Richard Stearman admitted Wolves’ tactics late on against Watford ‘didn’t quite work’ as they were left rueing a place in the FA Cup final.
Head coach Nuno Espirito Santo replaced Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota with Ryan Bennett and Ivan Cavaleiro just minutes before Watford equalised at 2-2 at the death to force extra-time, leaving them potentially lighter creatively.
Then in extra-time he introduced Adama Traore for Joao Moutinho to gamble and go to 3-4-3, only for Gerard Deulofeu to score his second goal and the winner for Watford within a minute of that switch.
Wolves had already started to drop deeper by then and former Wolves defender Stearman, who now plays for Championship promotion hopefuls Sheffield United, believes their approach might have cost them.
“It’s that old adage of you go in front and naturally start to drop deeper and deeper and of course it invites pressure, and Watford took advantage of that,” the 31-year-old told www.wolvesbite.com. “Nuno decided to rotate and try to hold on to that lead and it didn’t quite work.
“He made the decision to change the shape but then he had to win it and he had set it defensively.
“That’s the risk you take by changing personnel. In hindsight it didn’t quite work but the team have done fantastically well.”
Stearman says Wolves were so close to the FA Cup final they could ‘taste’ it.
With Wolves 2-0 up with goals from Matt Doherty and Raul Jimenez, the Sheffield United defender admitted he didn’t see the turnaround coming.
“No – to be honest at 2-0 I was very comfortable,” he said. “They were almost there – they could taste being in the final almost. What changed everything was Watford’s first goal – that completely changed the dynamic of the whole game.
“Before that, Watford looked dead and buried to me – their body language and they were hitting hopeful balls into the box which Wolves were dealing with.
“But Deulofeu produced that little bit of individual magic to put one into the top corner and that completely changed the rhythm of the game. All of a sudden, Watford had got a foothold and it showed.
“They continued to go from strength to strength and got through to the final.”
Stearman sympathised with Leander Dendoncker, who conceded the last-gasp penalty when he clashed with Deeney, who came across his line as he tried to clear a cross.
“It’s hard for me to admit, but it probably is a penalty looking at it, through no fault of his own,” he said. “He didn’t go to make a rash challenge – he was going to clear the ball and got ‘blindsided’ by the player (Deeney) who nipped in front of him and he gave away a penalty.
“He was unlucky. I thought he had quite a good game other than giving away a penalty, but for that he could have no complaints really and Deeney tucked it away.”