Welcome to management Mr Connor!
With the statue of the late Michael Jackson standing boldly outside the venue for Sunday’s Premier League showdown, Wolves’ new boss Terry Connor is left staring down the barrel of some wholesale changes; ‘starting with the man in the mirror!’
After an encouraging battling point on the road against Newcastle one week ago, Wolves paled in comparison and were powerless to resist as their hosts were as tantalisingly good as they were inept and another victory at the Cottage was delivered from Russia with . . . goals.
The wholly inexperienced Wolves manager was forced to make one unsurprising change to his previous starting line-up after another textbook injury to David Edwards saw Michael Kightly awarded a starting berth on the right wing with Kevin Foley moving into a central midfield three alongside Karl Henry and in support of Jamie O’Hara. Martin Jol was afforded no such concerns and set his stall out with a four pronged attack of Moussa Dembele, Andy Johnson, Clint Dempsey and their newly acquired Russian sensation Pavel Pogrebnyak making his positive intentions clear for all to see.
The action packed first half in which Fulham peppered the Wolves goal with a barrage of attempts will be accentuated with this minute-by-minute break down:
6 minutes – Fulham’s first notable attack of many comes in a play straight out of the NFL; Damien Duff acting as Quarterback finds Clint Dempsey on a well-executed crossing route who advances an extra 5 yards before being brought down on the edge of the area by the right back Ronald Zubar in coverage. Zubar pleads his innocence and points out the fact that he got his head to the ball before tumbling Dempsey but this is not enough to deter the referee from awarding a free kick and brandishing the game’s first yellow card in the opening exchanges. Riise rolls back the years with a run up to the free kick but is wasteful as his weak shot hits the wall and is cleared to safety.
8 minutes – Clint Dempsey exposes Ronald Zubar again getting in behind the full back down the left channel, latching onto an exquisite pass from Riise before turning inside onto his right foot and shooting tamely into Hennessey’s clutches. Wolves early system seems naïve and unplanned as long balls into Kevin Doyle who is surrounded by Senderos and Hangeland are evidently going to be unsuccessful.
11 minutes – the home crowd are on their feet once more as a short left side corner finds its way to Riise who stands poised on the edge of the area. Riise’s swerving low drive is tipped round the post by Wayne Hennessey who did well to see and then save the shot through the bodies in front of him.
13 minutes – It’s all action from the Norwegian Riise who has taken Wolves defensive mentality as a license to roam from left full back. Fulham work the ball patiently across field from right to left before laying in the full back who connects well with the rolling ball on the move but the shot hits a flailing Wolves defender on its way out for a corner.
15 minutes – Wolves advance into uncharted territory gaining a free kick deep inside the Fulham half in a wide left position. Rather than deliver into the penalty area, Matt Jarvis tries a clever lay off to O’Hara on the edge of the area who is left with egg on his face as he stumbles over the ball wasting their first chance at an attempt on goal. Fulham break swiftly into a counter attack which finishes with Damien Duff driving narrowly wide of the left post from inside the ‘D’ on the edge of the Wolves box as the increasing pressure begins to tell on the visitors.
17 minutes – Clint Dempsey collects the ball in the centre circle and bypasses Karl Henry who is notably struggling. Dempsey is afforded plenty of time to play a short pass out left to, yes you guessed it Jon Arne-Riise once more who connects sweetly again with his famed left foot with a shot that sails narrowly wide of the right hand post. Karl Henry’s afternoon is over as he is forced out of the game to be replaced by Nenad Milijas.
20 minutes – midway through the first half and the away side finally register an attempt at goal. Jamie O’Hara whips in a free kick from the left side of midfield which is met by Richard Stearman who joins the home crowd in holding their breath for a few seconds as the ball loops up past a static Mark Schwarzer but lands wide of the post.
23 minutes – With the risk of sounding like a broken record, Riise’s obvious threat seems to have not registered with Wolves as he is afforded acres of space on the left flank to deliver a driven low cross into the area which is met on the move by an advancing Andy Johnson but the long legs of Wayne Hennessey come to Wolves’ rescue once more diverting the ball away.
24 minutes – sticking to the ethos of finding joy on the left side, Matt Jarvis gets his first decent run of the game in beating two defenders before dragging the ball back to Jamie O’Hara whose miscued attempt ricochets wide off a Fulham defender. Christophe Berra, the goal scorer for Scotland midweek is first to the ball meeting the corner with a header that is blocked and cleared to safety. The Scottish defender signed from Hearts in 2008 is still searching for that elusive first goal in gold and black.
35 minutes – with more than an air of inevitability, the home side take the lead. Pavel Pogrebnyak continues his impressive goals to attempts rate as loses his marker before stooping low to head a right wing corner into the net for the games opener. The Russian revelation signed on loan from Bundesliga outfit Stuttgart in January continues to see his stock rise with his third goal in his short time at the club so far. The goal did not come without controversy as replays showed the ball had not taken any deflection off Richard Stearman contrary to the referee’s beliefs which lead to the award of the assisting corner kick.
43 minutes – Kevin Foley is shown up for being out of position as he turns backwards with the ball in central midfield before laying the ball blindly backwards in the direction of Christophe Berra. The loose pass is intercepted by Clint Dempsey who plays Andy Johnson to the byline before cutting back for Pogrebnyak to meet sweetly on the move and sweep an impressive second past Hennessey to emphasise Fulham’s tight grip on this encounter.
An abject and lacklustre first half from the visitors is interrupted by the half time whistle and not a moment too soon. Déjà vu for Wolves and Terry Connor who found themselves in this exact situation 8 days previously in the North East, Wolves fans were left hoping that the worst was over and that lightning would strike twice.
We return to the more standard format for the second half, standard was was Fulham’s requirements as they sauntered through the second 45 minutes going through the motions as Wolves mastered their own downfall.
Surprisingly there were no changes from Wolves at half time who surely should have been reacting the one way traffic that flowed over them in the opening half. The travelling fans sang for their talisman and only hope Steven Fletcher but the new boss remained unmoved as Fulham began where they had left off. What was uncomfortable to watch for Wolves’ fans became excruciating. Their defensive frailties were highlighted twice in successive moments early in the second half. First Wayne Hennessey collected a cross but then collided with Berra allowing the ball to pop out to the feet of Clint Dempsey who was not yet ready to put Wolves to the sword, then minutes later the same defender smashed an attempted clearance off one of his own midfielders with the ball again falling invitingly to Dempsey who saw another attempt to end the game as a contest saved. Two comical moments at the back for Wolves which would have justified the ‘Benny Hill’ theme being played in the backdrop.
The all-action American did not have to wait long for his just rewards. On 57 minutes he latched onto a through ball from the centre of midfield before rounding the Welsh goal keeper and making it three and out for Wolves on this dismal afternoon in the capital.
From this point on the game would be dictated by just how ruthless Fulham wanted to be. Steven Fletcher was somewhat insultingly introduced to the fray after Fulham’s third replacing the non-existent Michael Kightly as Wolves referred to a 4-4-2 system. Kightly’s poor performance was ill-timed given the questionable decision to loan out fan favourite Adam Hammill earlier in the week.
Just as they did against West Bromwich Albion in the final game of Mick McCarthy’s tenure, Wolves capitulated after the third goal. They looked powerless to resist as the Fulham front four passed them into confusion again before an Andy Johnson effort was parried into the path of Pavel Pogrebnyak who completed his hat trick with the easiest goal of them all tapping in unmarked from close range.
Four goals down and the Wolves boss cut a beleaguered and idea-free figure on the touchline as his side looked nothing more than Championship bound relegation fodder in a contest which they had offered next to nothing. The home side let off a little allowing Wolves new shape to take form but they soaked up the increased pressure with ease and looked dangerous on the counter. Andy Johnson was able to join the ‘doing everything but score’ club as he found space once again in the Wolves half before cutting inside and bending a shot sweetly up off the bar with Wayne Hennessey rooted to his spot.
The game flowed end to end in the final 15 minutes with Wolves’ belated attacking impetus. Fletcher and O’Hara saw a pot shot each go harmlessly wide whilst Fulham continued to flow right to left and back to front looking dangerous in every attack. Duff cruised around the attacking right side looking for any opportunity to cut inside onto his favoured left foot whilst the American Dempsey lingered ominously outside the area shooting on sight whenever he was picked out.
Fulham delivered the icing to an already sizable cake on 83 minutes. In a sequence of 22 uninterrupted passes with the crowd derisorily shouting “ole” at every Wolves fledgling missed tackle, the ball was rolled to the edge of the area where Clint Dempsey, scorer of his national team’s winning goal in Italy in midweek finished with aplomb into the roof of the Wolves goal from the edge of the area. The media had their superlatives at the ready for yet another Fulham victory inspired by the complete midfield performance from the United States greatest export and absolute bargain from New England Revolution in 2007.
After being humbled once more looking a shadow of a Premier league outfit, Wolves registered their first shot on target in the 93rd minute of the game so as to highlight their miserable afternoon.
Kudos inevitably must go to Fulham who were sensational although their victory will be a little tainted given the unacceptable levels offered by the opposition. They proved that the fallout from the Cold War was well and truly over as a Russian and an American combined with expert efficiency to condemn Wolves back to the Premier league’s relegation zone with just 11 games remaining and little hope of salvation on the basis of this performance.
The many doubters who saw the recruitment and appointment of Terry Connor as a ‘cheap option’ a ‘cop out’ and an insult to the intelligence of the club’s supporters were somewhat silenced last week, but rest assured they will be out in force baying for blood after this performance. The shape, system and selection of the side was an exact replica of the Mick McCarthy era that came to such a tumultuous end throwing into question Terry Connor’s own preachings of “fresh ideas and a new approach”. Just three weeks shy of that humiliating capitulation on derby day, Wolves fans were left to endure their team shipping five goals once more making them the talk of the Premier League once more for all the wrong and somewhat embarrassing reasons.
One thing is for certain, it is going to take a very large shovel for Steve Morgan, Jez Moxey and Terry Connor to dig this club out of the sizable hole which they have driven it into over the past few weeks.