Julen Lopetegui starts winning but Wolves leave late to see Gillingham

Julen Lopetegui had far more glamorous nights in the business but victory in his first game in charge of Wolves to progress to the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup represented work done as they overcame fourth division Gillingham thanks to goals from substitute Raúl Jiménez and Rayan Ait-Nouri.

Wolves can’t be too picky about their wins either, this is only their fifth of the season, three of which have come in this competition. For long periods it looked like a poor quality match and clear-cut chances were bound to be decided by penalty shoot-outs, but the League Two side pressed self-destruct in the end, conceding a penalty which Jiménez, making his first appearance with Wolves since August, converted calmly before Aït-Nouri sealed the win in stoppage time.

Che Adams scored twice as Southampton scored in Nathan Jones’ first home game as manager, as they progressed into the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup with an unconvincing 2-1 win over Lincoln.
Top scorer Adams scored either side of half-time to keep the Saints from blushing after the Imps threatened an upset following Gavin Bazunu’s early own goal.
The lackluster hosts struggled through much of a forgettable fourth round match at a sparsely populated St Mary’s, leaving Jones with plenty to think about as he plans a Premier League survival mission.
Adams’ winning goal – his eighth goal of the season – came with 16 minutes remaining, preventing the risk of a penalty shoot-out, which the Saints had required to overcome third division Sheffield Wednesday in the previous round.
Lincoln, who sit 14th in Sky Bet League One and beat Championship Bristol City in round three, performed well and is likely to leave the south coast feeling slighted as replays have suggested Adams’ 25th-minute equalizer was in offside.
Saints substitute Samuel Edozie squandered a golden chance to secure the scoreline in added time when he somehow shot wide through an open net, while match winner Adams should have scored a hat-trick with a another excellent opening.

Lopetegui is a manager of great pedigree – hence the delight of Wolves owners Fosun at appointing him head coach the third time he asked – but his first game in charge amounted to an entry-level test. However, Lopetegui acknowledged the embarrassment of the task, alluding to Gillingham’s shock win over Brentford in the previous round. “These kinds of matches are difficult because you’re playing against a team that has nothing to lose,” he said later. “These kinds of matches are very difficult because sometimes you want to take shortcuts. I think this type of opponent is very different from what we will find in the next matches”.

Wolves travel to Everton on Boxing Day before hosting Manchester United on New Year’s Eve. By then they expect to have signed a loan deal for Atlético Madrid striker Matheus Cunha with an option to make the move permanent. Cunha’s arrival should be the first of several transfers Wolves hope to ratify before the January window opens as they look to move up the table. A new centre-back and right-back should be other priorities next month.

Julen Lopetegui gets his take on his first match as Wolves manager. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

These teams may be separated by three divisions, but both are claiming their respective league tables, Wolves Premier League and Gillingham League Two. Gillingham, relegated last season, have not tasted league victory since October and are preparing to baffle a Wolves side with whom this season too has been utterly miserable. For Gillingham, attention quickly turns to the Boxing Day fixture with Colchester, who occupy a place above them in the table. “It’s the most important game of the season,” said their manager, Neil Harris, who has traveled to Molineux separately in a bid to prevent the spread of a virus. “We’ll get there right away. It is so important to maintain our championship status.”

Lopetegui received a warm welcome ahead of Wolves’ defeat to Arsenal in November and before kick-off here South Bank unveiled a surprising cheer with the words ‘Julen is a Wolf’. Lopetegui has expressed a desire to see evidence of nearly seven weeks of preparation since taking charge, but until Rúben Neves, fresh off Portugal’s elimination in the World Cup quarter-finals, shook a post with the The last touch of a dull first half, there was little to whet the appetite. Joe Hodge, who was replaced by Adama Traoré at half-time, should have been on target but headed wide without scoring inside the small area.

Lopetegui called for calm as his players looked choked with anticipation. Matheus Nunes, Hwang Hee-chan and Jiménez, three others playing for Qatar, came on after the break and the hosts slowly moved on. Wolves were given a path to victory when Gillingham defender Cheye Alexander tugged at Hwang’s shirt inside the box with 14 minutes of normal time to play. Jiménez got close to the spot and nudged the ball into the corner to set Wolves on their way to the next round before Aït-Nouri sealed the win. “It was a very special day for me,” said Lopetegui. “Today [Tuesday] it’s my father’s birthday and today is my first game at Molineux.”

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