes later, substitute Helder Costa failed to round Stockdale when one-on-one. Their profligacy went unpunished in the closing stages due to Dean’s dismissal for a stupid off-the-ball shove on substitute Jack Price, before Che Adams fired wide in injury-time to confirm that the points were heading back to Molineux.

10 points clear

In some ways, this was just as impressive a result for Santo’s side as the previous 4-1 and 5-1 wins over Leeds and Bolton respectively. Stockdale’s saves and more wasteful finishing than usual meant they couldn’t play the second half entirely on their own terms, so they needed to show defensive resilience and protect their box. Pre-match depictions of Wolves as a ‘balletic’ side that might not handle the cold, hard graft of a December derby have proved at best inaccurate and at worst disrespectful to one of the most complete teams ever to grace the second tier.

Cotterill needs time

With local rivals firing on all cylinders, it is understandable that fans aren’t happy with Birmingham’s position, but changing the manager for a fifth time in 12 months is not the answer. The club has faced upheaval and clashes of ideals since Gary Rowett’s exit, with the controversy surrounding coaches at times letting players off the hook. If they play consistently like they did against Cardiff, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest between now and the end of the season, they will stay up comfortably. The onus every week should be on the players to do just that – although Cotterill isn’t perfect, calling for his head will only detract from the real issues.