Prior to kick off, there was a sizeable powercut in the city centre that threw the match itself into question. The essential source of energy went missing from the Molineux surrounding areas, and evidently from the team itself.
One team were still brim full of confidence after a much more encouraging start to their third season in the top flight. Wolves settled nicely as a unit and were giving as good as they got, both attacking and defensively, and were playing at home with the crowd very much behind them looking to bounce back from a blip and prove they were no fluke. The other were Premier League new boys, still finding their feet at the highest level, winless and wondering where their next goal was coming from after scoring just once in their opening four games. For ninety minutes on Saturday you would have been forgiven to wonder which was which.
At full time as I headed away from the stadium, past the newly developed city archives and through the old subway, my mind was racing. I was thinking about this article and wondering where on earth to begin. Those of you who follow the Wolves from Philadelphia, Oregon, Bermuda and beyond still were not far enough away from Molineux yesterday afternoon. For those of you lucky enough NOT to have been at the game, I can only tell it like it is.
If last week was a blip, then this was a disaster. I can’t speak for everybody, but for all intents and purposes I saw it coming. If you follow a team so avidly that their fortune sets the tone for your entire week, you’ll know what I mean. You just ‘know’. And I felt it deep in the gut. The omens were there. Firstly we’d lost the week before, and somehow I feared that one little knock could result in the opening of a much larger wound. Secondly we’d played well against Tottenham, held our own for much of the game against European class opposition, so by logic a similar level of performance would be more than enough against a team very much trying to tread water in this ruthless league. Thirdly and most importantly, we had been forced into more changes to the starting line up. Steven Fletcher was injured and Stephen Hunt was deemed not fit enough to start. It was disruption that a team with a decent flow could have done without.
A guy sitting two rows back from me during the game made a statement that at first seemed like a ‘Mick bashing’ because we had fallen behind, but when you think about it, it rings distinctively true. It went along the lines of “You tell me another football team in the country that would change their settled back four as a direct result of one of the strikers being injured” . . . good point to be honest. Stevie Ward is an honest pro, we all know that. His willingness to ‘put a shift in’ for the side, with heart and determination is the main reason why he has shaken the ‘teacher’s pet’ label and become somewhat of a revelation in the eyes of his most ardent gold and black critics. Although he relishes in the Mr Versatile aura, it was a misguided and costly decision to take him out of the role in which he has been so promising for club and country over the last few months. Returning Ward to pastures old, and expecting him to graze higher up the pitch disrupted a settled back four that were beginning to become the foundation from which we would build. As a direct result George Elokobi was thrown to the lions in his first start of the season, mauled by Shaun Wright Phillips who undoubtedly still has a point to prove at this level.
The majority of us had seen the ability of the new look QPR on Monday evening as they tore into Newcastle at Loftus Road. The new additions had brought an injection of quality into their play and even as they failed to break down the Magpies sturn resistance, the general consensus was that QPR could kick on from here. They must have thought all their Christmases had come at once as Wolves’s timid offering was pale in comparison to their previous opponents.
Inside ten minutes we were two behind, the natives were restless – and utterly shell shocked. Elokobi, Johnson and Berra were spectators as Wright Phillips and Barton combined for the first. I’m not exaggerating or clutching at footballing cliche either when I say this, they literally did stand and watch without any attempt at a challenge or even a flailing block as Barton prodded home.
Two minutes later, we hadn’t touched the ball again until Hennessey had to retrieve it from the back of his net again. The man whose controversial transfer almost cost QPR the Championship title last season by way of a points reduction, had light years to strike a half volley and for Faurlin to beat the Welsh number one low to his right. Once again the lack of a challenge or attempt to prevent this occurrence was baffling. Richard Stearman, who had seemingly turned a corner in his career with a smooth transition to right back, was involved this time and joined captain Roger Johnson in backing off and allowing QPR to play the short game in front and around them as if they were Barcelona. Naturally, we couldn’t believe what we were witnessing. The fight, passion and tenacity that Wolves had shown since August was anonymous. We had built a mentality of ‘if we can’t beat you we’ll make sure you don’t beat us’ which we had displayed proudly at Villa Park, but evidently we have forgotten to bring it back.
They call us a fickle bunch. The Wanderers faithful singing “super Mick” one minute, then he’s ‘McClueless’ the next. Yet it really does all stem from following a fickle team. After all these are the same guys that went out and showed character to come from behind at Blackburn to win, play so fluently against Fulham and Tottenham and grind out a respectable point against Aston Villa even with our backs to the wall. Now they were being made to look distinctly inferior against Queens Park Rangers.
Unfortunately there wasn’t much of a response either. For the best part of the remaining 80 minutes, we didn’t pass, tackle, mark or shoot, so I don’t know what else is involved in the make up of this beautiful game that we could have missed out.
Credit where it is due, Neil Warnock’s side played as well as McCarthy’s did poorly. Everything happened on the deck, they took the ball down and passed Wolves into oblivion as Wolves returned to long hopefull balls over the top and into the vacant channels. We were constantly stretched by their short, one touch game that it became painful to watch as our players vacated their position to chase down the ball mindlessly and without success. We were ill disciplined as right sided players wandered over to the left and vice versa. The strikers were found wanting in the full back position at times and it became embarrassing to watch as eleven men basically chased a ball that the opposition were unwilling to return. The addition of Barton and Wright Phillips will bring a reliable quality at this level, and QPR will look to kick on from this platform.
Even in the second half when Wolves would have been expected to come out with the proverbial ‘rocket up their arse’, it was no more than a whimper in the end as Rangers kept us at bay comfortably before adding the cherry to an already well iced cake and carving us open for a decisive third goal. Suffice to say that it was totally uncharacteristic of a Wolves side that had filled us with so much promise up to this point. I mentioned last week that we had a point to prove after the Spurs defeat. Unlike in years gone by, we had to prove that we had turned the corner as much as one set back would not become the catalyst for a downfall. So far, not so good.
The only miniscule consolation we can take from week five of the Barclays Premier League is that anything we can do, West Brom can do better. After all they shipped three to a side who had not scored a solitary goal this season (congratulations to Swansea City) and for this reason Wolves will get another chance to pick themselves up and move forwards, with the daunting prospect of a trip to Anfield to come.
Lessons must be learned though, players and management included. This clanger can either set the tone for a change in attitude and fortunes, or it can end up being the beginning of another very difficult season. The performance was uncharacteristic and unacceptable, and repeat offerings will only bring one conclusion.
I want to take the time to address a few side notes to yesterday’s proceedings. In the post match interview the Wolves boss Mick McCarthy stated that “the only person who can come out of that game with any credit, myself included, was Wayne (Hennessey).” A bleak acceptance that we don’t usually associate with the stubborn Yorkshireman. However, he was right. Mick as the the sole decision maker, again as I mentioned last week, was presented with a choice and got it wrong. The left back/striker furore was costly. However in his defence Mick would have no reason to believe that Berra, Stearman, Johnson, Jarvis, Henry, O’Hara and Doyle would have been so inept after their decent contributions so far this campaign. The manager, like the majority of the fans, would have been disillusioned at the Jekyll and Hyde performances yesterday. It does show that continuity is the key at Molineux. One or two enforced changes to the side and they go to pot – an issue which needs to be addressed. The old square pegs in round holes theory was present again yesterday. While certain creativity in the likes of Adam Hammill, Nenad Milijas and Stephen Hunt looked on helplessly from the sidelines, Mick brought Adlene Guedioura on at half time. Here we have a combative, ball winning central midfielder with an eye for goal from range. Sadly, Adlene was deployed on the right side of midfield when he clearly isn’t a winger. Meanwhile two right sided midfielders sat on the bench.
This leads me to my next point which I know will divide opinion. DJ Campbell and Joey Barton came to Molineux with something to prove after their bad experiences in this setting last season. Both were allowed to do just that. Once again the media jumped on the bandwagon and set the stage for the Joey Barton vs Karl Henry matchup that brought numerous robust challenges just over one year ago. It was clear to see who’s favour this had worked in. Henry shirked his challenges, happy to follow the players with the ball without any viable attempt to challenge or break up the play (a role which we are continually told is his own) and the sole reason why he has a bewildering immunity in the starting eleven. There was an incident Saturday when Henry, facing his own goal, put Christophe Berra in danger playing the ball back to him and he was forced to frantically clear. Henry stood with a far away look in his eyes, utterly oblivious as the crowd became frantic at his poor decision making. He was not alone yesterday, and this was certainly not an isolated incident but it is happening far too often for a player who is so unjustifiably highly thought of by management. It took him a full ninety minutes to make a plausable challenge, and afterwards Joey Barton labelled him a “Sunday league player” – I couldn’t agree more. It’s a flashback to our school days. Nobody really likes a teacher’s pet, and it seems that Karl Henry is exactly this. Even Saturday, when he is at his very worst and more of a hinderance than a help to the side, for whatever reason Mick cannot bring himself to take the man off. I am trying my best to not make this into a witch hunt, but we do have more technically gifted, able footballers who cannot get a sniff in the side, who are better suited to this central midfield berth. Guedioura, who was disappointingly sent on wide right yesterday, is a prime candidate for the engine room, as is David Edwards, Nenad Milijas and even Kevin Foley who played the position so astutely in Henry’s injury absence last season.
In the pre-match tale of the tape, Jeff Stelling claimed Henry a steal after making over two hundred appearances and costing just £100,000. I have been there for almost every one of them, and in conclusion I can only state that you really do get what you pay for. I know I’m not alone in my perceptions and there are also Wolves fans who think he is the best thing since sliced bread, but perhaps the most frustrating thing is the fact that Karl Henry is SUPPOSED to be one of us. Raised in the area and brought up as a Wolves supporter, his lack of desire and unwillingness to contribute is disrespectful to those of us who are really Wolves through and through. Perhaps he’s just not good enough. Perhaps the blame should lay with the man who continues to show blind faith in him, but there comes a point like Saturday, when it all boils over and his contribution, which consisted solely of standing in the centre circle clapping after each of the three goals went in, just isn’t enough.
This was a prominent issue raised throughout the game Saturday in the stands and I am interested to hear what the readers have to say and their opinion on Henry. If the likes of Nenad MIlijas, Adam Hamill, Kevin Foley are not considered to be making enough of a contribution to the team to get a regular start, I would like someone to tell me what exactly is Karl brings to the side so consistently that he is given more of Mick’s time and faith than others who fall off the radar after one mistake or bad game.
With a punctured morale and serious wake up call, Wolves must react like the proverbial wounded animal if they are to prevent a downward spiral. One would think that going to Anfield, to face a Liverpool side whose pride is also damaged from a poor showing at Tottenham is not an ideal situation. But it’s Wolves, and like Saturday, they have the ability to spring a surprise – and you just never know.
Forever, we are Wolves.