Six matches after being parachuted in to save West Brom, Sam Allardyce can at last say he has presided over a victory – and a particularly sweet one, at that. Matheus Pereira scored two penalties either side of a headed goal by Semi Ajayi as West Brom upset their local rivals with a display of opportunism, spirit and relative defensive rigour. Wolves, though, should mostly blame themselves. They have lost six of their last nine league matches and look no closer to solving problems at both ends of the pitch.
For nine years Wolves had waited for a chance to avenge their defeat in the last Black Country derby, a 5-1 victory clobbering that convinced the club to oust their then manager, Mick McCarthy. West Brom have already jettisoned one manager this season and the replacement arrived at Molineux looking for a victory to kickstart his rescue mission. The buildup was inauspicious, as West Brom were deprived of their player of the season so far, goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, after he tested posted for Covid-19.
But West Brom started strongly, full of aggression and ambition, and they earned their reward in the seventh minute when Willy Boly caught Callum Robinson with a late challenge right on the edge of the area. Pereira waited for Rui Patrício to commit himself before stroking the penalty into the opposite corner. Boly was punished for rustiness: it was not the impact he had hoped to make after being drafted back into the Wolves team to address their recurring vulnerability from set-pieces, in particular, following a month out with a thigh injury.
Yet it was Boly who led the fightback, as the Ivory Coast international got involved in Wolves’ attacks in surprising ways. Firstly, he tested West Brom’s deputy goalkeeper, David Button, with a drilled shot from more than 20 yards. Then, as Wolves dominated possession and West Brom erected the barricades, Boly got on the end of a fierce low cross from the right by the electric Pedro Neto. The defender spun to hold off Kyle Bartley before sending an acrobatic flick just wide of the near post.
Adama Traoré and Leander Dendoncker also created and missed chances before West Brom served a reminder of their own attacking potential, Robinson trying to poke the ball past Patrício from close range. Six minutes before the break, Wolves equalised in exactly the way they would most have wished: with forward Fábio Silva scoring his first league goal. The 18-year-old has struggled to fill the void left at the tip of Wolves’ attack by the loss of Raúl Jiménez to a fractured skull. But he finally made his mark on the score sheet in his 13th league game, showing strength and composure to guide a low shot into the net from six yards after a clever backheeled pass in the box by Boly.
Four minutes later Boly added scoring to his repertoire, slotting into the net from seven yards after Jake Livermore failed to clear a corner by João Moutinho. Wolves went into half-time with a lead that they looked unlikely to fritter away. But there has been an unusual brittleness to Nuno Espírito Santo’s side this season, so West Brom knew not to abandon hope. Yet even they could hardly have expected to be 3-2 up within 11 minutes of the restart.
They equalised by exposing Wolves’ weakness from set-pieces, Kyle Bartley out-jumping Rúben Neves to flick on a long throw-in by Dara O’Shea before Ajayi sent a looping header into the net. Soon Wolves were guilty of more slackness in their box, Conor Coady clipping Robinson’s heel to concede another penalty. Pereira again sent Patrício the wrong way from the spot.
The fact that Nuno withdrew Coady and Neves moments later showed the Wolves’ manager’s exasperation with his team’s flimsy defending.
Going forward, Traoré remained a thrilling menace. When he scorched his way past two defenders and fired in a low cross, Silva showed his first league goal had not suddenly transformed him into a flawless predator as he swished a soft shot into a thicket of defenders. Nuno threw on Patrick Cutrone, who was recalled from loan at Fiorentina this month in the hope that he might mitigate the loss of Jiménez. He got a prime opportunity to justify that hope when the ball fell to him in the 81st minute, but smashed his volley into the ground from 10 yards out and watched it bounce over the bar. That was a rare clear opening for the hosts, who were continually frustrated by defenders who did not hesitate to hurl themselves in front of shots. Ajayi made a particularly impressive one to foil Nélson Semedo in the dying minutes.