“Changing the manager does not affect the way the players play on the pitch” … I begin fittingly with that quote from Wolves captain and £7million summer signing Roger Johnson. This was a quote given to journalists after the stale performance for which a review will follow shortly, au contraire Mr. Johnson, as I write both QPR and Sunderland, clubs that are guilty of doing just that, are 2-0 to the good in their Wednesday evening games and are pulling further away from the relegation mire that they were in under the previous regimes. I’m sure fans of those respective clubs would like myself and many of the Molineux masses, beg to differ…
A red mist descended upon Wolverhampton on Tuesday night both on the pitch and from the terraces. As Mick McCarthy’s chosen eleven limped from the field without so much as a whimper, those who hadn’t already walked out in disgust were left to jeer, deride and make their feelings crystal clear that enough really is enough now.
Kenny Dalglish brought his Liverpool side to Molineux for this clash in sub-zero temperatures with the requirement to keep them well grounded. After all, they had knocked out both Manchester teams, the only two viable contenders for the Premier League title, from cup competitions in the past week and earned themselves an overdue trip to Wembley in the process. Heralded once more as ‘King Kenny’, Dalglish would remind his players that such feats would easily be dampened if they were to slip up against the likes of Wolves in the league who by all accounts were ripe for the picking. With their poster boy Steven Gerrard falling victim to another niggling injury and their main goal scoring threat Luis Suarez serving the last of his much publicised 8 match ban; Dalglish opted for the in-form Dirk Kuyt and Craig Bellamy as folly for goal-shy Andy Carroll, with a central midfield trio of Spearing, Adam and Henderson.
With the ever present Karl Henry beginning a three match suspension and Jamie O’Hara still side lined, Mick McCarthy was left with a decision to make – a task which he has not undertaken too favourably in the past. The day began with the mind boggling news that although Wolves were experiencing a noticeable shortage in midfield, Adlene Guedioura had been loaned out to Nottingham Forest for the remainder of the season. A decision that did not go down too smoothly with the Wolves supporters on the social networking sights who saw it as just another example of personality taking preference over ability when it comes to squad selection. The same can be said for mercurial talent and former Liverpool trainee Adam Hammill who even in the absence of Guedioura and Henry was again not even afforded a place on the bench, the bare minimum for Wolves best crosser of the ball. McCarthy stoked the flames even further by overlooking the obvious option of Nenad Milijas who has failed to regain his place after the much maligned red card at Arsenal. Evidence of more harsh treatment and patience not being equally afforded to certain types of player. Instead McCarthy decided that Eggart Jonsson, an unknown entity signed from Hearts in late December was ready for a baptism of fire and was thrown to the lions for his first ever Premier League start against the might of Liverpool AS Wolves set up with a conservative looking 4-5-1 system as expected.
In an indifferent first half that did little to neither inspire or alarm, it was clear that Wolves fans were in no mood for niceties. The backbone of the club have been having their buttons pushed by those in charge since the end of last season and it was evident that they are not prepared to put up with much more of the evasiveness and deceit emanating from the boardroom and the dugout. They afforded their team no let off even though the opposition were of superior quality in all areas as every mistake and hesitation was greeted with groans of anguish and impatient cries from the stands. They audience were now going to exercise their right that comes with the admission fee and play judge, jury and ultimately executioner for their club.
As Liverpool enjoyed time on the ball their freedom to express brought little joy in the first half. Andy Carroll was well marshalled by the ever willing Christophe Berra and Craig Bellamy appeared in flashes forcing Hennessey into two smart saves at his right hand post as he was stifled for the most part of the first 45. The combination of Kuyt, Adam and Henderson moved the ball well across midfield, stretching the Wolves back four on occasions whilst Wolves overworked goalkeeper was at hand to deny Martin Skrtel’s close range header from a corner and caught superbly from a well struck Bellamy free kick that looked destined for the top corner.
Wolves best moments both came via Michael Kightly; firstly a cross from the right which was met by on an onrushing Dave Edwards was smartly saved by Pepe Reina, then a decent Wolves move saw the lively winger drive narrowly wide of the post after a neat one-two with Steven Fletcher in the only real moment of note for the home fans. The 0-0 score line was enough to keep the sharks at bay whose disgruntlement at seeing more of the same predictable and one dimensional approach from their team was left to simmer underneath the surface for the time being.
It will remain beggars belief once again to Wolves fans as to what was actually said in the dressing room at the interval, as Wolves endeavoured to clam up and capitulate in the second half of a game for the second week in a row. Without having to break a sweat and with little resistance offered the other way, Liverpool were 2-0 up. Firstly Andy Carroll ghosted in to the area unnoticed to get on the end of a pinpoint cross from the left wing to end his goal drought, so often does a player who cannot seem to buy a goal break his hoodoo on the hallowed Molineux turf, this achievement did not require any extensive foresight. Stephen Ward was nowhere to be seen at left back as Carroll drifted in from the flank, whilst Eggart Jonsson offered little more than a prod at the ball as he failed to track the run of the 6 foot plus Geordie striker. Although the performance left a lot to be desired, Wolves did at least look competent defensively in the first half, sticking to their unenviable tasks well and reducing Liverpool to only half chances. This was clearly all change as the second goal shortly followed. Craig Bellamy who went here, there and everywhere for the cause picked up the ball in the centre of midfield. He was then naively allowed to carry unchallenged to the edge of the Wolves penalty area, only then did Roger Johnson halt his back pedalling and make a half-hearted lunge towards the Welshman who has already placed a scuffed shot into the bottom left hand corner. Kudos most certainly does not go to Wayne Hennessey who seemed to give the ball a helping hand into the net, undoing all his smart work in the first half. Liverpool were quintessentially cruising.
The simmering frustration from the stands boiled over as they booed the team ad managers lacklustre efforts more out of embarrassment than anything else as they watched Liverpool stroll casually around the pitch with no need for a gear change as Wolves ‘headless chicken’ mentality was all too apparent.
McCarthy responded with his clockwork shot in the dark, introducing Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Stephen Hunt to the fray. Those who had considered leaving after Bellamy’s goal were metaphorically forced out of the door when the inevitable third goal came. Liverpool soaked up what Wolves tried to pass off as pressure then entered a counter attack which culminated in a four pass exchance between Charlie Adam and Dirk Kuyt as the popular Dutchman slid his 50th goal for the Reds under the outstretched legs of Wayne Hennessey.
Whilst many were already heading to the warm refuge of their cars and homes, those who did remain in the stands were left with little choice but to belittle their own misdemeanours. A solitary attempt on goal from Ebanks-Blake late into the game which struck the post was greeted with ironic exaggerated cheers from the Southbank end of the ground and a resounding chorus of “we’ve had a shot on goal” followed by cries of “shoot! Shoot!” whenever a Wolves player touched the ball hereafter.
Evidently the supporters whose buttons had now been pushed once too often were intent on giving a little derision back towards their antagonistic manager who has never seemed to appreciate nor grasp their importance for the everyday existence of the club. Sections of the crowd voiced their feelings with chants of “McCarthy must go” and “you’re not super anymore” whilst even his most ardent of followers had little substance in their defence of their failing manager. The three added minutes were greeted with jeers as if to further drive home the point, whilst McCarthy himself entered the tunnel to more selective hounding after the final whistle.
Usually and realistically, a loss to Liverpool is nothing that anybody would hold against their team. The Anfield outfit with their rich history and heavy investment would have been expected to beat Wolverhampton Wanderers before a ball was kicked. It is once again the manner of defeat coupled with the fact it could be seen a mile off which will aggravate the gold and black public the most. When supposed ‘lesser’ teams as the three that were promoted are giving the bigger clubs a run for their money purely with their attitudes and footballing ethics, it puts Wolves recent efforts to shame. As classy as Liverpool can be, little was required of them on transfer deadline day as they coasted to victory. With Wolves pre-game preparation coming under scrutiny, it is painfully obvious that Kenny Dalglish wouldn’t have lost any sleep during his preparation for the tie. Wolves remain one dimensional and easy to work out. Their only outlet is Matt Jarvis and when this does not work the ball is returned to Wayne Hennessey for another long hopeful ball which 9 times out of 10 ends up coming straight back. There is no evident tactical nouse or footballing ethics being taught to the players who as a direct representation of their manager, are simply required to ‘put a shift in’.
Hard graft and honesty is the order of the day. This is clear as the likes of David Edwards, Stephen Ward, Karl Henry, Michael Kightly – all championship players punching above their weight, are given preferential treatment week after week over the Hammill, Milijas, Guedioura’s of the world who’s ability to do something a little out of the ordinary is overlooked purely because they are not “a Mick player”. This ideology is flawed and fundamentally wrong, anyone that will argue the point I would direct their attention towards the current form and league standings.
With the obvious candidates from the summer O’Neill, Allardyce and Hughes now safely in jobs working with lush budgets compared to the shoestring which Wolves are prepared to offer, it begs the question that it may now be far too late for that impactful managerial chance which has served Sunderland, QPR and indeed West Brom so well in the past 12 months. Concerns have also been raised recently about the chairman Steve Morgan’s intentions on wasting funds needlessly expanding a stadium that they cannot fill at its current capacity and towards a CEO who is fond of coming out in the press to explain who Wolves failed to sign rather than putting forwards the wages to improve this ailing squad. Wolves fans were left asking the poignant questions who would want to come and manage here and who would want to come and play here whilst the club has the ambitionless Championship level salary cap in place.
As the doom and gloom descends over the city, the Wolverhampton Wanderers faithful are left helpless to resist as those with the all the power at the club seemingly endeavour to drive it head first in the wrong direction. A chairman with his own personal interests, a chief executive intent on lining his own pockets and a manager who has openly expressed his reluctance to work with players of proven ability all add up to the club spiralling into the Premier League abyss. The majority of the squad that get a look in on a regular basis are made up of relegated players or those brought from lower leagues. This is all the evidence needed to condemn a Championship level squad back in that direction.
If nothing else a large percentage of the current crop owes their career to Mick McCarthy, if not for him they would almost certainly not be playing at this level. For this reason it is clear that they will always work tirelessly, honestly and give their all for the cause – whether this is enough in a game which is ultimately decided by footballing ability is another entity. The picture painted for Wolves fans is one that although there may be a distinct lack of flair, ingenuity and craft in the squad, their team will get by on its heart, fight and passion. The performance last night was lacking in all three of those prerequisites. The question is when these go, and the very players who are indebted to Mick McCarthy stop playing for him, what if anything is left…?