Raúl Jiménez punched the air and then again and again, any niggling doubts and worries banished as he wheeled away in sheer ecstasy after scoring his first league goal since last October, his first since a life-threatening fracture of his skull. His heartwarming celebration, an outpouring of emotion which culminated in him presenting his protective head guard to the away support before looking to the skies, put to bed months of pent-up frustration.
It was a doubtless cathartic moment before the Wolves fans who had been singing his name long before the first whistle and what a wonderful goal it was, the striker making two Southampton defenders look silly before applying the most composed of finishes. At full-time a visibly moved Jiménez, who required emergency surgery for a traumatic brain injury last year, embarked on a victory lap of sorts, embracing a home fan wearing a Mexico shirt before heading across the pitch to a gold-coloured pocket of this stadium.
Wolves supporters had broken into Jiménez’s “Si Señor” chorus seconds before kick-off and were still serenading the striker as he conducted media duties 20 minutes after the final whistle. “This three points and this goal go straight to Raúl and the fans,” said the Wolves head coach, Bruno Lage. “The fans did a fantastic job because they started in the first minutes singing his song. Everyone has given great confidence to him. With goals you give happiness to everyone. The face when you win is not the same face when you lose. It was a special goal for Raúl. What I saw since the first day was a guy with a big ambition to come back, play and score goals for us.”
It was not a riveting contest and the best first-half chance arrived after 44 seconds when the Southampton goalkeeper, Alex McCarthy, repelled a shot by the marauding Nélson Semedo after neat footwork by Jiménez and Daniel Podence. Romain Saïss sent a looping header at goal from the subsequent corner but that was about as enticing as things got in a dull first half punctuated by errors in midfield and ponderous decision-making in the final third.
Adama Traoré, dropped to the bench, had been about to enter but his introduction was delayed by 10 minutes after Jiménez’s match-winning strike. Traoré, standing in the away technical area, joined those in the Wolves dugout and far beyond to applaud the magnificence that unfolded. José Sá sent the ball downfield with a mammoth kick and Jiménez outmuscled Jan Bednarek before cutting inside Mohammed Salisu. Jiménez then again fooled Bednarek, who flung himself to the ground in a desperate attempt to make amends, before side-footing home and setting off on a procession towards the supporters singing his name.
Until then, Jiménez had been on the periphery, a touch unsure and getting nowhere fast. “I knew the goal was coming, I was fighting for it, working for it and all the team deserve it,” Jiménez said. “I was thinking: ‘When will the goal come?’ It felt really good. Four of our five games have been incredible; we need to keep going. The fans are always with us, supporting. It is really important for our team.”
For Southampton, the wait for a league victory goes on and things do not get easier with a trip to Stamford Bridge next. There was another sparkling performance by the teenager Tino Livramento, who provided the majority of Southampton’s thrust from right-back with gallivanting runs and full-blooded tackles. Nathan Redmond had the ball in the net in the first half after a clever swivel in the box but was offside and after the break the brilliance of Sá, kept out Saints. He made a superb double save to deny Mohamed Elyounoussi and then Che Adams from the rebound, before later confronting Armando Broja as the substitute surged through one-on-one after a fortuitous break on halfway.
Ralph Hasenhüttl’s programme notes alluded to Southampton’s struggles in the final third – “the only thing missing was the punch to kill the opponent,” he said of stalemates against West Ham and Manchester City – and it is now three league games without a goal. Sá saved well from Livramento after unselfish play by Adam Armstrong, who spotted the full-back arriving at the back post, and the sight of Hasenhüttl arching his back and leaning on his heels as Southampton huffed and puffed on the edge of the area summed up his frustration. “We are all disappointed because in the moment we are struggling to find the back of the net,” Hasenhüttl said.