Incoming manager Julen Lopetegui will be buoyed by the desire and determination offered by Wolves, who played with a one-man deficit for the entire second half, but he will know he is entering a relegation fight after their latest loss to Brighton.
It looked like Wolves would hold on for a point until Pascal Gross turned home inside the area with seven minutes to go, sending Brighton sixth in the process. Adam Lallana and man of the match Kaoru Mitoma scored either side of goals from Portuguese duo Goncalo Guedes and Rúben Neves but once Nélson Semedo was sent off just before the break, Wolves were up against it and the pressure was unrelenting.
Roberto De Zerbi likes to play with an element of risk, not something Wolves can afford in their perilous position. There was constant one-touch passing in and around the box, which should have led to a Solly March opener but the midfielder saw his shot deflected wide. Not that it mattered, when moments later Mitoma found Leandro Trossard, who drew Maximilian Kilman out of position, allowing Lallana to curl the ball into the top corner.
Prior to conceding in the 10th minute Wolves had brought little to the fixture, instead were chasing shadows in their own half. Brighton’s love of risk opened up space for Guedes on the right who was found by a clever Boubacar Traoré pass. The Portuguese international has struggled to settle in the Premier League since joining from Valencia but he proved why the club spent £27.5m to acquire his services by driving for the box before slipping the ball past Robert Sánchez for his first Wolves goal.
It was the boost Molineux needed. The toxic atmosphere that enveloped their most recent home fixture, a 4-0 defeat to Leicester, was replaced by cautious optimism created by a mixture of Lopetegui’s appointment and the intensity of the performance, even if the quality was lacking.
Wolves were holding on with Brighton looking capable of cutting through them at any point but the hosts got the chance to take the lead when Daniel Podence hit a cross into Lewis Dunk’s elbow from close range. The VAR took an age to see whether the ball made contact and if Podence was offside in the buildup. Eventually Graham Scott jogged over to the screen and pointed to the spot from where Neves lifted the ball into the top corner.
Despite the energy Wolves brought, they looked vulnerable in defence whenever Brighton attacked, summed up when Lallana worked to create space to dig out a cross on the edge of the box for Mitoma at the back post to head home after Semedo got stuck under the ball.
Semedo’s afternoon ended soon after in the extended first-half injury time when he was once again outwitted by Mitoma, who took down a long pass from Lewis Dunk to get past the defender and run through on goal, only for the Portuguese international to bundle him over on the edge of the box. Scott was left with no choice, not that the booing home fans agreed when the whistle went for the break.
The man disadvantage did not change much about the flow of the game; Brighton dominated possession and Wolves were forced to rely on rare counter-attacks to threaten. March made José Sá produce a fine save, after the goalkeeper played Wolves into trouble, Adam Webster sent two headers wide and Alexis Mac Allister’s free-kick was palmed away from the top corner. Wolves were hanging on.
The determination of the team invigorated the crowd, who almost got their reward when Neves played a smart free-kick down the side to Adama Traoré in the box but his vicious shot was tipped over the bar. It was the last of cheers from the home fans because Gross settled the match soon after to leave Wolves desperately hoping for the ‘new manager bounce’ that Brighton are currently enjoying.