Forty five minutes played, two-nil down. Where’ve we seen that one before?
It is in fact the worrying statistic that now looms ominously over the Wolves’ heads. In the last three games, we have found ourselves trailing by two goals at the break, without offering much in the way of resistance. The first time you can let it go, the second time considering it was at Anfield you can gloss over it, but by the third time – at home to Newcastle United, you have to start wondering if anything is being learned from the run of consecutive defeats we find ourselves at the mercy of.
After all, it’s now our third season in the top flight. We must know by now what it’s all about. Yet the team and arguably perhaps moreover the management, are approaching each game with the same naivety and overwhelming ignorance as if the mounting problems are just going to fix themselves. This tends not to be the case, especially in one of the most punishing and cut-throat leagues in the world.
The Wolves starting eleven had finally returned to mirror that which began the season so positively. Although that now seems eons ago, it was a welcome relief for the crowd in attendance that we have duly noted that this particular starting 11 had not lost a game so far this season. The two teams traded blows for fifteen minutes. Wolves had found the passing rhythm and fluidity that had served them so well in the embryonic stages of the season, creating half if not decent chances for Jamie O’Hara and Kevin Doyle. It should be noted that Tim Krul in the Magpies’ goal currently leads the ‘Fantasy Football’ tables for goalkeeping points, and we soon duly understood why. He was dominant in the familiar dwellings of his penalty area, saving smartly from the O’Hara free kick, collecting crosses with ease and readjusting to save smartly with his legs following a deflected effort which looked distinctively goal-bound. The young Dutchman started as he meant to go on.
It wasn’t long before Wolves’ recent inexplicable defensive frailties were exposed. Little movement and non-existent marking were the order of the day as Demba Ba nodded home the Newcastle opener with ease following a corner from Cabaye. Whilst Johnson, Stearman, Berra et al frustratingly looked at each other for answers, the foreboding sense of deja vu was creeping up the turnstiles and infiltrating the stands at Molineux. Behind again, and if recent patterns were anything to go by, our bad luck tends to come in twos.
Wolves offered a marginally positive response, seeing more of the ball in the opponents final third without producing anything of note. Our most threatening attacking outlet, the wing play was limited at best. If I’m being straight up about it the crossing from Matt Jarvis and Stephen Hunt was nothing short of woeful. On the odd occasion they managed to get the ball off the ground and beat the first man, the cross was misdirected and sailed tediously over everybody’s heads. Kevin Doyle was ploughing his furrow outside of the box again, found wanting on the wings and missing in the penalty area whenever our attacking play developed – someone in the stands added in jest that his new four year contract extension guaranteed us at least another ten goals.
With Wolves’ extra focus in attack, Newcastle always looked a threat on the counter with the pace of wingers Gutierrez and Obertan, whilst the Wolves back line appeared increasingly susceptible as they allowed first Gutierrez and then Cheik Tiote clear sights on goal only for them to master their own downfall.
The inevitable was apparent just after the half hour when Jonas Gutierrez’s obvious threat was strangely ignored by Wolves and he doubled the Newcastle advantage. I speak with bewilderment and surprise because I could not fathom any other tone when describing the second goal. It seems all too obvious to pick up on the opposition strengths as you go, and work to nullify them. Instead and I’m not exaggerating here, Gutierrez won the ball on the half way line, inside left – he broke not two but three Wolves challenges, who in turn gave up the ghost at he glided past another two defenders before driving home to Wayne Hennessey’s bottom left. 2-0 on the board, 1,800 delirious Geordie’s looked rather shell shocked as to how easy it was all playing out for them.
I can’t fade to half time as woefully as the team without touching on two penalty decisions, although unlike the local press I do not want them to be the scapegoat for our fourth consecutive loss. Firstly Jamie O’Hara was on the receiving end of a swashbuckling swing of Steven Taylor’s right leg on the edge of the area – it was touch and go, and referee Mark Halsey touched and awarded a free kick. Television replays since may prove decisive, but in full flow it was difficult to decide either way. The second was more obvious, purely by way of logic. Matt Jarvis went down deep into the area this time over the leg of Daniel Simpson, again Mark Halsey refused to bite and allowed play to resume. Now, judging by the extravagance of the one-cap England winger’s tumble, it was either a penalty or a booking for diving, one or the other – Halsey chose neither. In all honesty it would have papered over the cracks anyway, even the most ardent supporter could not deny that Wolves didn’t deserve to be behind after another uninspiring first half display. The crowd hounded the referees as they departed the field at the break, although I do stress it wasn’t Mark Halsey who allowed Ba a free pass at goal, and it wasn’t Mark Halsey’s fault that five Wolves defenders buckled under the advances of just one man for the second, if anything it was clutching at straws and I would have hoped that McCarthy and his backroom staff would realise that Wolves themselves were very much the main party on which to lay the blame.
I’m starting to see why Wolves chose Black and Gold all those moons ago as their colours. Someone must have had the foresight that such a contrast would not only reflect the kit but the team as well. Following two substitutions in the second half, Dr Jekyll was given his marching orders and Mr Hyde cam out to play.
To a deafening chorus of ironic cheers and jeers, Karl Henry’s stay of immunity was finally brought to an end after another lacklustre performance in a Wolves midfield that was constantly found wanting, as he was replaced with who many see as the ideal candidate for the central berth in Algerian Adlene Guedioura. Stephen Hunt, himself on the back of a poor game with little contribution was replaced with another whom the Wolves’ faithful feel starved of seeing, exciting young winger Adam Hammill. Allow me to juxtapose, but with inevitable coincidence the game turned on it’s head. After 65 tedious minutes there was something about Wolves. Guedioura was combative as we know he can be, but unlike Henry he bought a positivity with his play, always looking to advance, to beat a man or two (which he did numerous times) before trying his luck or picking an precise pass. Advancing the play rather than slowing it down, it was refreshing. In turn Hammill offered something different out wide. He likes to showboat every now again, which I imagine does not sit too well with the old fashioned traditionalist McCarthy, but he also produces which you cannot compensate for. His pace and ability with the ball at his feet saw Daniel Simpson and Ryan Taylor turned inside out on more than one occasion, and his pacey and direct crossing was something which Wolves had failed to replicate for the last few games at least. Steven Fletcher, the talisman up top had fed off scraps at best all day, often having to backtrack for headers or fashion his own half chances. This was until Hammill (who by this point had switched wings) evaded two defenders on the Wolves left and adhering to the old cliché and putting it on a plate for Fletcher. A half decent accurate cross is all the Scotsman needs and this was painstakingly evident as Hammill found him unmarked at the far post for a simple header and Wolves lifeline.
Wolves renewed energy and ability forced them on, with Newcastle creating only one chance of note in a second half in which their aim was to contain. Molineux erupted in the 90th minute when Kevin Doyle prodded home at the second attempt after another fine point blank save from the impressive Krul, the linesman’s raised flag was lost in the delirium as the masses were quickly bought crashing back down to earth as the goal was ruled out by way of the original cross going out of play. This perhaps a more poignant topic of debate, as it seems that there was little chance he could have been totally decisive as to whether the ball went out or not, and by this point, the current 11 deserved more for their improved efforts. Robbed? Not quite.
It is obvious that issues in personnel need to be addressed, and lessons are still to be learned. A late equaliser, or the passing of the buck to the officials will do no good in these inquests.
The fact that Wolves continue to start games with a worrying ineptitude poses many questions on what exactly is being said and what preparation is happening prior to each game. I touched earlier on how it seems the ideology is that problems will fix themselves, and that churning out a similar starting eleven whilst ignoring benched talent may provide a consistency on paper but seems to be driving Wolves into a losing streak they may find difficult to halt. No doubt about it and I don’t want to make any suggestions or statements on what I think Mick should or should not do, I can only look at the evidence. Guedioura and Hammill not only changed the game today but they changed Wolves. Fact. Everyone around them who prior to this has looked sluggish and without ingenuity, raised their game and looked far more confident and comfortable with each other. Is it really as simple as starting these two players? Seriously, perhaps. If the current eleven are not producing, and four losses on the bounce proves that the case, perhaps ringing a few changes will turn our fortunes. After all, undoubted talent such as Guedioura, Zubar, Hammill and Milijas find are wasting away on the sidelines but are chomping at the bit to prove in essence, their manager wrong. It can only work in the clubs favour, at the end of the day they cannot currently do any worse. It sounds harsh, but it’s fact based reality.
Seven points from 3 games was a real achievement, 7 from 7 doesn’t look so good.
Only the small matter of the Black Country derby next up in two weeks time. It’ll be hearts over heads for the fans, but it HAS to be the opposite for the manager.
Albion away… for our sins.
Out of darkness, cometh light.