Well, I’ve perked up a bit. After the stinging wounds from the weekend defeat against QPR, Wolves put in a refreshing performance Tuesday evening against Millwall in the Carling Cup. ’The Three M’s’ is common terminology in and around Molineux, used as a collective phrase mainly by supporters in reference to the clubs hierarchy: McCarthy, Moxey and Morgan. Conclusions drawn from Tuesday night’s encounter also centered around the tale of another significant three M’s: McCarthy, Millwall and Mickey Mouse — alright so technically it’s four, so allow me to elaborate.
McCarthy – because he now has to be strong enough to make tough decisions due to the selection dilemma at his disposal.
Millwall – because I’ve heard countless times already “but it was only Millwall”. True, but they fielded their strongest side and are potential playoff contenders from the Championship. It is put deeper into perspective when you see how other Premier League side’s ‘second strings’ faired against lower league opposition; Man City’s billion pound reserve side could only manage a 2-0 win against Birmingham City, a strong Liverpool eleven beat Brighton by only one goal, Blackburn Rovers stuttered to a 3-2 victory over League 1’s Leyton Orient whilst Arsenal’s 3-1 over Shrewsbury Town makes Wolves’ five star demolition of Millwall look even more impressive.
Mickey Mouse – because once again the achievement is diminished as it took place in the third round of the ‘Mickey Mouse’ Carling Cup. A competition that regularly draws record low attendances is seen as a learning curve for most top side’s budding youngsters and a chance for everyone else to give squad players a run out, more of a hindrance than anything else. Nevertheless, Wolves are now 9-0 from two games in the competition and hopefully will be a springboard to a chance in the first team for some of the impressive performers. It’s no basis to get carried away, but certainly has the foundation of optimism about it. Personally, I hope that the fact it was the League Cup and that the opposition came from outside of the top flight will not diminish the efforts and quality performances from the obvious talent that took to the field last night. I also hope that Mick McCarthy does not use the stage and setting as an answer in his own mind as to whether or not he now has a genuine selection dilemma.
Wolves fielded a much changed side as expected to the one that went down without so much as a whimper against QPR at the weekend. Berra and Stearman remained but as a central defensive duo, with youngster Matt Doherty and George Elokobi either side of them. The midfield saw Stephen Hunt on the left wing with the terribly unlucky Adam Hammill his partner in crime on the left. Adlene Guedioura started in his natural combative central midfield role with Nenad Milijas whilst David Edwards played an unfamiliar role supporting Welsh international Sam Vokes up front. Dorus De Vries replaced Wayne Hennessey between the sticks whilst there was no sign of injury hit Ronald Zubar, Kevin Foley and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake in the squad, all three of which would surely have featured if not for their fitness woes.
McCarthy’s men dictated the pace from the first whistle, with quality control and precision passing a welcome sight to the 7,000 or so in the stands. Much like Wolves at the weekend, Millwall were blown away in the opening 10 minutes. The midfield four were fluent and lively, moving the ball with one touch passes and switching the play leaving the Lions chasing shadows. David Edwards poked in the first from close range after Sam Vokes miscued a header, and Adam Hammill hit his first goal for the club from a 25 yard set piece, a real pearler into the top right hand corner giving us a glimpse of the quality he possesses especially from dead ball situations. Relentless work from Adlene Guedioura put the third on a plate for George Elokobi shortly after. The Algerian looking astute in a central midfield role, battling for possession and most pleasingly being constructive and positive with it, something main stay Karl Henry should consider looking into now and again. Adlene took the ball in the centre of the park and with a mixture of nice touches and determination took it past five in blue to gain a valuable assist. The second half saw Michael Kightly replace Dave Edwards up front after a useful 45 minutes in his battle for fitness and Kightly later switched to the right wing when Stephen Hunt made way for young striker James Spray. It was Spray who sealed the inevitable, pouncing on a knockdown to fire in from 6 yards for his first senior goal for the club. The romp was completed when a limping Guedioura drove a 30 yard beauty into the top corner in the final minutes, a deserved goal from a man who had contributed so selflessly to the cause on the night.
Now, I am fully aware that this is by no means cause to believe we are ‘back on track’. Everybody’s desire comes under scrutiny in this competition, Millwall like Wolves I am sure have other priorities. However, it is a real insight to the undoubted talent that has warmed the substitutes bench at Molineux so far this season. The manager gave us an indication post-match of how impressive performances from the midfielders has now provided him with a real headache for his next Premier League team selection. Honestly I can’t see him taking a blind bit of notice and returning to the same four which provided so little against QPR, but I and many others I have spoken to hope that we are wrong.
Adam Hammill is arguably the best crosser of a ball at the club, whilst Hunt often struggles to get the ball off the floor and crossing has never been Matty Jarvis’ strong point – I’m not saying they don’t bring a lot to the party because the evidently do, it’s just something which now must be considered.
Nenad Milijas is that affordable luxury in midfield. Unfairly labelled as ‘not a player in the McCarthy mould’ because he doesn’t “put a shift in” as much as others, yet shouldn’t we really focus n what he can bring to the side i.e something different. His peach of a left foot would be welcomed at corners and free kicks, as well as his ability to work the keeper from range evident from the amount of shots we uncharacteristically totted up on goal last night. A real fan favourite on the whole, Milijas seems under valued in the management eyes, they paint the picture of this trudger in midfield who does not track enough and is limited in his tackling. Last night should have erased all of these perceptions. Milijas sat deep, was continually winning the ball on the edge of his own area, and sprayed the ball all over the park with precision and real quality to set up attacks time and time again. At the end of the day he is a player of international pedigree with a none to shabby Serbian team. Given the license to do what he does best rather than being sanctioned as a workhorse, he has undoubted potential to be a game changer.
Finally, Adlene Guedioura. An unknown entity when he arrived in January 2010 from Belgium. Nicknamed ‘the new boy’ when he “came to Wolves for fame, but we can’t pronounce his name” made a telling impression in his first few games, showing a quality first touch and the technical ability to adapt quickly to life in the English top flight. Injury has been the real monkey on his back, having never been fit enough to put a decent run of games together in his 20 months or so with the club. Guedioura very much proved his worth last night though. Much like the role and reason why Karl Henry is seen as so irreplaceable in the starting eleven, Adlene is combative in midfield; a tireless worker and a ball winner. Unlike Henry, he is comfortable in possession and productive with the ball at his feet, also showing an ability to work the keeper from distance and a relentlessness that epitomises the old ‘if at first you don’t succeed’ adage. I’m not going to career off into another Henry bashing, but nobody can argue that Guedioura is not capable of and possibly even better suited to that ‘Henry role’ that we have been lead to believe nobody else can play.
With the analysis over and the cards on the table, I will reiterate what I’m sure most people are thinking – yes it was ‘only Millwall’, and yes it was potentially only a kick-about in the much undermined League Cup, but these guys have all the tools to make a difference to Wolves, especially after we have stuttered and stumbled in recent weeks. They were sent out with a point to prove, and individually and collectively could do no more. It would be unexpectedly refreshing to see Mick give them a chance to prove themselves on the bigger stage not only against Liverpool in a tricky environment, but at home to Newcastle the week after would be a real litmus test for the players who have so far had to spectate. They have bottled up their frustration and disillusionment. Now it is time for them to reach for the chalice and stake a real claim to be part of the continued evolution and improvement of Wolverhampton Wanderers as a Premier League club.
Forever, we are Wolves