The Lilywhites suffered their first defeat in ten games in a controversial clash at Molineux.
The home side took a three goal lead, but Alex Neil’s side came right back at their hosts with two goals, but Wolves held on as North End finished the game with ten men after the late dismissal of Alan Browne.
The visitors could have been two up before Nuno Espirito Santo’s men scored just before half-time, with their only shot on target of the opening 45 minutes from Ivan Cavaleiro and two goals either side of the hour mark from Leo Bonatini, one from the spot, put the Black Country men in control.
However, Jordan Hugill scored his seventh goal of the season, converting Alan Browne’s cross with a powerful header and then Tom Barkhuizen forced Conor Coady to put into his own net creating a rousing final quarter of an hour.
Alan Browne saw red in the first minute of stoppage time, for a second bookable offence, but despite throwing skipper Paul Huntington up as a second striker, they were unable to force what would have been a deserved equaliser.
The Lilywhites were on top for the whole of the first half, dominating possession and had two great chances to take the lead.
The first, just before the quarter of an hour mark, saw some fantastic passing football feed the ball into Daniel Johnson on the edge of the box and he got off a hard low shot that was heading towards the bottom right hand corner of the goal until former England ’keeper John Ruddy got down to tip the ball around the post.
And it was Johnson again who had another great chance to open the scoring on 29 minutes. Pressure from Jordan Hugill won the ball in the middle of the park and he fed fellow forward Barkhuizen down the right. The No.29 drove forward and pulled the ball back for the No.11, but he could only steer the ball over the bar from ten yards out.
So when the home side opened the scoring a minute before the break, it came completely against the run of play.
Wanderers found a man over on the right hand side and Cavaleiro beat Josh Earl to the ball and drove into the box. The ball came across to Diogo Jota on the left of the penalty area, and he got off a shot that Darnell Fisher got in the way of; the ball came back to Barry Douglas who scuffed his second shot, but it fell into the path of Cavaleiro who just about poked home with Ben Davies almost keeping it out on the line.
Once again the whites started the second half on the front foot, although Wolves were always a threat on the counter and one chance had already been snubbed out by an excellent tackle by Ben Davies to deny Bonatini a minute before the second goal came, just before the hour mark.
At the time the decision by referee Steve Martin to give a penalty for Josh Harrop’s tackle on Matt Doherty looked the correct one, however, replays clearly showed the former Manchester United man got a foot in to poke the ball back towards Chris Maxwell.
However, perhaps more controversially, Bonatini, who stepped up to fire into the bottom right hand corner to double the lead, may not have been on the pitch after an off the ball clash with Ben Pearson, clearly captured by the cameras in attendance, went unpunished. And therefore when he also grabbed his second and Wolves’ third of the game, it is fair to say the Lilywhites were incensed. Not only that, but in the build-up the forward seemed to be offside and then as he put the ball into the net from close range, Chris Maxwell had been barged out of the way as well!
The deficit was reduced just two minutes later as an excellent cross from the right by Browne was met in the box by an excellent header by Hugill, who powered the ball into the bottom right hand corner on 65 minutes, the No.9 making it five league goals and seven in all competitions so far in 2017/18.
Tom Barkhuizen went close to narrowing the gap further after collecting a pass from substitute Stephy Mavididi and driving into the right hand corner of the box, dragging his right foot shot just wide of the left hand post.
But the pacy forward did bring about the second North End goal on 76 minutes, getting down the right again, driving in from the byline and firing across goal, for Coady to slice the ball into the back of his own net – Barkhuizen’s eighth assist of 2017, to go with his eight goals – a total that means he has had a hand in more PNE efforts this year than any other player to date.
In the closing stages Paul Huntington was added to the attack as North End threw everything at the league leaders in search of an equaliser, but in the first minute of six signalled for stoppages Alan Browne was given a second booking – although in a ridiculous turn of events, he had already gone to the dressing room and was called back onto the pitch by the referee to be shown the red card!
The was followed by a melee where play didn’t restart until three minutes into the stoppage time, but unlike the previous week at Craven Cottage, time was not added on and the game was called to a halt by the match official before the allotted time had even been played, meaning that the players and fans all headed back up the M6 feeling aggrieved.
Wolverhampton Wanderers line-up: Ruddy, Doherty, Douglas, Batth (c), Cavaleiro (Enobokhare, 75), Neves, Coady, Jota (N’Diaye, 82), Miranda, Saiss, Bonatini (Costa, 75). Subs not used: Norris, Bennett, Marshall, Price.
PNE line-up: Maxwell, Fisher, Earl, Pearson, Huntington (c), Davies, Barkhuizen, Johnson, Hugill, Browne, Harrop (Mavididi, 61). Subs not used: Hudson, Boyle, Horgan, Gallagher, Woods, Mavididi, Robinson.
Attendance: 27,352 (1,987 PNE fans)
Referee: Mr S Martin