Brighton ended a run of five successive defeats as they picked up a valuable point at Wolves in their battle against relegation.
Keeper Mat Ryan was the hero for the Seagulls, who move three points clear of the Premier League relegation zone.
First, Ryan bravely got down as Leander Dendoncker closed in on the rebound when Wolves dangerman Diogo Jota headed against a post midway through the second-half. Then, three minutes from time, Ryan was in the right place to stop the Belgian’s header.
In a meeting of the two beaten FA Cup semi-finalists, Brighton offered little as an attacking force and it is now 570 minutes since they last scored.
However, given their 12-goal advantage over third-bottom Cardiff, Saturday’s point means even a shock win for the Bluebirds against title contenders Liverpool on Sunday will not be enough to send Chris Hughton’s men into the bottom three.
Wolves will surely feel it is two dropped points in their quest to be the ‘best of the rest’ by finishing seventh. They drop to ninth.
Seagulls dig deep at Molineux
When Brighton beat Crystal Palace on 4 December to move into the top half of the Premier League, they were 12 points clear of the relegation zone.
In the 19 games since, they have won only three times and collected 13 points. If that form was replicated over a full season, they would have eight points fewer than West Brom’s 34 in 2005, the lowest number from any team not to go down.
Against that backdrop, it was perhaps no surprise Brighton adopted a policy of containment, which was not helped by the ninth-minute loss of Dutch midfielder Davy Propper to a hamstring injury. In the opening half hour, they had 20% possession and no shots – indeed, the Seagulls have only scored one first-half goal in the Premier League since the start of February.
Substitute Beram Kayal did at least try to end the barren scoring run after the break with a 30-yard shot that had Wolves keeper Rui Patricio scrambling as it flew over.
That was about it for Brighton as an attacking force, although they will take some solace in their first clean sheet away from home in the league since October. Central defenders Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk were outstanding in repelling in-form Raul Jimenez, even though Australia keeper Ryan took the plaudits at the end.
Despite Brighton’s perilous position and their woeful form, Hughton retains the faith of supporters, who cheered their team off at the end, and the club’s hierarchy.
However, with trips to Tottenham and Arsenal to come before a final-day home encounter with Manchester City, next Saturday’s meeting with Newcastle at the Amex looks hugely important.
Frustration for dominant Wolves
The inference is Nuno Espirito Santo’s men find it hard to break down opponents who are not so bothered about attacking themselves.
Wolves played up to that stereotype during a first half they dominated throughout without managing a shot on target.
Jota came closest to breaking the deadlock, firing wide from 16 yards after surging into the box, then clipping the top of the bar as he slid in to meet a deflected Ruben Neves shot.
The Portuguese hit the woodwork again after the break, with his header against a post causing the major scramble that turned into the nearest either side came to a goal.
Jimenez fired over from the edge of the area and Ryan easily dealt with Neves’ shot from a similar position.
However, while Wolves never looked likely to surrender an unbeaten home record that stretches back to 2 January, their Achilles heel of struggling against teams they should beat may end up costing them a Europa League place, which will be the reward for finishing seventh should Manchester City beat Watford in the FA Cup final.
Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo: “It was difficult. We had chances, we had a lot of the ball. This is football. It didn’t happen today.
“Brighton defended well. Their main objective was not to concede. Sometimes the one that hits the post will go in. We recovered the ball very high up the pitch, which requires effort. It is not easy. The boys tried everything.
“Brighton put all the bodies in front of the goal. We knew how difficult it was going to be, but we should do better.”
Brighton manager Chris Hughton: “We got a reaction and want to take value from the manner of the result. They have a lot of gifted players. We had to show work ethic and determination. If we had shown anything less we would not have got the result. Hopefully we can take that through until the end of the season.
“We are lacking a little bit of confidence in front of goal. If we can show that kind of determination we have a chance. We are on the back of two very disappointing results. We showed we are not such a bad team.
“We have been able to stay in the game against the big teams. We have not had a big defeat. Our worst defeat was Bournemouth.”