Wilfried Zaha adds to Wolves’ woes by sealing Crystal Palace’s fightback win

Wolves’ search for a new manager may soon border on the panic-stricken after Julen Lopetegui turned them down and then a possible emotional return for Nuno Espírito Santo also fell by the wayside. Whoever succeeds Bruno Lage on a long-term basis requires quick solutions within a squad that has lost its previous defensive solidity and shipped cheap goals while scoring five all season.

Crystal Palace, with Michael Olise excellent, Eberechi Eze getting their equaliser and Wilfried Zaha the winner, showed the value of speedy, inventive attackers. “With the quality we’ve got we’ll always score goals,” as Eze put it.

Wolves have talent, too, in evidence during their excellent goal, a move set up by the skills of Daniel Podence and Rúben Neves and crashed in at the back post by Adama Traoré. But whenever a new manager is sourced, theirs already looks a season-long fight against relegation unless greater pace and creativity are injected.

Steve Davis, as interim, ploughs on “one game at a time”, as he put it, but Diego Costa’s continuing role as Wolves’ workhorse is a further indicator of the desperation.

Costa’s younger self would surely have done better with the early chance that came his way. Played through by Podence, a split second’s hesitation gave Vicente Guaita the chance to make a save. The wait for a first goal in English football since the 2017 FA Cup final continues.

Hugo Bueno, a 20-year-old from Wolves’ usual Iberian catchment area, this time Vigo, was given a first start at left-back, a minute against Forest his only previous first-team experience.

The counter from which Traoré scored explained why Bueno had been selected. His overlapping run and cross were those of a high-class veteran. Traoré’s header was also strikingly adept for someone who scored only once last season for Wolves and none on loan at Barcelona.

Even if Davis declared the youngster “excellent” and that “he didn’t let anyone down”, Bueno’s inexperience, more so the lack of protection given by colleagues, would prove key to defeat. Olise, forever surging in from the flank, gave him a frightful chasing at times.

Palace ended up winning a game where they might have been two down at half-time. Neves cracked the post with almost the final kick of the first 45 minutes when Palace had offered far more in attack.

“I was disappointed at half-time because we didn’t deserve to be 1-0 down,” Patrick Vieira said. His players had left the field to grumbles from the Holmesdale End but within seconds of the second-half whistle, they were level. Bueno allowed Olise space to cross to the back post and Nélson Semedo was yet more lax in allowing Eze to steal in.

Wolves’ danger on the counter remained and a triple substitution that brought on Gonçalo Guedes, João Moutinho and Joseph Hodge was Davis’s attempt to shore up midfield. Injury precluded Traoré from being able to play any longer. The switch failed to pay off; Palace continued to create the better chances.

Not long after Odsonne Édouard had narrowly missed an overhead, the striker ran on to Eze’s excellent through-pass and laid up Zaha to slot coolly past José Sá.

The club captain, of whom Vieira said his role has become one “to help those young players around him”, celebrated a first goal since August. “This is what it takes in the Prem,” the match-winner said. “We knew we had it within us and we got what we deserved. I took it upon myself to move from left wing and float a bit.”

Eventually Costa could give no more, and left the field after one last skirmish in the 74th minute. He has at least added a focal point. Without him Wolves pushed on gamely, bemoaned a Marc Guéhi handball that VAR overlooked and Guaita was asked to make a couple of saves. Nathan Collins also looked to have missed an all-time sitter, only for an offside flag to spare his blushes.

Palace’s season had previously been marred by hard-luck stories, of points squandered from winning positions but this was a win seized by moments of quality. “We have players who are capable of scoring goals,” Vieira said. How Wolves must covet that.