Saturday November 26, Chelsea away. Any Wolves fan will tell you that these are the fixtures you scratch off. Chalk it off on the calendar by accepting the inevitable and move on. In fact I presume this fixture brings similar philosophies from the majority of Premier League team supporters. However….
There is always a ‘however’ where Wolverhampton Wanderers are concerned. Cast your minds back to the Jekyll and Hyde season just past. These are the fixtures which Wolves relied on to pick up their points! It was all very fairytale-esque at the time, but with concentrated hindsight you knew it wasn’t the way forward and certainly not a reliable method of increasing that all important points column. Of the Molineux faithful who remain starry eyed, some point towards these arguable fluke successes from yesteryear with optimism. However, the chances of a repeat are minute at best – even if we do find ourselves frustratingly relying on smash ‘n’ grab victories against the elite due to more clockwork failure against the teams that we ‘should’ be competing against.
With Chelsea having lost more games up to this stage of the season this year than any other in the Abramovich era, including two consecutive home defeats to their title rivals and also failing to make an impact thus far in the holy grail that is the Champions League – speculation was rife that AVB was the shortened form of ‘Another Vacancy Beckons’ at Stamford Bridge. Despite this exaggerated turmoil in West London, the chances of Wolves putting the nail in the coffin were slim to comedic at best, given their recent abysmal form and the unimaginative style of play we have been subjected to as of late and the ‘shots on goal drought’ to boot.
With suspensions to Stephen Hunt and Jamie O’Hara and a previously undocumented injury to Kevin Doyle, Mick McCarthy would be forced into some changes – a situation in the past that has worked out positively for Wolves as it seems that’s the only time when Mick’s hand is forced to make, the team selection seem more viable. On this occasion Mick, so as not to totally out do himself, still managed to drop a few clangers as expected. George Elokobi, Steven Fletcher and Matt Jarvis were the replacements which forced some seemingly unnecessary positional disruption for the rest of the team. For instance; David Edwards who has started the three previous games learning a new trade at right midfield, was now instructed to play inside as part of a three man central blockade. Stephen Ward, who has been touted as the most consistent performer of the season at left back for both club and country, was moved to midfield to accommodate Elokobi’s inclusion — again to play a differing role to the one that he has finally found his feet in after upwards of five turbulent years with the club. A decision which became even more questionable when we learnt that Adam Hammill (a natural replacement for Hunt) was once again made to sit and watch from the side line. A real waste of a talent that has been so apparent in his fleeting appearances over the past year with the club. As a side note it was good to see the ever passionate fan’s favourite Ronald Zubar returning at right back, the first time this season that a natural full back has been able to fill the position.
Chelsea were comfortable enough in their surroundings, giving a first start to Spanish under-21 starlet Oriol Romeu in place of Frank Lampard, and Daniel Sturridge was named ahead of Florent Malouda as a wide piece of the front three puzzle.
As you can tell I have done my utmost to put off talking about the game itself for as long as I could muster! That’s because the traffic overflowed in the same direction as Stourbridge town centre… apologies for those without the local geographical awareness to understand that comparison. In other words it was a big blue onslaught on this Saturday afternoon. The extra man in Wolves midfield was ineffective for a second week running as Chelsea attacked with 6 and defended with 7 quelling any Wolves attempt at a plausible attack.
Mind numbingly it was woeful individual errors rather than the excellence of Chelsea that cost Wolves on the first two occasions. Nenad Milijas was found wanting in the centre circle as his options became increasingly more limited. He was robbed of possession by Ramires whose barnstorming run and shot resulted in a corner after a decent save from Wayne Hennessey low to his right. From the resulting corner John Terry nodded home unchallenged further exposing Roger Johnson’s continuing frailties in the heart of the Wolves defence. The general consensus was that Chelsea are capable of beating you in so many ways. That a tame header from a corner with non-existent marking for the first goal suggests that Wolves can’t even get the very basic of basics right at the moment.
Twenty possessionless minutes later and the lead was doubled and realistically unassailable. As pantomime season draws nearer Ronald Zubar was found doing his best impression of the Tin-Man as his rustiness was exploited by the busily impressive Juan Mata down the left who’s low cross was converted from close range by Daniel Sturridge who had drifted inside from the right losing his marker George Elokobi with ease in the process.
The two goal deficit drew a very uncharacteristic reaction from Mick McCarthy. Renowned for leaving it too late to make a change, the Wolves boss altered his personnel and system after 38 minutes, resorting to 4-4-2, replacing Nenad Milijas with Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. ‘Twas a show of positivity on paper from the Wolves boss, but with a midfield quartet of Henry, Edwards, Jarvis and Ward, Wolves were now packed with effort and endeavour, but devoid of any creative spark once more as Milijas, Guedioura and Hammill looked on powerlessly.
Wolves only effort worth noting followed shortly as Stephen Ward headed over and wide from close range. This was followed by the game, set and match as Chelsea wrapped things up in tennis style whilst threatening a cricket score. Didier Drogba was offered the freedom of the left flank and was joined in this open landscape by Ashley Cole who with more time than he knew what to do with picked out Juan Mata who finished exquisitely on the half volley from 8 yards out. One notable action that as a Wolves miser I cannot help but point out, was seeing the goal again on replay how £7 million acquisition Roger Johnson had Mata tightly marked in the build up to the goal but as the cross came into the box he stepped away from Mata towards his goalkeeper, shirking his responsibility whilst obstructing his keeper’s view. This was just one of many chinks in the Wolves rear-guard armoury.
The game eventually finished 9-2… in that increasingly noticeable ‘shots on target’ column. Chelsea settled into neutral and coasted through the second half falling into neutral and coasting towards three welcome points. They attacked with a freedom and a comfort that comes as part of the package with a three goal lead. Youngsters Mata and Sturridge looking ever threatening and Wayne Hennessey was once again the sole reason that the deficit did not stray into double figures.
The two Wolves efforts on target came together in a ten second period diverting from the wider picture. Matt Jarvis finally made us aware of his presence on the field, cutting inside from the left flank and driving with his right foot forcing Peter Cech to spill the shot. Jarvis collected the rebound and seemingly misplaced a pass across the box to the wide open Steven Fletcher. Alas it wound up in a decent spot as Stephen Ward arrived from the right though his left footed follow up was blocked en route to goal by the Chelsea defence.
The Wanderers finished the game with two left backs in defence as Stephen Ward was shifted to right back for the second game running. Youngster Anthony Forde made a cameo first team debut on the right wing and Adlene Guedioura was given nine uneventful minutes late on. Chelsea fans demanded the introduction of goal-shy Fernando Torres and were rewarded with his emergence as the game petered out. His acceleration took him past both Wolves centre halves but his attempted cheeky chip fell tamely into the Welsh number one’s arms to round off the action.
As has been well documented, this was and by right should never be a fixture which Wolves fans expect anything from. They would however like to see an end to the naivety in defence and the continuous care-free individual performances that go unpunished and unaddressed week after week. It is becoming increasingly tiresome for Wolves fans to be facing up to ‘must win’ games but that is exactly where they find themselves with Sunderland at home next week. Desperation which is unwarranted given the fact that we are not even half way through the season and it begs the question, what if we don’t win? What is the consequence of not winning a game that will undoubtedly be glorified in the press all week as being of the utmost importance? You can draw your own conclusions.
One final mystery worth mentioning was the post-game reaction of the Wolves commander in chief. Mick McCarthy, for the second time in one day, had an out of body experience, criticising his players in his interview commenting that the performance was unacceptable and that his team had ‘robbed’ the away supporters of £50. However refreshing it may be to hear this blunt honesty from a man who time and again has failed to acknowledge a below par performance, it is a little undermined by his reaction from the Everton game one week ago. After that game, in which Wolves had played a much weaker opposition, competed with half the energy they produced at Chelsea and mustered up no plausible efforts on target throughout the entire game, McCarthy infuriatingly told the press and the Wolves fans that he was quote “delighted” …leaving me to think that this misguided logic and baffling inconsistency wreaks of a man who is slowly losing touch to the walls that are crumbling around him.
Alas forever, (for our sins) we are Wolves.