Much like the weather at Molineux on Saturday afternoon, Wolverhampton Wanderers were very much hot and cold over the 90 minutes against Tottenham Hotspur.
The game itselt saw two sides that couldn’t have been more different. Contrasting styles, contrasting early season fortunes and contrasting morale were the orders of the day.
In the Gold corner was Wolverhampton Wanderers; 7 points and unbeaten in their opening three games, playing with a swagger and team spirit level through the roof – against a Tottenham side with no points on the board, having shipped eight goals in the process and somewhat reeling from the lack of transfer activity on deadline day, something which we have all come to associate with Harry’s boys over the past few years.
You’ll have to excuse me, but pandering to the pun users nationwide – much like the big bad Wolf, Wolves huffed and puffed today, overcame a few initial obstacles, but ultimately failed to blow the house down. Wolverhampton matched their blood and thunder, hard hitting style against the pretty patterned, woven, flowing style of Spurs. And for the best part of an hour, the two complimented each other very well, creating an exciting yet tense spectacle for the 25,000 or so inside Molineux. Eventually though, it was ‘football’ that won the day.
Wolves fielded one change from the starting eleven that was so far unbeaten in the Premier League, with Michael Kightly replacing a semi-fit Matt Jarvis on the right wing – a decision that will be discussed later, whilst Tottenham gave debuts to new signings Emmanuel Adebayor and England anchor-man Scott Parker. Wolves continued with their new found principles of a traditional 4-4-2 system with two out and out wingers to support the front men and stuck to the style that has resulted in their recent successes. The elaboration on this would be, two ball winning, combative central midfielders getting the ball wide as often as possible, leaving what is in a sense a front four to plough an offensive furrow. Wolves remained direct and rigid, getting plenty of crosses and through balls into their strikers. On the flipside Tottenham sought a more controlled style. Applying simple, short passes with plenty of movement in the midfield, their forwards link up in an attempt to stretch the Wolves back four whilst keeping plenty of possession.
The first half was very much a ‘you have a go – we have a go’ scenario. Tottenham’s patience saw a few half chances for a busy Adebayor, and plenty of opportunities to a lively Kranjcar to get some decent crosses into the area and test Wayne Hennessey from distance. That being said, as expected Wolves continued to defend impressively marshaled by Roger Johnson and aside from an early goal line clearance from Richard Stearman, they rarely threatened. In essence, Wolves had the much better of the opening hour. Trademark long range strikes from Jamie O’Hara forced Brad Friedel into a couple of decent saves, Michael Kightly headed straight into the American veteran’s arms from 6 yards out, a first half free kick from Kightly somehow missed everybody and flashed across the goal line and even Karl Henry ventured into parts unknown dribbling impressively past Ledley King and forcing another great save from those huge paws of Friedel low to his right.
At half time Wolves fans were quietly confident; the Southbank gave the team a good ovation as they departed after a first half in which Richard Stearman had been outstanding against the obvious talent of Gareth Bale. Defoe had been anonymous and Luka Modric looked totally disinterested in the contest up against Henry and O’Hara in the middle of the park.
Unfortunately, football matches are played over 90 minutes. Divided equally into two separate halves, coming together to make a complete match… there’s a cliche in there somewhere!
Wolves are all about focus. Intensity and concentration has seen them over the line in their three previous encounters this season. And as they switched off, Tottenham’s obvious yet so far estranged quality was switched on. Tottenham turned to an old ancient chinese method to break down the barrier that Wolves had laid before them – ping pong. This is exactly what they did with the ball; Parker, Kranjcar, Defoe and Adebayor combined for two identical goals both originating from the Wolves left side. I cannot think of a better way to describe how they passed the ball between them other than ‘ping, ping, ping, goal’. One touch movement at it’s best, rounded off with two quality strikes that have been hidden in the lockers of Adebayor and Defoe for too long. On the whole the defending was pretty poor, reminiscent of that from last season when the Wolves back four flailed and flopped whilst the opposition turned them inside out. If I’m totally honest I’ll give you the scope on both goals on face value;
- Stephen Ward was caught out of position,
- Berra was outsmarted for the first and slipped over for the second,
- Johnson lost his man on both occasions.
It’s tough to criticize three players who have been outstanding up to that point, but when push comes to shove those basic errors were the difference between Wolves and Spurs yesterday.
Perhaps the most disheartening fact was that Wolves should have been ahead by this point. And I now refer back to the decision to start Michael Kightly in place of Matt Jarvis. Again, it may seem harsh but I aim to deliver a sober and direct analysis of what happened. Although Michael Kightly was in no way to blame for the two Tottenham goals, he was sadly the soul reason that Wolves were not leading 2-0 by the time the deadlock was eventually broken. Kights was free down the right early in the second half, and as O’Hara, Doyle and Fletcher queued up with only Ledley King covering back for Spurs he somehow endeavoured to dissect all three attackers who would have surely taken their easy chances, with a poorly placed ball that ended up at the feet of Kyle Walker on the opposite flank.
A few minutes later, Wolves again got the better of an indifferent Assou-Ekotto and Kevin Doyle drilled a precise cross into the box with Steven Fletcher waiting six yards out and with the goal at his mercy… Kightly took it upon himself to attack the ball, which hit him in the face and ballooned over the bar from the same six yard distance. I reiterate I am not here to hound certain individuals, just to tell it like it is. After all, the Wolves faithful would like nothing more than to see their number 7 stolen from Grays Athletic return to the tantalising form of four years ago, yet I fear that he may never be the same after two recent debilitating injury spells.
This is also a reflection on the man at the top. Regardless of the fact that he had masterminded Wolves’s impressive start to the season, Mick McCarthy has struggled with decision making in the past, especially when presented with a choice. Today, Mick had to make his first real choice of the season; to pick from three or four candidates to replace Matt Jarvis so as not to disrupt the balance that the 2011/12 Wolves had achieved thus far, and evidently here he got it wrong.
The Round Up:
Tottenham were by no means world class on the day, but the additions of Adebayor and Parker made a real difference. Parker did the dirty work in the engine room allowing others to play their natural game, neat in possession and precise with his passes whilst Adebayor is a genuine target man but his contributions also allow Redknapp the freedom to play two up front which is a real rarity for Spurs these days.
Wolves continue to show signs of improvement and although they were gracious in defeat and by no means out played, the defending for both goals was worryingly naive – a step in the wrong direction for an otherwise flawless d-line in the opening 4 games of the season. Nothing lasts forever, and even the most starry eyed Wanderer knew that a loss was not too far beyond the horizon. Wolves MUST now prove the initial predictions correct, that they have really turned a corner by picking themselves up and not letting one bad result become the catalyst for a landslide. QPR at home next Saturday is the perfect opportunity for Mick’s boys to bounce back and show that the bubble is still very much afloat.
In the face of adversity, Wolves’s Richard Stearman continues to impress week after week. Many questioned his selection ahead of more astute full backs such as Kevin Foley and Ronald Zubar, but on this form there is no displacing the former England Under 21 international. Brave and brash with his tackling, adventurous going forward and comfortable in possession, he forced the mercurial Gareth Bale to swap wings in the second half in search of an easier ride. He epitomises the tireless standards and hard nosed ideologies that Mick McCarthy has for his team.
Forever, We are Wolves.