Wolverhampton Wanderers were off to a flying start this season picking up seven points from a possible nine. Unfortunately for Wolves reality has set in and the team hasn’t gained a point in their last five.
Losses to Tottenham, QPR, Liverpool, Newcastle and most recently West Brom in the Black Country Derby have sunk this club to the lower half of the table. Relegation form is plaguing the club, yet Mick McCarthy and his merry band of Championship quality players continue to get a pass by the English media.
To call all of Wolves’ players Championship quality is a little harsh. The likes of Jamie O’Hara, Steven Fletcher, Kevin Doyle and Roger Johnson are Premier League quality. On their day these players have the ability to carry this team. Unfortunately, since winning promotion to the Premier League three seasons ago consistency has been hard to find; as well as players to augment the talent needed for this level. At least for McCarthy.
Coming into the season Wolves were outside contenders to fight relegation according to most pundits. However, they have shown nothing but relegation form since the beginning of September though they have picked up two wins in the Carling Cup. The two big signings in the off-season, Johnson and O’Hara, have only improved the squad marginally.
Since coming up in ‘09-’10 McCarthy has stayed true to several of the players that won Wolves promotion from the Championship in ‘08-’09. Sylvain Ebanks-Blake was a superstar in the Championship scoring 25 goals in the team’s promotion year, as well as winning the Golden Boot and Player of the Year awards. However, since making the step up to the Premier League, Ebanks-Blake’s goals have come at a premium. Ebanks-Blake’s goal tally in the Premier League currently sits at nine, and what supporters should wonder is why he is routinely picked by McCarthy. With Wolves chasing the game against the Baggies last weekend Ebanks-Blake ran around the pitch aimlessly looking for a pass and the opportunity to squander a shot at goal. Ebanks-Blake is similar in style to Doyle, but lacks the same work ethic.
Along with Ebanks-Blake McCarthy still relies on players such as Karl Henry to anchor his side. A lot has been said of Henry’s inability to do anything on a football pitch that resembles football, and unbelievably he is always one of the first names on the team sheet.
Meanwhile, once sought after winger Matt Jarvis has settled into his role as a player of potential playing on a mediocre team. In reality Jarvis is already 25 years old, a time that most players peak or have already peaked. Despite all the praise Jarvis has received in the past 18-months he has never maintained his performances from week to week. With his club trailing West Brom on Sunday McCarthy didn’t even have the belief in Jarvis to help turn the match around and instead opted for Adlene Guedioura — another extremely ineffective player that wears a Wolves shirt. Last season’s England call-up doesn’t seem warranted when looking at Jarvis’s top-flight goals and assist totals: Seven goals, nine assists. Once again his call-up could have been down to a lack of English talent rather than Jarvis’s performances. Seven goals and nine assists from the club’s ace winger just doesn’t cut it.
Too many managers lose their jobs in football these days. However, no one has overstayed their welcome as much as McCarthy, though Steve Bruce is close. Some will say he has maintained Wolves’s Premier League status, but that argument is hard to swallow when Wolves have fought relegation over the past two years and have almost looked certain to go down in both years. In ‘09-’10 they finished eight points above the drop zone thanks to Burnley, Hull City and Portsmouth being dreadful. Last year they were saved on the last day of the season by one point despite losing on the last day of the year.
Unlike Stoke City, who came up with Wolves in ‘09, Tony Pulis has maintained the Potters’ Premier League status and built on it last season with a mid-table finish and FA Cup Final appearance. Stoke is a club in similar financial circumstances, but has bought wisely and made the Britannia Stadium into a fortress. Though Pulis relied on Rory Delap and others, after promotion he spent money when the time was right — something McCarthy hasn’t done, and when some money has been spent it has been on the likes of Stefan Maierhofer. But even when McCarthy has bought wisely in Jelle Van Damme he rarely played the footballer and sold him just as fast as he bought him. Pulis may still play a long ball style, but at least they have the appearance of a team that can play it on the ground. However, Wolves regularly lack ideas and routinely play the ball back to front. If O’Hara can get on the ball than Wolves have a creative threat, but once neutralized they’re grasping at straws yet again.
In a city that is struggling financially it is vital that Wolves stay in the top-flight. One in eight shops stands empty in Wolverhampton, and if the money of Premier League away fans goes the same way as the jobs have, it could be a long way back for both a historic British team, town and a place I call my second home.