Jubilant Rob Edwards admitted Wolves Under-23s showed a belief and character he had never seen before after they produced an amazing comeback against Manchester United to clinch the Premier League 2 Division Two title.
Wolves trailed 2-0 with nine minutes left but won 3-2 with an own goal from Lee O’Connor and strikes from Niall Ennis and Sadu Diallo to send the players, staff and hundreds of fans who had travelled to Leigh Sports Village delirious.
Southampton must beat Sunderland by 12 clear goals to overhaul Wolves for the only automatic promotion place in their final game on Monday.
Edwards was delighted with his players’ mental strength to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat.
“When United’s second goal went in, we showed some belief and character that I haven’t seen before,” said Edwards, Wolves Under-23s coach. “I have seen a lot from these players but I hadn’t seen that before. It was incredible the way the managed to turn it around, and they did that themselves.
“They’ve got to keep that now because they showed something there. They’re going to be good players and they’re going to have long careers if they keep that. I am really proud of that and of the staff.
“There are a lot of people I want to praise, but obviously the players for digging in and showing some incredible fighting spirit.”
United fielded four players with first-team experience – midfielders James Garner, Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong and striker Mason Greenwood. Their knowhow and quality showed too as they bossed the game for long periods in the first hour of the game.
Edwards added: “At 2-0 down away to Manchester United, with that team out there, they’re a top side. So to be 2-0 down against a side like with that with unbelievable individuals and come back shows our lads have got a bit about them as well.”
Five full coachloads of supporters took advantage of cheap travel laid on by Wolves with adults paying £5 and children free, and hundreds filled one half of the main stand.
Edwards paid tribute to them for creating such an good atmosphere.
“Full credit to the players but I want to thank all of the fans who came as well, and the club for helping to make that happen. It made for an excellent atmosphere, it was unbelievable,” he said.
“It felt like a first-team game and then for the drama to unfold the way it did in the end was amazing. I was really thankful they shared it with us as well because we keep saying the next step for these players is first-team football.
“The more pressure moments in front of fans we can get for them like that, will only going to make them better players and prepare them for the next challenge. It was a wonderful evening.”
Edwards said the club must remain respectful to Southampton because the title is not guaranteed just yet.
“We’ve got to wait for a few days and see what happens,” he added. “What we have to be now is respectful because Southampton play on Monday so it’s not over. It looks good though.
“I’m really proud of the players and everything they’ve given this season. If it all goes well, we can talk again next week.”
The coach admitted Wolves threw caution to the wind somewhat at 2-2 and went for the winner because so much was at stake.
“It was. If ever it got back to 2-2 we needed the goal to get that three points to potentially win the league,” he admitted. “So we did throw everything at them. But once we scored I was shouting for Max (Kilman) to get back because he’s a defender now not a forward! I was trying to organise everyone.
“It was an unbelievable rollercoaster of emotions. The first half was quite even but we didn’t start the second half well. We invited some pressure, and, whether it was a penalty or not – I don’t know – we were 2-0 down.
“But even at 2-0 down, I was happy with how we played, apart from that first five minutes of the second half. Against a top team, we were right in the game and matched them in many areas. But then we grew back into the game and we looked like the stronger team.
“I made a couple of adjustments and getting that first goal back was key, it gave everyone some belief. Then it became a bit of a blur!
“There were incredible scenes, having scored that (winning) goal late on. But then they composed themselves and did really well. We didn’t really concede any chances then once we were 3-2 up. It was incredible.”
Edwards was delighted with the build-up to the winner, which came a minute into eight minutes added on after an injury to United goalkeeper Paul Woolston saw him stretchered off.
Ennis, whose shot also forced the own goal for Wolves’ first reply, squared to Diallo just outside the box and the midfielder showed superb awareness to bend the ball into the far bottom corner of the net.
“I think it was a brilliant move – they showed some really intricate football and a really calm finish,” said the coach. “It’s the one goal I have celebrated all season long. I don’t think I’ve celebrated a goal really but I lost it a bit then! I think people will forgive me the emotion of the moment. I got carried away with it but then quickly switched on again to work time.
“A lot of that near the end was a blur as I was shouting a lot and trying to get us organised.
“The players sorted that out on the pitch – they’re the ones who go and do it. We’re just trying to help from the side.”