Ian Holloway had the last laugh on fans telling him he would be getting sacked in the morning by conducting the orchestra during the game and later echoed the Molineux wits when he said: “It doesn’t matter anyway because I’m just a shit Gary Neville.”
The Queens Park Rangers manager, who had bemoaned Brighton fans suggesting he would be relieved of his duties after his team’s sixth successive defeat last Tuesday, earned himself some breathing space with an unlikely victory.
Pawel Wszolek, the Polish winger on loan from Verona, made Idrissa Sylla’s opening goal – Rangers’ first in five matches – and then stole a late winner three minutes from time despite Wolves dominating throughout.
The Rangers manager was able to smile after recording his second victory since returning to Loftus Road in November eight games ago. The Molineux faithful had mocked his television punditry skills by telling him he was just a poor man’s version of the former England assistant coach. “Luckily I can laugh at myself,” Holloway said.
“I’m going to enjoy my journey home now and if tonight is New Year’s Eve as I’m told it is then I can’t wait for 2017 to get QPR buzzing again. Those fans after the Brighton game who cheered me and told me how pleased they were to have me back, I can’t thank them enough. They know what the club means to me.”
Holloway, who managed Rangers from 2001 to 2006, the same length of time he played for them, wants to start balancing his squad out in the transfer window – “we’ve got about a zillion No10s,” he said – and this victory will help his cause. “You make a club by the way it plays,” he said. “Just judge me by the people who want to play for me, and there’s a bucketload who do.”
Wolverhampton Wanderers, whose own revival had started with a 2-1 win at Loftus Road at the start of a month when they gained 10 points from the previous five games, were dominant throughout and deserved to win after David Edwards had equalised.
Holloway was not arguing. “Today it was ugly,” he said. “They played the lovely stuff. Sometimes the harder you work, the luckier you get.”
Wolves had started with a clear intent to play on Rangers’ brittle confidence. Helder Costa dashed inside before playing a reverse pass back out to Nouha Dicko whose shot was deflected over.
Had the excellent Alex Smithies not saved Bright Enobakhare’s shot when the teenager burst clean through from midfield and played a one-two with Dicko, there was a feeling Rangers might get rolled over.
Reprieved, however, they grew in confidence. Ryan Manning, 20, competed manfully in the centre of midfield, while Sylla was a muscular and wiry target man.
Rangers took the lead eight minutes into the second half. Wszolek ate up the ground down the right wing before crossing for Sylla to convert his fifth goal of the season from close range. It was Rangers’ first in 413 minutes of action.
Wolves equalised within eight minutes. Jack Price played a superb crossfield pass over to Costa who, always able to go either way, went on the outside and flashed in a cross that Edwards sidefooted home for his seventh goal of the season.
The game started to resemble defence against attack as Wolves pressed and Rangers hung on manfully to their point. But, despite the numbers they threw forwards, Wolves could not find the cunning to engineer a breakthrough.
Instead, Rangers counter-attacked and as the Wolves defence waited for the ball to roll through to their goalkeeper, Carl Ikeme, Wszolek stretched out a leg and toe-poked the ball into the bottom corner of the net.
“That’s football,” Paul Lambert, the Wolves manager, said. “I thought we were brilliant; that’s as well as we’ve played since I’ve come in.
“We could have taken Carl Ikeme’s goal away second half, we were so dominant. I’m proud of the players.”