Editor’s note: Since the memory of last weekend’s Premier League football is still fresh in our minds. here’s a match report of Wolverhampton’s win against Wigan — a match of big importance due to the implications on the relegation zone. The report is courtesy of Chris Machin, a regular contributor to EPL Talk (and a massive Wolves supporter).
It was never going to be a classic. In historical proportion it was more of a David vs David than a clash of the titans. Two teams that had inadvertently combined to amass just one point between them from a possible 42 in the past seven weeks of Barclays Premier League football.
Ranked 19th and 20th in the form table, and only a touch better in the actual standings, Wigan Athletic were riding uncomfortably on a seven game losing streak with only one away goal all season and the same amount of points on the road. They met Wolves with one single point from the previous seven games and without a home win since the second week of the season. At Molineux last Sunday, something had to give.
The signs were all there for the gold ‘n black faithful. Needless to say they were far from encouraging. Wigan Athletic had been very much a part of Wolves’ previous two survival scraping seasons. However they had managed to take the maximum six points from their previous two Premier League visits to Molineux. In addition to this was the well documented recent point-free miseries of the Lancashire outfit. Sod’s law dictates that when a team are looking to shake an unwanted monkey from their backs, that ‘Wolves away’ is the perfect place to do so. Finally there was the baffling conundrum that Wolves’ fans have had to deal with throughout the previous season and the beginning of this, the failure to take points where they are expected. For example, to beat the teams around you in your home games. Queens Park Rangers and Swansea City have already feasted from the Molineux table as newly promoted sides. Perhaps more worrying was the lacklustre performances churned out in these ‘must-win’ games. With all this in mind, you’d forgive a Wolves fan for his or her pessimism.
Wolves went unchanged from their previous outing at Manchester City, with a 4-5-1 set up largely due to their lack of striking options with fitness woes continuing to get the better of Steven Fletcher and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. A little mysterious (but then again we would expect no less of Mad Mick) was the selection of David Edwards/Adlene Guedioura on the right wing whilst ‘out and out’ wingers Matt Jarvis and Adam Hammill had to settle for another bench warming role. There was also continued faith in a back four which has looked decidedly amateur at times so far this season.
Roberto Martinez opted for a variation of the 4-3-3, with former Wolves man David Jones joined by Ben Watson and Mohammed Diame as a central 3, whilst strikers Rodallega, Moses and Di Santo were deployed in attack.
I’ve decided to mix things up a little and borrow from my American influences and offer a play-by-play style report of the days action, mainly due to my recovery from an appendectomy allowing me a lot more time to break away from the furore of sitting in the stands and make some real notes as the action unfolded.
Here is a breakdown of the play as it unfolded, with all the ups and downs, contradictive emotions and mood swings experienced during last Sunday’s Jekyll and Hyde showdown.
2 mins – The first shot of the game came following a long ball out of defence from Wolves. David Edwards took a touch past Alcaraz and shot low from the edge of the area, comfortably beaten away by Al Habsi.
4 mins – The first major talking point of the afternoon. Winger Stephen Hunt collected the ball on the edge of the area, beat the Wigan defender en-route into the area, was clearly caught by the on rushing Wigan goalkeeper but admirably choose to stay on his feet, regained his balance but the chance came to nothing. It’s safe to say a penalty and a card would have been inevitable had he taken a tumble.
7 mins – The first sign of continuing joy down the Wolves left side for Wigan became apparent. Victor Moses on the right side of the Wigan’s attacking trio picked the ball up on the flank, took on and beat both Ward and Hunt but was finally stopped in the area at the expense of a corner.
The opening 15 minutes was filled with pretty uninspiring football. It was clear to see why both teams have and will more than likely continue to struggle this season. Wolves continued to revert to the long ball lottery. Where on earth was Kevin Doyle up to this point?
16 mins – Stephen Hunt delivered his first telling cross of the afternoon from the left flank, finding David Edwards 6 yards out but his header went wide. Edwards seemed to be drifting from his position on the right side of midfield in search of his natural surroundings, Guedioura was having to fill in for him and Wolves were lacking in this area.
19 mins – The first error of note is typical of the mistakes being made by Wolves this season. Johnson hit a blind pass out of defense, putting Karl Henry in danger. Henry lost possession (where’ve we heard that one before) to Hugo Rodallega who advanced but let Wolves off the hook with a tame left footed poke from the edge of the area which trickled straight at Hennessey.
In the ten minutes of inactivity to follow, the lack of atmosphere was making the real noise around Molineux. With a distinct sense of foreboding in the air, the tension in the silence suggested a crowd that was growing increasingly worried about their side’s fortunes. Wigan’s build up play was patient, whilst Wolves was tentative. Both sides showed a lack of ingenuity and quality in their approach. Frustratingly it seemed obvious to everyone else except the players that long balls aimed at small targets just wassn’t going to work.
30 mins – Golden chance for Wigan. Richard Stearman’s naivety got the better of him once again as he tried to dribble the ball out of defence. He failed to take on and lost the ball to Franco Di Santo who swept a perfect ball over the heads of the two Wolves centre backs. Rodallega’s touch is perfect as he set himself from 6 yards with only Hennessey to beat. He proceeds to slot the ball wide of the left hand post and provides Wolves with a major let off.
31 mins – GOAL!! Football’s unforgiving lessons came to the dance. A golden chance spurned at one end turned into a goal at the other. Kevin Doyle’s fear of getting into the box paid off as he advanced into the right channel and pulled the ball back across the box for Jamie O’Hara to slot home from inside the six yard box. Three goals in 4 games for the summer signing from Spurs. The celebrations that followed were notably one of relief rather than ecstasy. The atmosphere was soon subdued after the goal as the fans know logically that they cannot rest on their laurels.
40 mins – GOAL!! Wigan continued to expose Wolves on their left side again and again. Full back Emerson Boyce skipped past a spectating Stephen Ward on his way into the area. He was then bundled over by Stephen Hunt in an attempt to dig Ward out of a hole and the inevitable penalty was given. Ben Watson with a 50% penalty conversion rate this season stepped up and fired tamely straight at Hennessey. The ball ricocheted back out, luckily to Watson, who slotted into an empty net. All square.
43 mins – A spell of pressure from Wolves in response to the goal saw a number of decent crosses sent into the Wigan area that were dealt with by the keeper and his defence. After the latest cross was cleared out right to Jamie O’Hara, he swept it back first time on the half volley forcing Al Habsi to parry low near his left hand post.
The half time whistle was met with little reaction from the crowd. The TV commentator quoted that the match was “delicately poised” for the fans of both teams. It must have seemed more ‘ominously suspended’ as they could have only have feared the worst after a lacklustre first half coupled with their recent experiences.
A scrappy affair was to be expected. The two teams far from mirroring each other in their approach. Wigan utilised their three central midfielders as part of a possession game, neat and tidy and constantly passing but without any real joy. Wolves were much more direct but nevertheless predictable in that they did not show anything that would have worried Martinez up to that point.
Substitution: Half time (Wolves) Matt Jarvis replaced Adlene Guedioura. Another unlucky outing for Guedioura, unable to influence the game as much as he could from the centre of the park, he was left to rot out on the wing and thus was the makeweight for the much needed second winger in this 4-5-1 system.
46 mins – A real sense of déjà vu early in the second half for Wolves fans as Wigan again were getting joy on their right flank. The lively Victor Moses was given too much time and space but opted to shoot wide of the upright from about 20 yards.
48 mins – Wigan’s intent was there for all to see as they came again. Di Santo received the ball on the edge of the area with his back to goal, turned Christophe Berra inside out before shooting low and inches wide of the post. The Wolves back line was looking extremely tentative on the back of recent poor performances.
55 mins – GOAL! Karl Henry’s first positive contribution of the season (forgive the sarcasm but that’s just about spot on). Credit where it’s due even from his biggest critic. I am open to being proved pleasantly wrong. Henry almost in nosebleed territory received the ball on the edge of the opposition area, showed incredible poise as he dropped the shoulder, beating two men and dribbled to the byline and cut it back to an unmarked Stephen Hunt. The Irishman miscued his shot and it was palmed out by Al-Habsi who picked himself up to claw the ensuing header from O’Hara that followed from off the line. Unfortunately for Al-Habsi, who must have been fuming at his defence for all his efforts, Wolves made it third time lucky as David Edwards drilled home from close range. 2-1 Wanderers.
62 mins – Wigan attempted to draw level for a second time finding more joy (yes you guessed it) on the Wolves left back position. Stephen Ward was looking like the makeshift full back he started out as, allowing Rodallega too much time and space to hit the byline and flash a low cross right across the 6 yard box and out the other side. The warning signs are apparent for Wolves as they seem to have gone into retreat whilst Wigan’s patient possession game was building pressure once more.
Substitution 64 mins – (Wigan) Albert Crusat replaced Ben Watson.
65 mins – GOAL!! I must have stepped inadvertently into the twilight zone as another Wolves goal and fine move began in the centre of the park with Karl Henry! The mainstay in the Wolves line up should have taken a leaf out of his own book on this one as he got the ball under control, stopped and looked up before sweeping a glorious ball FORWARD and out wide to Ward advancing on the left. Ward cheekily back-heeled it to Matt Jarvis, who took on and beat his man into the penalty area before an almost carbon copy of the second goal. Edwards picked up the cut back from Jarvis but his shot was blocked. The second ball fell to O’Hara whose left footer was beaten back into play by the Omanian Wigan keeper before Wolves go third time lucky once more as Stephen Ward controlled and volleyed well into the upper left corner of the net for his second goal of the season.
Kudos to Ward who by all intent and purpose had had a nightmare defensively but quickly erased those memories, and of course to Karl Henry who really should do this more often. If he’s got it in his locker, let’s see more of it because that is where 90% of the frustration builds in relation to the Wolves number 8. The scoreline — 3-1. Wolves are almost there.
69 mins – Wolves were keen on putting the proverbial nail in the coffin begin to attack relentlessly. A free kick on the right wing was whipped in impressively by the left boot of Jamie O’Hara bypassing everybody and finding Christophe Berra whose header was saved point blank by Al Habsi tipping it up and over the bar. Berra still awaits his first Wolves goal as the Wanderers were heading for the Latic’s jugular.
75 mins – Reality check for Wolves as Wigan come again. Slow and short precise build up saw them move side to side and pass and move, leading to two tame efforts in quick succession from Di Santo and Rodallega.
Substitution – 77 mins (Wigan) Connor Sammon and James McArthur replace David Jones and Hugo Rodallega. Pleasant ovation from the Molineux faithful for David Jones, another whose chances at the club were limited due to the often misguided pecking order. Rodallega’s misfiring afternoon was bought to an end as Martinez had seen enough chances go begging.
81 mins – Wigan would not lay down and die. A right wing corner found Steve Gohouri 8 yards out, who powered a header down and goalward. Wayne Hennessey reacted with a strong right handed save, tipping the ball onto the post and out.
Substitution – 83 mins (Wolves) Nenad Milijas for Jamie O’Hara. It appeared that time is running out for the fans favourite Serbian, I fear his season will now be limited to cameos like today despite the fact that we constantly find ourselves crying out for someone who can pick a lock like he can.
The game petered out with Wolves sitting back and soaking up the pressure from Wigan that was apparent but never incisive. Victor Moses continued to torment the Wolves full backs winning a free kick against Richard Stearman whilst Sammon hit the foot of the post late on as he was allowed time to turn and shoot from the edge of the area.
Sky Sports gave the man of the match award to Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi which says a lot for the game itself, but even more so for the Wolves who still couldn’t produce an outstanding performance even when they won the game.
If we take the game for what it was, there was a job to be done and, everything aside, Wolves produced when it was most vital. Although there won’t be many leaving Molineux today brimming with optimism, it is a foundation on which we can and need to build. The performance was nothing beyond a 6 out of ten. You could still spend hours picking it apart with frailties at both ends of the field. The defence still look far too susceptible, and against an attack more potent than Wigan’s of which there are many in this league, you can see Wolves coming a right cropper.
As they say though, ‘you can only play what’s in front of you’ and Wolves got in and got back out with three massive points, and to boot they were taken from the ‘competition’ effectively making it an impactful 6 point turnaround. Unfortunately Wolves can’t play Wigan every week, who must be wondering what they have to do. Eight losses on the bounce — all off the back of playing decent football. Their ethics are in the right place but something is lacking where it really matters. I’ll keep it real and certainly won’t be jumping on any bandwagons, Wolves must continue to improve massively on this improvement if they are to avoid a third season scrapping in the Premier League doldrums. The international break is followed by two games on the road, Everton and Chelsea.
I guess we should enjoy it while it lasts, and pray that the team and the management can finally see past the end of their noses and build on and learn from their experience against the league’s whipping boys on this dreary Sunday afternoon. Remember, remember the 6th of November. The day the Wolves stopped the rot.