Nuno Espirito Santo defended his selection policy and said he was proud of his cubs after picking one of Wolves’ youngest teams for many years in the Carabao Cup defeat at Aston Villa.
A youthful Wolves went down 2-1 to end their eight-match unbeaten run in all competitions after Patrick Cutrone cancelled out Anwar El Ghazi’s opener in the 55th minute only for Ahmed Elmohamady to grab the winner two minutes later.
Head coach Nuno handed debuts to Dion Sanderson, 19 and Chem Campbell, 16, from the start, while Taylor Perry, 18, made his first start and Benny Ashley-Seal, 20, 22-year-old Flavio Cristovao and Terry Taylor, 18, made their debuts off the bench.
Campbell became the club’s youngest post-War player at 16 years, 304 days, and second youngest in history after Jimmy Mullen (16 years, 43 days) in February 1939.
Wolves’ average age was 21 years 295 days and apart from goalkeeper John Ruddy and captain Ryan Bennett, there were just 86 appearances between the other nine starters – and 44 of those were from Ruben Vinagre.
“The young players competed and gave everything, you have to give everything you’ve got,” said Nuno.
“This was the idea – give everything, it was a big game and you have to give everthing you’ve got and the players did, so I am very proud of them.
“We have a lot of young players – Chem is only 16, he’s training with us and he showed he can become a better player.
“‘TP’ (Perry), Dion – all of those players, the big thing is they’re from Wolverhampton, so they feel the club and they want to grow and perform for their families.
“I think all of their families should be proud, because they are good lads.”
A far more experienced Villa side dominated but Nuno felt he got the balance right as Wolves completed their 21st fixture of the season and third out of four away games in 10 days.
“We tried to mix experience and talent in the right places with the balance and try to bring in talent,” he insisted.
“There are moments when we expect more from the young players because they do it every day when they train with us.
“It’s not an exercise. It’s a building process. It’s a process – we are in our third season and since the beginning we try to give competition to the young boys.
“But we also had a lot of experience – big John (Ruddy) and ‘Benno’ (Ryan Bennett) to help the kids perform.
“This is the idea – to bring players on and produce what we want for the future.
“What you saw was what we tried. This is our present but we have the same approach.”
Nuno insists the youngsters will get further chances to prove themselves at first-team level.
“This talent they have, they have to release, because the chance will come again and they have to show the talent they have,” he added.
“It was a tough game, Villa are a good team, we know Dean (Smith), he has good ideas and it became hard.
“We managed the game well, we stuck to our shape and we balanced ourselves well and we had our moments.”
Nuno was unhappy with Pedro Neto, who he felt made too much of Neil Taylor’s contact when he went through in the box trying to win a penalty.
“I asked him what we teach our players is not to dive – play to the whistle,” said the boss.
“He told me he was being pushed and held, I said ‘OK, but it’s the referee who must decide’.
“I stick by what I say ‘you don’t dive and the referee should see’. I haven’t seen the images but he told me he was pushed and held.”
Cutrone scored his secondd goal for the club and missed a one-on-one chance shortly afterwards in another hardworking 90 minutes.
Nuno believes the Italian striker will benefit for the experience.
“It’s important players like him score but the game goes beyond that,” he said. “He worked hard, tried; we want options for our future.”
Midfielder Morgan Gibbs-White would have been involved but for a minor back issue.
“Since Bratislava he has something in his back which didn’t allow him to join us,” said Nuno.