Written by Toby Foster from the Vitality stadium (@TobyFost)
A spirited second-half fightback from 10-man Bournemouth proved insufficient to stop Wolves from snatching all three points in an entertaining clash at the Vitality Stadium.
First-half goals from Joao Moutinho and Raul Jimenez put Wolves in a commanding position but they faced a jittery final half-hour after Steve Cook halved the arrears with a neat headed finish.
Eddie Howe gave Simon Francis his first Cherries start in eleven months after Josh King was ruled out with a minor hamstring issue, but quickly lived to regret his decision when Francis was dismissed for a second bookable offence before half-time.
Firing on all cylinders from the get-go, Wolves were much the quicker side out of the traps as Bournemouth struggled to deal with the lightning pace of Diogo Jota and Adama Traore down the flanks.
Diego Rico’s task of marking Traore ensured a particularly torrid afternoon for the Bournemouth left-back, in a matchup that at times resembled a Pleasure Beach donkey trying to keep on terms with a thoroughbred racehorse.
Only the awareness of Nathan Ake prevented two tempting Traore deliveries from finding their intended yellow-shirted targets inside the Cherries’ penalty area within the opening ten minutes.
The home side’s win over Manchester United in their previous fixture at the Vitality seemed only a distant memory as Wolves barrelled forward relentlessly in search of the opening goal.
It nearly arrived after 19 minutes when Adam Smith’s mistake allowed Jonny to slip through the Cherries backline and storm towards Aaron Ramsdale, though the Bournemouth keeper reacted swiftly enough to clear his lines.
But seconds later, there was nothing Ramsdale could do to stop Wolves scoring the goal their early dominance richly deserved.
Joao Moutinho is one of a blessed group of dead-ball specialists who make taking free-kicks look like a fine art form, and this effort was a commensurable Mona Lisa that even his revered international teammate Cristiano Ronaldo would have been proud of.
His inch-perfect arching delivery floated over the stranded Ramsdale and into the top right-corner, inducing crashing roars from those who had travelled from the Midlands and stunned silence around the rest of the Vitality.
A reaction was needed from the Cherries, yet despite a short spell of possessional dominance they were unable to fashion any chances to force Rui Patricio out of his first-half deckchair.
The hammer-blow for the home side came after half an hour when Moutinho reached again for his set-piece paintbrush, neatly slipping the ball to Traore from a free-kick. The Spaniard then stormed down the flank and squared an inviting pass into the penalty area, which Raul Jimenez gleefully prodded in to double Wolves’ advantage.
Simon Francis then decidedly pushed his own team from the frying pan into the fire when he needlessly dragged down Diogo Jota, leaving referee Simon Hooper little choice but to book him for a second time.
Wolves scoring a third goal thus seemed an inevitability in the ensuing minutes as Jimenez continued to force the issue up front against the depleted and dejected Bournemouth ranks, having a shot cleared off the line before going close with a powerful volley which Ramsdale only just tipped away.
Yet Nuno Espirito Santo’s side were unable to quite put the game to bed before the interval, though a chorus of boos from Bournemouth supporters at the half-time whistle suggested that the home faithful believed the contest to be done and dusted.
With little left to lose, Eddie Howe sacrificed craft for graft after the break, throwing on Jefferson Lerma and Arnaut Danjuma at the expense of Harry Wilson and Philip Billing in a bold attempt to wrestle control of the Wolves-dominated midfield.
Despite being a man down, the change in personnel seemed to inject into the Cherries precisely the vim and vigour Howe was looking for. Callum Wilson showed good awareness to slip a neat ball to Ryan Fraser, whose delivery into the box took a goalwards deflection off Romain Saiss, giving Patricio his first proper save to make.
Bournemouth found the net just before the hour mark when Steve Cook rose highest from a Lewis Cook corner to glance the ball home and ask a question of Wolves’ resolve.
A frenetic final twenty minutes saw both sides go through the gears. Ruben Neves flashed a shot wide of the target before Jota found himself in splendid isolation in behind the Bournemouth defensive line courtesy of a mix-up. Only another smart Ramsdale save prevented Wolves sealing the points.
At the other end, Ake saw his scissor kick dramatically parried by Patricio, and Bournemouth were even handed another last-gasp opportunity to snatch a point when Danjuma found himself in a good shooting position inside the Wolves box with seconds on the clock, but the Dutchman’s attempt was high and wide.
Wolves jumped up to fifth place in the Premier League courtesy of this impressive victory, whilst Bournemouth slump to eleventh. With Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham, Crystal Palace, Liverpool and Chelsea to play in their next four fixtures, the Cherries are seeing their prospects of being in the top half of the table by Christmas rapidly go up in smoke.
Teams and Player Ratings
Ramsdale – Made several crucial saves but no match for Moutinho’s dead-ball wizardry… 7/10
Francis – Important goal-line clearance early on but he hammered the final nail in his side’s coffin when dismissed for two sloppy fouls… 4
S Cook (c) – His goal was key in ensuring the Cherries kept the contest alive but defensively he was at sixes and sevens for most of proceedings… 5
Ake – Some vital early interventions stopped it being a cricket score by half-time and he was unlucky not to equalise with his nimble scissor-kick, but he must take his share of the blame for the first-half defensive shambles… 6
Smith – Kept grafting and chasing away, although one or two lapses of concentration nearly cost his side dearly… 6
L Cook – A difficult afternoon battle against the well-oiled Wolves midfield machine, and he never quite got to grips with proceedings… 6
Billing – Less quietly effective, more just plain quiet. Hooked at half-time in favour of the more industrious Lerma… 5
Rico – Had a thankless task chasing Traore’s shadow, and by the final whistle he resembled a punch-drunk heavyweight boxer… 5
H Wilson – So often Bournemouth’s creative outlet this season but his party tricks were in short supply this time around. Didn’t survive Howe’s half-time purge… 5
Fraser – Kept plugging away and found some joy in the second half, yet couldn’t convert his opportunities… 6
C Wilson – Tightly marked and forced to feed off scraps but toiled hard… 5
Lerma (for Billing, 45’) – Added some stability and physicality to the midfield and dug in for the fight, though it was all too little, too late… 6
Danjuma (for H Wilson, 45’) – Quiet as a church mouse before he skied a late opportunity to save the day… 4
Gosling (for L Cook, 76’) – Crowd-pleasing cameo but never got going… 5
Subs not used: Boruc, Solanke, Stacey, Mepham
Patricio 7, Dendonker 7, Coady (c) 6, Saiss 6, Doherty 7, Neves 7, Moutinho 8 STAR MAN, Otto 6, Traore 8, Jimenez 8, Jota 8 (sub Vinagre 88’)
Subs not used: Vallejo, Neto, Cutrone, Ruddy, Perry, Kilman