Wolves 0 – 2 Brentford. Diego Costa’s first Premier League goal in almost six years set Wolves on the way to a priceless victory over Brentford that gives them breathing space in their relegation battle.
Costa capped his best performance since coming out of retirement in September by scoring his first Wolves goal, with substitute Hwang Hee-chan adding a second midway through the second half at Molineux.
“He has a big heart. He wants to be here. He is a very competitive player,” said Wolves boss Julen Lopetegui.
“You can’t buy his spirit. You either have it or you don’t. That is why he has had the career he has. We are happy for him but he has to continue.”
It completed successive league victories for the home side for only the second time in 13 months but, tellingly, for the second time since Lopetegui’s arrival in November, which has transformed Wolves’ fortunes.
Bottom of the table when the season stopped for the World Cup, Wolves have picked up 24 points in 16 games under Lopetegui and are now seven clear of the drop zone.
And another clean sheet means another meal out for Lopetegui and his squad, something the former Real Madrid boss committed to as an incentive to improve a squad that looked destined for the Championship.
Matheus Nunes was outstanding for the home side and created Hwang’s goal with a surging run into the box.
Defeat was Brentford’s third in a row, while a run of two points from five games is their worst this season.
This is a different Costa to the one who answered Wolves’ SOS call for a striker in September.
At that point Costa had not played a game for eight months, and it has taken him another seven to get to the fitness levels required for the Premier League.
He may be 34, but the former Chelsea man retains the old competitive spirit. He is now chasing defenders down and Brentford keeper David Raya was fortunate a slight mis-control did not prove costly as Costa bore down on him.
Costa created his first Wolves goal himself as he drove deep into the Brentford half before flicking a pass out for Toti. Costa held his run so he was in space when the return pass came and, after some excellent close control, held off Christian Norgaard to deliver a precise finish into the corner.
The obvious personal feeling at the goal was reciprocated from the stands. The Wolves fans have evidently taken Costa to their hearts despite having to wait so long to see him score, and his industry was rewarded with a standing ovation when he was replaced with 20 minutes left.
“When he came here, he came with the intention to help, sometimes in the team and sometimes out,” said Lopetegui. “I am happy for him. He worked hard to have this chance.
“He has had bad moments. But he is always trying to help on and off the pitch. This is important.”
Brentford emerged from an eight-game run without a victory last season to finish a creditable 13th on their top-flight return.
Manager Thomas Frank needs to stabilise the present situation if what seemed for so long to be a season of improvement does not peter out in disappointing fashion.
Wolves keeper Jose Sa was fortunate Craig Dawson was on hand to clear when he inexplicably dropped the ball in a crowded penalty area, preventing what would have been a Brentford equaliser.
However, Sa made amends with a decent save from Norgaard’s header as Brentford launched an unsuccessful comeback mission once Wolves had doubled their lead.
A largely quiet Ivan Toney was denied a 19th league goal of the season twice in stoppage time, first when Sa turned his angled drive on to the bar, before Wolves skipper Max Kilman tracked the striker’s run into the box and blocked his shot.
Brentford’s usual fluid passing game failed to penetrate the Wolves defence often enough to cause any significant stress until those latter stages, and not even a triple substitution on the hour made any notable difference.
“It is so difficult,” said Frank about the prospect of finishing in a European spot. “It shouldn’t be possible with the resources the top six, and now Newcastle [have], to get into the top seven.
“Brighton have done well, we have done well, Fulham have done well, Villa are in a top position. Those three clubs are bigger than us and have more finances.
“Look at West Ham with [David] Moyes, so many times before, it is fantastic what he has done with the club. It is so tough to keep performing when the difference between the bottom 13 is tiny. One moment can change things around.
“The top six still need to do it and it is football, so a team like Chelsea is struggling and Liverpool are not at their best. But their level is top four, minimum, every year. For us, it is between 17th and seventh.”
source – BBC