Gareth Southgate was at Molineux again with Max Kilman, one of Wolves’ best players this season, among those on the England manager’s radar. But on a day when Crystal Palace extended their unbeaten away record in 2022 to complete a deserved double over Bruno Lage’s side, this son of a Russian father, now dead, and a Ukrainian mother played an unwitting part in the goals from Jean-Philippe Mateta and Wilfried Zaha.
The former England futsal international has been an ever-present in the Premier League, his calmness and ability to bring the ball out of defence among his attributes, but he was unable to prevent Mateta from giving Patrick Vieira’s side the lead and then conceded the penalty from which Zaha sealed the game. Palace moved into the top half, two places behind a Wolves side falling to their third consecutive defeat.
The left-footed Kilman, normally so assured playing to the right of Conor Coady, has fallen below his breakout standards in Wolves’ four defeats in six games and, as Lage switched to four at the back in a tactical switch, the defender was substituted 11 minutes from time.
The Wolves manager said Kilman’s form has fluctuated either side of the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. “There’s nothing different about him,” Lage said. “We have people here to help him but the war is not just about him. I agree with you [his form has dipped] but it’s a young kid, his first season playing every game, and to go to the next level, the pressure is there. When talk comes about a new contract, about this or that club being interested, about coming to the international team, he needs to keep working the same.”
Palace were as impressive as Wolves were shocking in the first half. The two goals were the least the away side deserved. To think that at the end of Wolves’ previous home game, a 2-1 win over Leicester City, they had the games in hand to eye a way into the top four but defeats to Arsenal and West Ham United returned them to earth with a bump.Lage was scathing about his team’s first-half showing. “When we got to 40 points recently, I said I don’t want anyone to relax,” he said. “If they relax, they are out the team. I don’t accept this first 45 minutes, especially in front of our fans.”
With an FA Cup quarter-final home tie with Everton ahead, after midweek victory over Stoke, Palace are a team on the up and Michael Olise and Zaha were superb, playing in between the gaps in Wolves’ wing-back system.
Vieira said Palace played “the perfect game today, in possession”. The Palace manager added: “I loved every single part of the game. We played really well, especially in the first half, and the second half, when we tired a bit, we defended well.”
Jeffrey Schlupp was granted easy inroads down the inside-left channel, even before he earned the penalty, as Wolves again felt the loss of the injured Nélson Semedo at right wing-back. Down the other channel, Conor Gallagher also found space behind Wolves’ midfield and in between the wing-backs and centre-backs. Palace’s gameplan worked a treat as they built a winning platform.
Gallagher put Zaha in behind Coady and Palace’s talisman took the ball to the byline before playing in Mateta, who got ahead of José Sá and Kilman, and then reacted most swiftly to turn the loose ball over the line.
Kilman’s protection was not helped by an injury to Ki-Jana Hoever, who had to be replaced by Jonny. “I have too many kids in my team,” Lage said. “They are not prepared as they should prepare. I don’t waste time on players who do not prepare.”
Palace were swarming all over Wolves at this stage, especially down the channels, and Schlupp went slaloming down the inside-left corridor again before he was tripped by Kilman. Zaha, who had missed a penalty against Norwich last month in comical fashion, converted his ninth Premier League goal of the season in style.
Sá had to make two brilliant diving saves, from Gallagher and Olise’s left-foot curler, before Wolves rallied from the end of the first half. But it was too little too late.
Vieira was delighted with the performance of his England contenders, Tyrick Mitchell and the recently capped Gallagher. “I’m so pleased Gareth was at the stadium because we have a couple of players I think he needs to look at,” he said, “and today’s performance will help them.”