No matter who you support in the Barclays Premier League, it’s inevitable that sooner rather than later your team’s train must roll through Old Trafford. It’s one of the games that epitomizes the smaller club’s reason for being. United away is a reward for recently promoted clubs. It would be one of the fixtures that fans of Swansea, Norwich and QPR would have highlighted in June when the fixtures emerged. If anything, it’s all about the ‘experience’ – the chance to watch your team play in one of the most prestigious arenas in world football and if nothing else the sobering fact for most that it may simply be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
It’s safe to say that the novelty has well and truly worn off for supporters of Wolverhampton Wanderers. Halfway through their third successive season in the top flight, the majority thought with their wallets and not with their hearts. As United continue to pray on the yearning of travelling supporters to add the famous ground to their checklist of visited grounds by charging upwards of £50 for the privilege of parking their rear ends on that hallowed chunk of red plastic, the performance of the Wolves team reflected my analogies with a going-through-the-motions performance of a team that had been here before and were beaten before a ball was kicked.
Of course realistically it’s another of those fixtures which you can chalk off as a defeat and accept without any real cause for concern or analysis. Mick McCarthy told the media “It’s never a good time to play Manchester United.” Although those who are into the art of clutching at straws may disagree. It’s a double headed demon; on one hand it could be argued that a Manchester United team that have gone out of two competitions in the space of one week are at their lowest ebb (at least as low as one can be in a team with such fame and fortune) lacking in confidence, with the fear of further scrutiny looming and with their insecurity just begging to be exposed. On the other hand one feared that like a wounded animal, United would set out to prove a point and strike aggressively when they are at their most vulnerable. The conundrum was Mick’s to ponder.
The question on Wolves fans lips prior to kick off was would their much maligned leader learn from the solid victory of the six days previous, and dare he change a winning team? The initial answer was inevitable. One change was enforced with Jody Craddock’s hamstring forcing him out of the reckoning after an impressive 70 minutes or so against Sunderland – Roger Johnson was recalled in his place. This we could find no fault with, it was a one way street, however it was the choices made further up field which left eyebrows raised. After the turnaround against Sunderland last Sunday, the buzz around Molineux was that we should begin our next game with the team that finished the last. Adam Hammill once again provided a welcome dose of enthusiasm and moreover quality in wide areas, whilst Sylvan Ebanks-Blake seems a more viable goal scoring threat than the misfiring Kevin Doyle. Predictably … we got neither. In another unnecessary show of unity towards an individual, McCarthy strangely decided to re-shuffle an entire midfield to accommodate the return of Karl Henry. Now, according to the man himself Mick would have us believe that as a team we would capitulate without Henry, that Wolves simply cannot function without a player who to the trained eye offers nothing out of the ordinary. The Sunderland result proved otherwise and it seemed that this performance would leave Mick no choice but to controversially start without his favourite constant of his reign in Wolverhampton. Instead Henry waltzed (yes literally waltzed) straight back into the starting 11 as Mick moved a battling central midfielder in David Edwards out of his comfort zone and onto the right wing where his effect on games has been decidedly limited in previous matches. It is probably worth mentioning as I seem to do as clockwork every week that whilst Wolves persisted with a player out of position at right midfield, they had two specialist wingers watching helplessly from the side lines in Hammill and Hunt. I presume by now you get the drift. Double ‘M’ as bafflingly consistent as ever. Stay tuned for more Mick madness coming very shortly…
Manchester United; 2-0 up at Old Trafford after half an hour, not the most earth shattering occurance in the history of the game I’m sure you’ll agree. With United enjoying the lion share of possession and Wolves chasing shadows it seemed that the visitors had read, rehearsed and perfected the script prior to the kick off. With a plethora of talent in the form of Welbeck, Rooney, Nani, Jones et al it’s understandable how they got to this insurmountable position after just one third of the game, yet Wolves fans would and hopefully should find the manner in which they allowed the hosts to do so a little hard to stomach. For a team with such craft and ability they could potentially have carved Wolves open in so many ways – disappointingly they had to call upon very little of their abilities to move into a two goal lead. Two near identical strikes from Nani and Rooney spoke volumes of Wolves ineptitudes. Both goals came from a central position; around 20 yards out, followed a series of short passes and beat Hennessey low to his right. Karl Henry, the ‘great protector’ of the Wolves ailing back four was found wanting not once but twice with two inexplicably soft attempts to first close down the attacker and then block the shot. To be caught twice in almost mirrored fashion shows a real naivety and unwillingness to learn from previous mistakes. Trust me, I’m not just making Henry a scapegoat for the situation because I don’t agree with his continual selection, I’m calling the action as it was and his half-hearted effort on both goals was almost offensive to the occasion and opposition. Again, if Alex Ferguson’s side had turned on the style to carve Wolves apart rather it would have been a lot easier to accept, instead Wolves timid resistance and reluctance to give that little extra that playing a team of such magnitude warrants leaves a huge question mark about weekly preparation and motivation.
This takes us nicely into the second part of the Mystifying World of McCarthy segment. Now wait for it, because this is unreal. Cue the bullet points.
- In response to being two goals behind, Mick McCarthy reverts to a seemingly less penetrative 4-5-1. The need to see more of the ball allows the benefit of the doubt on this one.
- David Edwards is removed possibly due to injury. Wolves replace their already out of position right sided midfielder, with another central midfielder in Nenad Milijas… the plot thickens
- As if things could not get any more puzzling, Kevin Doyle, Wolves terribly out of sorts striker is shifted to the right side of midfield. . . all of this going on whilst once again two ACTUAL right midfielders remain helpless bystanders.
- Answers on a postcard please!
Whilst United continued to ease into a rhythm of which they have become so accustomed over the years, with endless creativity, varied attacking options and looking as if they would score as and when they pleased – Wolves to their credit dared to dream. With whatever platitudes McCarthy passed on at half time, Stephen Fletcher rose highest shortly after the break nodding home a measured cross from Matt Jarvis to claim his 6th goal in 8 games and continue his stand alone contribution to the cause. Another impressive headed goal from the man in international exodus this time against one of the Premier League’s big boys gives Wolves fans something to hold onto.
Fletcher’s goal proved nothing more than a collector’s item as any brash talk of an unlikely Wolves fight back was quashed by two more goals from the repeat offenders Nani and Rooney. Both emanating from Wolves left flank, Valencia’s low drive somehow avoided five players and the entire Wolves defence to allow Nani an easy tap in, whilst Rooney pounced on a rebound for United’s fourth on the half volley from 8 yards out. As scant consolation, at least this time United were forced to call upon their individual ability to put the ball in the net. Passes, touch, movement and composure of the highest quality made the third and fourth United goals and gave everyone involved with Wolverhampton Wanderers just cause to believe they could be gracious in defeat, and Rooney’s precise finish at a tight angle just about cancels out Roger Johnson’s pitiful attempt at blocking the shot (turning sideways and ducking your head tells all we need to know about his bravery and commitment to the uphill task that lies ahead).
Aside from another busy performance from Stephen Fletcher, holding his own against Euro 2012 hopefuls Ferdinand and Jones, Matt Jarvis was the only other standout player in gold and black on Saturday afternoon. A welcome return to somewhere near his best for the one cap wonder who’s season so far has left a lot to be desired. Refreshingly Jarvis referred to what he does best, getting the ball down and attacking the full back, cutting inside to mix things up and finally delivering a series of decent crosses, a side to his game which has been criticised in recent weeks. It was encouraging to see Matt Jarvis getting so much joy in a match up was with Chris Smalling, who is also on contention for international honours.
If individuals are open to praise then others must deal with warranted criticism. Not for the first time I find myself telling of Kevin Doyle’s worryingly inept performances. Once the golden boy at Molineux who ploughed such a tireless furrow as a lone striker and looking dangerous in front of goal, the Irishman has gone off the boil and beyond this season. Whilst playing second fiddle to Fletcher in the goals compartment, Doyle is not even providing a decent foil for his strike partner, spending much of the game with his back to goal from anonymous positions on the pitch and his trips into the penalty area are as rare as the bluest of moons.
Karl Henry continues to go against everything the manager preaches about him. Supposedly the backbone of the side, the one that allows the others to play – Henry for the most part just seems to be frustratingly in the way and the tempo is guaranteed to be reduced every time it passes through him. It would be understandable if he possessed a tackling and marking ability to make up for his lack of attacking ingenuity, but he simply does not.
It also seems that Roger Johnson fooled us all into thinking he was the ‘signing of the season’ with three commanding performances to kick off his Wolves career. The captain has since been dropped in favour of the old timer Jody Craddock and continues to contribute greatly to Wolves’ defensive woes.
Problems, that it seemed had finally dawned upon the man that matters in the previous clash with Sunderland. Johnson was dropped, Doyle was removed for his ineffectiveness and Henry’s place had been filled amicably by a man who should have threatened to keep him out of the team. Of course, to stick by these decisions would be the same as a confession from Mick that he was wrong in the first place and that his original ideas for the progression of the team were way off the mark – something which his stubborn demeanour will not allow him to go through with, whether it be for the good of the club or not…
Two home games in three days are next on the agenda for Wolves. Stoke and Norwich City come to Molineux deep into December with six much needed points required to keep the wolf from Mick’s door.