Wolves have progressed in every season under Nuno Espírito Santo and look well set to continue that trend despite injuries and summer sales. Crystal Palace were certainly unable to stall them, the visitors comprehensively beaten by effervescent hosts whose goals came from the excellent Daniel Podence and an impressive teenage debutant, Rayan Aït-Nouri.
Palace ended up ragged and raging, with Luka Milivojevic sent off late on by Martin Atkinson for a studs-up tackle on Joäo Moutinho.
And thus, despite some growing pains, Wolves have made their best start to a top-flight season since 1979-80. “We have improved and now we have to sustain that and improve again for the next match,” Nuno said.
The manager has declared his ambition to build Wolves by cultivating a more dominant and unpredictable style and greater squad depth.
That latter quality was demonstrated after he chose to introduce Aït-Nouri, a 19-year-old French wing-back who joined last month on loan from Angers. He opened the scoring and performed in a way that bore comparison to Jonny Castro, who continues to recover from serious injury.
“He should be proud,” Nuno said. “He is a young boy and he played in the Premier League and helped us hugely.”
Wolves had not truly found their groove before this game, though their displays had shown plenty of promise. They clicked from early on against opponents who had made a decent beginning to their own campaign.
The first minute was misleading, as Palace began on the front foot, Andros Townsend nimbly working an opening for Wilfried Zaha, who fired wide from the left-hand corner of the area. Wolves were quick to retort, dispatching a series of dangerous crosses that Palace defended well until Podence combined with Leander Dendoncker, who headed wide from 10 yards.
Wolves began to stretch the visitors with beguiling movement and crisp, expansive passing. The busy Podence wrought havoc again when he tried to curl a shot from the left-hand angle of the box into the far corner of the net. Vicente Guaita tipped it over the bar.
Willy Boly should have tested the goalkeeper again moments later but failed to meet a corner with a clean header from six yards. That was a disappointing miss but such was the verve with which Wolves were playing that a breakthrough before half-time looked imminent, which would be a welcome development for a side who had not scored a first-half goal since their opening match of the season. Aït-Nouri’s strike turned out to be well worth the wait.
Podence set it up with a dash down the right and a cross that Cheikhou Kouyaté could not cut out. Aït-Nouri ran on to the ball at the left-hand corner of the box and fizzed a shot into the bottom corner. It was a teenage kick to celebrate in song, if there had been any fans in attendance.
Wolves were far from sated. Dendoncker crashed a shot against the post from 25 yards before Podence got the goal he deserved, his first of the season. This time the run and cross from the right came from Pedro Neto, who left Podence with the straightforward task of guiding a shot into the net from six yards. Palace were being taught a lesson. Even without Adama Traoré, who began on the bench for the fourth match in a row, Wolves were elegantly ripping their opponents apart.
The visitors recovered sufficiently to give Wolves a scare when Conor Coady did well to block a back-post header from Scott Dann following a corner. Boly then enjoyed a happy escape when, owing to an offside, VAR overturned a penalty against him.
Palace began the second half on the attack, Townsend forcing a tricky save from Rui Patrício with a volley from the edge of the box. As they continued to push the hosts backwards, Zaha was aghast not to be given a penalty after going down under a combined challenge Aït-Nouri and Max Kilman. The referee deemed it another well-timed intervention by a defence who repeatedly thwarted the best the visitors could muster.
Then Zaha had reason to be thankful to the referee, who decided a yellow card was punishment enough after the forward, frustrated at being dispossessed, raised hands to Aït-Nouri. The teenager did not seem intimidated.