Brighton could have gone until midnight without scoring. Ultimately they could not call upon anyone as clever as Rúben Neves, who defined a tight game when he felt the creative juices flow on the stroke of half-time and produced a superb pass for Romain Saïss to give Wolves a lead they never looked like relinquishing.
How Brighton could have done with a creator of Neves’s class. It was a gorgeous assist from the Wolves midfielder, who was also prepared to do the dirty stuff in the second half, and it felt fitting that it decided the contest.
Brighton, down to 13th after 11 games without a win, had none of the Portuguese’s composure. Graham Potter’s side were bereft of ideas in attack and although they fought until the end, they did not force José Sá to make a save in the second half. Wolves, who are improving under Bruno Lage, were comfortable.
As ever, there was a lot to like about Brighton’s football when the game was goalless. They controlled much of the first half, the passing crisp, the full-backs pushing high, and for a while Wolves struggled to get out of their half. Yves Bissouma and Jakub Moder were pulling the strings in midfield for Brighton and the home fans enjoyed themselves at first, roaring whenever Tariq Lamptey zipped forward from right-back, optimism rising as Marc Cucurella made early inroads down the left.
Wolves had to dig deep during the early stages. Pacing around his technical area, Lage struggled to hide his irritation at his team’s shoddy approach play. His preparations had been disrupted when his left wing-back Rayan Aït-Nouri injured a groin during the warmup – Marçal came in to take on the unappetising task of quelling Brighton’s lively right side – and with Raúl Jiménez missing up front after his foolish red card against Manchester City, Lage could have done without Hwang Hee-chan injuring himself fouling Lamptey during the early stages.
At that stage it was hard to see how Wolves hoped to end a run of four games without a goal. Adama Traoré came on for Hwang, but Brighton looked comfortable despite missing Adam Webster, Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy in central defence. The only scare for the hosts came when Dan Burn’s errant back pass almost let in Daniel Podence.
Yet Brighton, who were without at least three players because of a Covid-19 outbreak, lacked any cutting edge. Aaron Connolly battled without reward in the absence of Neal Maupay, too many corners hit the first man and there was a sense of resignation when Solly March blazed over in the 20th minute.
Brighton’s frustration intensified when Sá made a sharp save from Leandro Trossard’s fizzing drive and Enock Mwepu contrived to turn the rebound over just before the interval. It should have been 1-1.
Brighton had fallen behind moments before Mwepu’s miss. They failed to clear a set piece properly and Neves cut them open brilliantly, controlling the ball on the edge of the area before steadying himself and lifting a glorious pass over the top for Saïss to creep in unnoticed and sidefoot a volley beyond Robert Sánchez.
Caught out by a moment of genius from Neves, Brighton had to push more players forward. Yet that suited Wolves. They are dangerous on the break and almost doubled their lead at the start of the second half, Marçal hitting the bar with a mishit cross and Francisco Trincão shooting too close to Sánchez after a powerful run from Traoré.
Brighton were on the ropes. Their midfield had disappeared and their makeshift centre-back pairing of Joël Veltman and Burn was repeatedly being exposed to Traoré’s speed. Wolves were threatening to run riot. Saïss hit the woodwork from close range and Podence twice went through on goal, only to shoot straight at Sánchez on both occasions.
Forced to react, Potter responded by replacing the ineffective Connolly with Alexis Mac Allister. Still, though, Brighton toiled in attack. Lamptey tripped over his feet after threatening to break through on the right and there were more jeers when Brighton wasted another corner as the minutes ticked away, March underhitting yet another delivery.
Wolves had dropped back by that stage, trusting that their solid back three of Conor Coady, Max Kilman and Saïss would keep Brighton at arm’s length.
They knew that Brighton had run out of ideas and the disgruntled sighs that greeted the final whistle were not a surprise. Wolves, who rise to eighth, had completed the perfect away performance.