Owen Coyle’s Bolton side enhanced the chances of at least one famous ‘Wanderers’ side playing in the Premier League next season as the Fat Lady filled her lungs and bellowed out a damning chorus for the other on Saturday.
Yet another scintillating 60 minutes of football from the home side was overshadowed by a disastrous final half hour which saw a the sort of capitulation that their supporters have sadly become accustomed to, eventually finishing on the wrong side of a 5 goal thriller as they did in this very fixture last season.
Whilst Wolves fans had all but given up hope of a miracle survival after some damning verdicts delivered by the likes of Manchester United, Blackburn and Norwich in the month of March, the league table was still eloquently poised and with a relegation roommate visiting Molineux, Wolves knew that a victory would at least keep it interesting.
The hosts would look to draw on those mythical ‘home comforts’ which have been AWOL since early December and having lost their previous six consecutive home ties it was little wonder that the optimism on the club’s website, in the board room and that that spewed from the mouth of the bloke that does the pre-game tannoys was not echoed around the stands as the 27,000 or so regulars had endured a miserable 2012 thus far.
4-4-2 was the order of the day for the fish out of water interim Wolves manager Terry Connor who opted for Sylvan Ebanks-Blake alongside Steven Fletcher up front whilst youngster David Davis joined the familiar midfield trio of Matt Jarvis, David Edwards and Michael Kightly.
Owen Coyle brought fellow strugglers Bolton Wanderers to Molineux on the back of a morale boosting 2-1 victory over Blackburn in the all-Lancashire affair one week previous. With the entire team buoyed by the cause for which they recently strived, that being the well-being of their teammate Fabrice Muamba, the lilywhites replicated Wolves’ 4-4-2 setup with Ivan Klasnic returning to partner David N’Gog up front supported by a midfield quartet of Ryo Miyaichi, Martin Petrov, Nigel Reo-Coker and former Wolves hot prospect Mark Davies. American Tim Ream deputised for Zat Knight at full back whilst the goalkeeper Adam Bogdan was hoping to be a little less involved than his ‘one man show’ performance at Tottenham in the midweek FA Cup defeat.
The home side began like the proverbial house on fire as Bolton struggled through the first half. After just 5 minutes Michael Kightly centred a free kick from just inside the opposition half into the box which Steven Fetcher saved from going out of play by hooking back over his shoulder into the path of Ebanks-Blake who controlled neatly via his chest, shifted from right to left to avoid the ensuing Marcos Alonso then unleashed a shot which was parried by the flame haired Bolton keeper for a corner to lift the spirits of the home crowd in the early going.
Bogdan continued to command the superlatives as the half progressed. As one of Wolves’ only shining lights in the past few months, Matt Jarvis looked lively as ever giving the right back Sam Ricketts a torrid time jinking inside and out before pirouetting and delivering a measured cross for the head of Fletcher who hung in the air and nodded downwards only to see the impressive Bogdan tip round the post at full stretch.
In what will be a limited race for the Wolves player of the Season award, Jarvis and Fletcher continued to show their Premier League worth again as Jarvis’ in swinging left wing corner was met by the Scotsman once more flexing the neck muscles to head powerfully into the same corner only to be foiled again this time by Ryo Miyaichi on the line.
Wolves looked refreshingly and surprisingly adapt going forwards as the midfield was anchored by youth academy product David Davis allowing Edwards, Kightly and Jarvis to pass, move and interchange efficiently as the Bolton back line was stretched time and again. However with Wolves there is always a ‘however’. The home fans had learned many a time that their side had to make their increasing pressure count as they had the habit of not ceasing on an advantage and emerging a shadow of their former selves after an interval. This lingering feeling was not eased on the stroke of half time as Michael Kightly, having another encouraging game on the right wing whipped a pinpoint cross into the area picking out an unmarked Fletcher who usually so good in the air, headed against the bar from 6 yards out as Wolves fans headed to the toilets and bars cursing their luck having once again outplayed the opposition without reward for a full half of football.
Bolton’s only chance of note in the first half came when a miscued Roger Johnson header fell into the path of Ivan Klasnic who volleyed harmlessly wide from the edge of the Wolves penalty area. The Wolves captain then became involved in a heated display of discontent with goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey as the fans rallied behind their goalkeeper as the cracks of division that had been rumoured behind the scenes started to spill out into the public domain. Johnson’s negative influence on the squad has been well documented since the club wasted an entire summer chasing him, eventually paying £7million for his services and then making him captain in a knee-jerk decision to replace Karl Henry. After rumours of his childish attitudes towards the youth team were leaked from the dressing room, he recently lost his place in the starting 11 after continual below par performances and was later reported to management by his own team mates after turning up inebriated for a training session. The rumblings continued when Johnson’s own wife took to the social media and voiced her opinions on his exclusion from the team calling Terry Connor’s justified decision “ridiculous” which did little to adhere him to his colleagues or the club’s supporters.
As is the norm at Molineux in times gone by, those who contributed to an impressive first half showing end up as strangers after the old Jekyll and Hyde syndrome kicks in and Wolves become masters of their own downfall. They fell into the cliché trap of ‘doing everything but score’ in the first half and as goal line clearances, superb keeping and the woodwork thwarted their efforts there was an ominous feeling that Bolton could not possibly play as badly during the second period and when David Wheater snuck unnoticed into the area and headed a Miyaichi cross narrowly wide in the opening exchanges, there was little to dispel the fears of the home crowd.
As it was in a welcome change to the regular proceedings Wolves came out of the traps with a similar intensity and got their just rewards not a moment too soon. Ebanks Blake took the ball down and drifted from left to right switching the play to the lively Michael Kightly. With question marks on his Premier League pedigree looming over the head of the once 25k bargain from Grays Athletic, Kightly drifted infield past Alonso, shifted onto his left foot and placed the ball perfectly into the bottom right hand corner of the goal from just outside the area for only his second goal in the top flight. Advantage Wolves and seemingly an answer to the low expectations that the home crowd have been forced to succumb to over the course of the 2011/12 season.
As ever with Wolves there was an unwelcome twist in the tail. Bolton had huffed and puffed for an hour to create very little with two half chances their only success in what had been a very one dimensional and flat performance until they were handed a lifeline. Former employee Mark Davies skipped into the area and made the most of a naïve swipe challenge by Roger Johnson, leaving his foot in and gaining the away side a penalty. The home crowd retorted “cheat, cheat” in his direction as his simulated fall had conned a penalty decision from the referee although Johnson’s needless challenge had given the impressive youngster coined ‘Sparky’ by the Wolves fans every incentive to hit the deck. Martin Petrov stepped up and dispatched coolly with his trusted left foot then wheeled away to the cameras unveiling a t-shirt in support of his fellow countryman and namesake Stylian Petrov recently diagnosed with acute leukaemia.
Fast forward to the post match interviews and former captain Karl Henry echoed the sentiments of the home supporters that there was no need to panic just because they had lost the lead and still at 1-1 Wolves were in a very good position to push on for the win they so desperately required instead of the capitulation that followed. In effect the unlikely Bolton equaliser, harsh or not set the tone for the rest of the game as Wolves a little later than predicted set about losing their previous principles and throwing another game. All of a sudden the passes weren’t being completed, the spritely movement had ceased, players were wondering out of position and the river of creativity had well and truly dried up.
After Martin Petrov found space on the left and drove sweetly into Hennessey’s legs it was clear that there would only be one winner in this game. Bolton were mirroring the Wolves style going from inept to impressive finding space and creating chances where before they had none. Owen Coyle made two positive substitutions in Kevin Davies and Chris Eagles whilst the home bench remained frustratingly unmoved as both sides declared their intentions for the result.
In a rare second half sight at goal, Matt Jarvis advanced unnoticed to meet a ball that bounced awkwardly at the back post causing his header to drift narrowly wide, whilst Bolton responded by packing the penalty area with their target men for a corner which David Wheater headed down forcing Hennessey to scramble and beat off the line.
On 78 minutes the inevitable once again reared its ugly head over the gold and black arena. Petrov was given acres of space on the left wing to deliver a cross which found N’Gog with equally as much inexplicable room to head against the bar and before the flapping Wolves defenders knew what had hit them it was turned into the net from Marcos Alonso stealing in for his first every Bolton goal from close range. In his best impression of the previous McCarthy era in which he was very much at the core of, Terry Connor finally produced two substitutions albeit after going behind as Wolves supported rolled their eyes in glum acceptance that they’d seen this all before
The scenario was once again so sadly predictable. A full hour of astute football and a goal advantage had been overturned in 10 minutes or so of concentration free and error prone defensive football. Bolton were rolling with Davies and Eagles passing triangles around the Wolves defenders before teeing up Reo-Coker breaking from midfield but his first time curling effort was beaten away by the Welsh number one at full stretch.
On 86 minutes the helpless silence from the home crowd was broken. Downtrodden and beaten into such a submissive state that they could not conjure a reaction to the clockwork failings of their side, they eventually snapped appalled at the comedy of errors that was Bolton’s third. Stephen Ward, a striker come left back who was billed as Mr Consistent for the first half of the season has been consistently poor for the second. He lost the ball to Kevin Davies whilst dawdling in possession then got to his feet, sunk his head and spectated as Chris Eagles presented Davies with the ball in the area. Davies shrugged off another woeful tackle attempt from public enemy number 1 Roger Johnson and swept home a third with ease. Now Stephen Ward is a player who was granted a stay of immunity under Mick McCarthy and was ever present despite his lacklustre performances at full back, the occasional stand in Captain is also the first one to frustratingly take to Twitter and the local press on a Monday morning and assure fans that they are giving their all for the cause and that the players still believe in this dwindling survival bid; his efforts or lack thereof for the killer third goal proved otherwise as a Wolves side that have used honesty, endeavour and determination as a foundation for their previous successes were vacant of all three as they turned on the dying duck act in defence.
There was still time for Matt Jarvis to continue his impressive run in front of goal turning inside the box to fire home a consolation across the body of Adam Bogdan. The home fans were none too pleased with the playing of music following the goal, in truth it was nothing more than condescending given the circumstances.
Bolton held on for three points that sees them pull away from the bottom three for at least one more week, whilst Wolves weekly episodic failure to sustain a 90 minute performance continues adding to a new unwanted club record of SEVEN straight home defeats.
It is now time for the players, management and board to put down the book of footballing clichés that they read from day in day out when addressing the situation in the local media. The weeks role on, nothing changes and the losses mount yet they still undermine their supporters intelligence by telling them that all is not lost when what is panning out before their very eyes wholesomely begs to differ.
Although they will never admit it, the Wolves board waved the white flag in February when they copped out appointing Mick McCarthy’s number 2 in a Premier League relegation dogfight with no previous managerial experience whilst overlooking other unemployed candidates with pedigree and respectable track records. Some will have seen this coming long before that recruitment circus. Wolves did only two things in the summer; needlessly began expanding their stadium and bought Roger Johnson then subsequently made him centre of attention. Neither has paid off. Much needed transfer funds for the much heralded “survival bid” lay to waste in bricks and mortar whilst infighting and pettiness in the dressing room has spilled over into the public eye making it a very sorry state of affairs.
This was yet another ‘do or die’ ‘make or break’ situation for Wolves, something they will be accustomed to as they found themselves in similarly touted situations as early as November this year which reeks of desperation. Having to base a season around 10 or so win or bust matches and overlooking the other 28 was never going to work. Those who require optimism like oxygen will point towards the fact that relegation is not yet mathematically guaranteed however those thousands with two working eyes in their head and even the tiniest notion of hindsight will see a club dejected, divided and going down without a whimper.