Chorley’s FA Cup dream is over but their pride is intact. There would be no repeat of the proudest day in the non-league club’s history and one of the darkest in that of Wolverhampton Wanderers – a 3-0 first round upset in 1986 – but this was an uncomfortable evening’s work for their Premier League opponents all the same.
Wolves were limited to just one shot on target at Victory Park but it proved enough. Vitinha’s marvellous 35-yard strike saw Nuno Espirito Santo’s side progress to the fifth round where either Southampton or Arsenal await, though they left that prize on the table for Chorley right up until the final whistle.
The National League North side went close, with Connor Hall and Andy Halls both forcing saves out of John Ruddy during a second half where, at times, it was difficult to tell which of the two sides was semi-professional. Wolves were disjointed but their opponents lacked the quality to deliver the punishment their defending deserved.
Chorley now do not know whether they have played their last game of the season, with the sixth tier suspended for two weeks yesterday and uncertainty over what happens next, but after beating Wigan, Peterborough and Derby County with similarly spirited performances, they have the means to survive.
Nuno named a surprisingly strong line-up worth a combined £96m. Conor Coady skippered, the midfield was directed by 129-cap Portugal international in Joao Moutinho, while the attack was spearheaded by Fabio Silva, the seventh-most expensive teenager in world football.
For the part-timers, several players that Jamie Vermiglio classed as pre-match injury doubts started. Either the Chorley manager had engaged in a bit of kidology or the walking wounded among his squad could not pass up this chance to play against top-flight opposition.
Chorley’s best chance of taking an unlikely lead came just 37 seconds after the kick-off. Elliot Newby’s neat footwork on the left allowed him to cut into the penalty area and strike low to the near post. It was on target but comfortable enough for Ruddy to collect with both hands.
At the other end, Vermiglio’s five-man defence kept their shape and discipline but could not legislate for the 12th-minute breakthrough and Vitinha’s first goal in a Wolves shirt. It was a spectacular strike by the on-loan midfielder, hit from 35 yards out with a dip and swerve that appeared to deceive goalkeeper Matt Urwin.
Though if Nuno expected the floodgates to open, he would be disappointed. Chorley had more shots on goal for the remainder of an uneventful first half and stifled every one of Wolves’ few forays forward. Another long-range strike, this time by Patrick Cutrone on the stroke of half time, was as close as they could come to a second.
Connor Hall reminded the top-flight outfit that they needed another at the start of the second half. His flicked header off a left-wing cross by Oliver Shenton, who made a Premier League appearance for Stoke City once upon a time, had power but not placement and went straight into Ruddy’s hands.
Wolves were going through the motions. While they struggled to test Urwin, Chorley forced Ruddy into a more acrobatic save. Halls’ header from Willem Tomlinson’s corner was creeping underneath the crossbar until the Wolves goalkeeper intervened and tipped it over. If any side looked like scoring, it was the part-timers.
Nuno felt the need to act. In a triple substitution, Ruben Neves, Adama Traore and Pedro Neto were introduced all at once but to no immediate effect, unless you count Traore engaging in verbals with the Chorley dugout after a late challenge on Lewis Baines. Another string of Chorley corners followed, but they could not make them count.
As the final whistle drew near, Wolves’ superior fitness began to tell. While Chorley searched in vain for the equaliser that would force extra-time and penalties, they left themselves open to counter-attacks and the speed of Traore and Neto. Still, they stayed compact and waited for that one last chance. A late free-kick in a promising position came to nothing.
They could not take advantage of a poor Wolves showing, but the memories will last forever.