Nuno Espirito Santo called on Wolves to use the pain and disappointment of their FA Cup heartbreak to reach another semi-final – and win it.
Wolves lost 3-2 to Watford after extra time, missing out on a first final in the competition since 1960 after leading 2-1 in normal time, only for Troy Deeney’s penalty to earn the Hornets a lifeline, then winning through Gerard Deulofeu’s second goal.
Matt Doherty’s header (37) and a smart turn and volley from Raul Jimenez had put Wolves 2-0 up by the 63rd minute only for substitute Deulofeu to halve the deficit 11 minutes from time.
Wolves have now lost five FA Cup semi-finals in a row and missed out on a national record seventh successive win at Wembley, but head coach Nuno wants them to use that frustration to finally win a semi-final.
“It was emotional. It was a sad moment, we cannot hide it. It is tough, but sometimes the pain you feel makes you grow,” said Nuno.
“You have to feel it as a group. We will stick together because it is our identity.
“We will never give up and we will come again. We must keep growing as a team and try to reach a semi-final in the future and win it. It’s the ambition we have, to improve ourselves.
“We are suffering because we had it, we had it there and it got away from us, so it’s a big disappointment for us, especially for the fans.
“But it is a terrific season. Not only this year, last season we were in the Championship and came to the Premier League. We keep on fighting – each game, each challenge we had ahead of us we go and compete. That will not change, ever.”
Wolves dropped deeper to protect their lead but Watford never gave up and kept coming at Nuno’s side.
The Portuguese admitted his side’s game management got worse as the game wore on.
“We played very well in the first half, but the second half not so good,” he said.
“We could not manage the ball. Watford kept going, with long balls, and we didn’t manage well.
“When it comes to four minutes of injury time we should have possession of the ball. We couldn’t handle that and we got punished.
“I honestly think we should have done better in the last moments of the game. We must try to understand why. We are disappointed, but I’m very proud and this is football.”
“It required different management of the game, a different approach on each ball, because we were seconds away from achieving what we wanted. Let’s look at it and try to improve. We must stand up again, we have things to fight for.”
Nuno believes Wolves must learn from the setback and emerge stronger from the disappointment of defeat.
“We have to become a better team,” he added. “It’s a good chance for us to improve, so we can reach and fight to compete in these moments, and these games, against tough opponents.”
Wolves finally exited the Cup after beating Liverpool, Shrewsbury (after a replay) Bristol City and Manchester United and Nuno reflected with pride on the achievement of the club’s first semi-final since 1998.
“There were tough ties we were able to win and we played well,” he said. “All the difficult ties we had throughout, we made ourselves proud to reach the semi-final.
“We are proud of the work we’ve been doing; it’s a team that keeps on growing and improving, and even in these moments, we have to look at things and say that if we want to reach Wembley again.”
Wolves were backed by over 34,000 fans at Wembley – the biggest support of any of the four semi-finalists this weekend – and Nuno called on the Wolves family to pull together to grow stronger.
“I’m sad because of the fans. They were tremendous through the game – 34,000 people with us, but now it’s a moment we have to suffer together,” he said.
“Now we have to face a moment of sadness. Nothing we can say or do now is going to change it, but we have to stick together, knowing it’s going to be hard, so let’s look at the future and say our present has a lot of things going for it.
“We tell our supporters we are thankful, we are sad because they will not go back to Wolverhampton the way they were seconds away from doing.
“We tell them we need their support to keep on going. The togetherness between the fans and the team is the best thing that can happen in the club and what we have now is very valuable.”