Much like the education centres around the country, Wolverhampton Wanderers broke up for their Christmas break on Tuesday with much to ponder over the festive period as they reflect on what they have taken in this season of giving and in Mick McCarthy’s case how good will may not be extended to ALL men…
Two teams with contrasting styles, ideology and fortunes came head to head at Molineux as Wolves hosted their second home game in three days against Norwich City. The visitors still very much ‘living the dream’ buoyant from two consecutive promotion campaigns and exceeding all expectations in their return to the English top flight whilst the home team were punching well below their weight, teetering once again ominously above the dreaded relegation zone and showing little of the progress that once assumes comes naturally as the seasons go by in the Premier League.
In wake of their latest home disaster against Stoke City, Mick McCarthy was heralded for making a long overdue change to the starting line up as Sylvan Ebanks-Blake returned to the starting line up to replace the not only goal but shot-shy Kevin Doyle. The spirit was good natured before kick off as the Molineux crowd’s winter blues were lifted by the return of their favourite number 9 who’s plethora of goals propelled them out of the Championship and into the promised land. Paul Lambert stuck by the principles that have bought him so much success so far this season by sticking with a standard 4-4-2 formation with the attack spearheaded by Welsh international Steve Morison and this seasons unlikely hotshot Grant Holt.
With all the circumstance and consumerism that comes with the Christmas period we often forget the very religious standing that underlines the whole occasion. Mick McCarthy got a message of biblical proportions after just 12 minutes of the contest in the form of a ‘Surman’ on the mount. Andrew Surman a talented midfielder who suffered an unpleasant season in the Premier League under McCarthy as I’m sure others can relate to – finding it hard for his face to fit, playing second fiddle to arguably less talented players in the same position returned as if it was written in the scriptures to haunt his old boss whilst proving that he does indeed belong at this level. The comedy of errors had rolled over from Saturday as blown coverage down Wolves’ right flank and non-existent marking in the area allowed Surman, not famed for his headers, an easy nod from close range.
As an air of resignation and resentment clashed with an eerie sense of déjà vu in Wolverhampton the two teams had showed their hand early. Norwich were intent on sticking to their beliefs and footballing ideology. Champions League winning manager Paul Lambert has built a team famed for attacking, passing football and a mentality that no matter what happens at the wrong end of the field they can outscore their opponents at the other. As the Canaries kept the ball well and passed Wolves to bits in the early exchanges, Wolves were intent on playing their trump cards in the forms of wing outlet Matt Jarvis and getting joy from the aerial prowess of Steven Fletcher. In a frustrating opening 20 minutes or so Wolves executed plan A with little joy, but seemed vacant of any other ideas. Matt Jarvis found sparce joy against young prospect Kyle Naughton at right back but his delivery was as inconsistent as his seasonal form whilst his wing partner Stephen Hunt drifted inside vacating his position all too often, exposing Wolves on the right side. His crossing was woeful at best once more and his only telling contribution to the game came as he looped the ball over the bar from 6 yards out with the empty goal at his mercy. Up top Fletcher was busy, coming short to link play between striker and midfielder and winning countless flick ons in the air with the intended target Ebanks-Blake unable to complete the pre-planned method.