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wolverhampton wanderers 4-3 leeds united: as it happened

wolverhampton wanderers 4-3 leeds united: as it happened

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An hour before kick-off, Neil Redfearn’s team selection was revealed to the public.

Giuseppe Bellusci, after a kamikaze performance against Blackburn and amid rumours that he is at the heart of dressing room unrest, was nowhere to be seen in the team or on the bench. He was replaced in the side by Liam Cooper. With Cook injured and Austin suspended, Kalvin Phillips was selected for his debut in midfield. Up front, Steve Morison was another who played on Saturday and was out of the squad on Monday. Mirco Antenucci took his place.

••

Under satin sheets in a dark bedroom in Miami where blackout curtains resisted the late morning sun, Massimo Cellino grasped iPhone after iPhone, searching for the one that just notified him of a new message. “Fackin… team news… phone,” he said. Finally he located the right phone and read the message. “Merda!” he yelled, recoiling as the word reverberated around his aching head.

“Try to be quiet, Massimo,” said Mrs Cellino. “The nurse is here to get you ready for the game.”

••

In a high rise apartment in Leeds, Nicola Salerno received a similar message. “Bastardo,” he told the maid. “Antenucci. Phillips. No Bellusci.”

“Yer wont mi’ to clean yer wha’?” asked the maid.

“Bastardo!” yelled Salerno.

••

In a house near the Pennines, Steve Thompson reclined on a sofa, an iPad on this lap, a notepad by his side, Sky Sports on the TV. He hadn’t received a message to inform him of the team selection. But when it was put up on the screen he wasn’t surprised.

••

In the 11th minute, Wolves were surprised. A bizarre exocet clearance across their own box struck a defender and bounced into the path of Charlie Taylor, who didn’t have time to remember that he’s a left-back, that he’s only 21, that’s he’s never scored a goal in first-team football before; he only had time to slot it past the goalkeeper, and run to celebrate with the Leeds fans before he had time to think about that, either.

••

In a converted farmhouse in East Anglia, Steve Morison stared at the screen in disbelief. A loose ball in the six yard box. Only the keeper to beat. Why hadn’t Charlie passed it?

••

In the director’s box at Molineux, Peter Lorimer began to jump to his feet, but was hauled back down by a restraining hand on his arm. “Peter,” said a stern voice. “Sorry Mr Chairman,” said Lorimer.

••

The lead lasted ten minutes. As Leeds’ defence were dragged all over the place on the left, Wolves’ Dicko snuck in at the back post and chipped the ball over Wootton’s sliding attempt at a block.

••

Giuseppe Bellusci’s dinner with Brian Montenegro was interrupted by a call on his mobile phone from Nicola Salerno. “Peppe, it’s Nic,” he said. “You watching?”

••

With a minute remaining before half-time, a simple ball forward from Wolves lands with Dicko again, who instead of closing in on Silvestri one-on-one, weighs up the keeper, weighs up his chances, and smashes the ball off the post and into the net.

••

In Miami, a glass coffee table is smashed. “Marco! He’s best goalkeeper in Italy. In England. In Italy. In Europe! But he do this! Why?!”

••

In the director’s box, Andrew Umbers is impassive. “No need to wait for the referee’s whistle,” he says to Lorimer. “A drink, Peter?”

••

Within three minutes of the second half starting, Wolves are 3–1 ahead. This time the defence is pierced down the right, but it’s a Wolves free for all in the box as, unmarked, they take it in turns to swing and miss until one of them scores.

••

“Peter, Peter, Peter,” said Umbers, as they ascended the steps to the stand and heard the crowd’s roar. “I told you we shouldn’t have stayed for that third drink. We’re missing all the fun.”

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Steve Thompson tapped a fingernail distractedly against the back edge of his iPad and then, as a close up of Neil Redfearn filled his screen, laid it to one side on the sofa.

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In Miami, Massimo Cellino removed the sheets of newspaper that he had folded into an impromptu hat from his head. It was a copy of The Guardian, an edition with an interview with Neil Redfearn. “Call lawyers,” Cellino told his wife. “I think all our lawyers are busy,” said Mrs Cellino. “The fack! Is shit!” yelled Cellino. “Then I sack ’im myself!”

“You can’t sack him, Massimo,” said Mrs Cellino. “You’re banned from the club, remember?”

Cellino turned to her, with fire in his eyes. “I fly back tomorrow!”

••

On a field in Wolverhampton, with fire in his eyes, Alex Mowatt threw his hands in the air. Sam Byram had just hit a pass straight to Billy Sharp, but Billy was a substitute, warming up on the touchline. How had it come to this? The team hadn’t been playing well all season, but they were better than this.

••

In the stands, Umbers made a note in his black, leather-backed notebook. ‘Billy Sharp,’ he wrote. ‘Distracting key asset, causing embarrassment and potentially diminishing value. Club fine?’

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In an office near Salzburg, an assistant used an electronic control to adjust an armchair where Dietrich Mateschitz was seated. “Sometimes, I’m not sure why I want to get into this,” said Mateschitz. “Everytime I see them, Leeds United appear to be cursed. But then I remember it wouldn’t be Leeds United anymore. So such curses would matter little.”

••

“Give me the cursed ball!” yelled Alex Mowatt, or words to that effect. Finally he had it. Lewis Cook wasn’t playing and while Kalvin was doing his best Leeds’ passing game had been shot all day and the defence was crumbling too easily. Gaetano had tried to take a throw-in and oh god. But with the ball Mowatt could do something. He could give it to Murphy and together they could make sure the lads keep it for a while. And if he just lobbed this ball towards Sam…

Own goal. Good. 3–2, back in it. We can do this. We can pass, we can play. They don’t like it, they can’t defend any better than we can. Mirco ain’t scoring, we can’t get him running today. Sam’s in some dreamland. They’re not scoring another own goal so that won’t work again. Down to me. Win the ball. Right, space. Run. Big gap ahead of me, run. That keeper’s off his line, and this is it.

Shoot. And it’s – in. It just. Keeps. Happening.

••

“It just keeps happening!” yelled Cellino. “Did this man do a deal with the devil? I go in the papers, I tell them, I am like Ulysses in the Odyssey a hero, I am coming home. To slay the suitors and reclaim my wife!

“But this ’appens! This Mowatt he come in pre-season he has hair like a woman I tell Dan Holliday, no pick this guy, pick Bianchi. Cigarettes! Strong! But now he makes Redfearn look a hero. Goals. Free kicks. Goals. The fans love him. They love their Redders. Is 3–3! A draw! A stupid draw!”

••

Steve Thompson put the notepad down next to the iPad. He had a beer now.

••

“That’s a great goal, Mr Chairman.” “Is it.” “What I mean to say, Mr Chairman, is it will do a great deal for his value, Mr Chairman.” “Will it Peter, will it indeed.” “Well I thought that was part of the plan, Mr Chairman?” “Will. You. Be Quiet. Peter.”

••

In his apartment, Salerno’s phone began to vibrate and beep. The caller id announced ‘Peppe.’ But Salerno really couldn’t be bothered right now. He declined the called, switched off the TV, reclined his chair.

••

Of course it couldn’t last. This was Wolves’ script, not ours. They’re 6th now, into the play-off places. When they tell the story of their season, this will be one of the games they highlight; a rollocking encounter, a topsy-turvey game that could have gone either way, but that only makes the story of their attempts at finishing in the play-offs – perhaps even their promotion – all the sweeter in the telling. “A late goal won it for Wolves, and despite a few scares on a bright afternoon at Molineux, they moved into the top six…”

••

On the front seat of a coach heading north from the Midlands, Neil Redfearn sat alone trying to determine his lot and his fate. The team had struggled, defended awfully at times; Wolves were worthy winners. But they hadn’t run away with it as they might. That fightback – did it make him a hero? How much of that spirit and that refusal to be beaten that had turned things around in recent weeks be put down to him? And if he can take the credit for the determination, does he also have to take the blame for the defending?

He turned and looked up the aisle of the coach. Kalvin was buzzing, of course. Mirco and Marco, locked in some sort of debate; Dario sat with them, talking in fluid Italian into a mobile phone. Sol and Liam, passing cards back and forth like the captain’s armband. Charlie. Sam. Alex. Alex dug me out again today. How long can he keep doing that? How long can I keep doing this?

••

Mowatt wasn’t really listening to the conversation going on around him. He was staring down the aisle towards the front window of the coach. He could see Redders fidgeting. Then a whirr; Mowatt’s phone was ringing again. He didn’t know the number but he recognised the international code: the USA. It kept ringing and he kept trying to ignore it. He’d rather rib Sam about that pass to Sharpy. But his phone kept ringing and ringing. What could he want?

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