Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C.
Wolves fell to defeat with a bit of a whimper against a team that had nothing to play for at Molineux on Saturday and so virtually secured their own piece of history by being the only team relegated from the top two divisions in successive seasons twice. The last time they achieved that accolade was under the stewardship of the Bhatti Brothers who were leading the club to bankruptcy with a ground half closed for safety reasons and all decent players having been sold off for asset stripping. This time there is no such excuse as the club have regularly bragged as to how well run they are financially, in contrast to how well they have been managed on the football field in the last 15 months.
Some will say the downfall started with McCarthy’s inability to take the club above the relegation battles in the Premier League and I can have some empathy with that. But the now Ipswich boss had a dig at Wolves on Saturday evening, saying that with the players they have at the club they would definitely not be in the position they are if he was still there, and would more likely be pushing for promotion. And I for one agree with him. Its not that there wasn’t a strong argument for moving on from McCarthy its that the club have tried not once, not twice but three times in a year to bring in someone to do the job better and have failed miserably every time.
The Connor appointment was almost legendary as Chief Executive Jez Moxey said it wasn’t a job for a novice and then the club gave Connor his first management job. He went on to be a contender for being the worst manager in Premier League history by getting no wins and four draws from his 13 games in charge. And Wolves went from being level on points with the team 16th in the league on the day McCarthy was sacked, to being adrift at the bottom 8 games later.
Then in the summer Solbakken arrived having being a great success with Copenhagen but afterwards taking Koln to the brink of relegation in Germany. He successfully diverted the blame of dressing room unrest and poor team performances away from himself at Koln and Wolves were prepared to give him his chance based on his success for Copenhagen that lead to 3 title wins in Denmark and a famous Champions League success against a weakened Man Utd team and a draw against Barcelona despite his team getting only 33% possession. His appointment at Wolves was always going to be a gamble but it started promisingly and when Wolves won at Blackburn in the first week of October they were 3rd in the league although playing some pretty uninspiring football. There were no wins in the next nine games though and Wolves went into December in 19th. There was then some respite with three wins in four games commencing with a 4 goal first half at Bristol City where the open play came as a real surprise. But what followed were four defeats that were so low in quality they had to be seen to be believed. The home games against Ipswich and Peterborough were talked about by many as the worst Wolves performances they had ever seen at Molineux, and then they were completely outplayed at Palace before the humiliation of a cup defeat at non league Luton. Solbakken had bought in over £10m of new players and Sako was a great success, as was Sigurdarson at times but the others were regularly injured and he will point to that as a factor in his downfall. But throughout his time at the club he had largely stuck to a formation including two defensive midfield players, two wide midfielders playing a tucked in role, and two strikers. It was not a formation that I have often seen, and it rarely looked like one that was either going to get results or produce watchable football. The gamble on Solbakken had failed in a bigger way than could have been anticipated and with rumours of dressing room unrest growing by the day, he was shown the door after only 26 league games.
Dean Saunders was the man the club immediately turned to and this was another gamble as he had taken Wrexham to the top of the Conference and Doncaster to the top of League One but had no positive record on his CV at Championship level. And his Wolves tenure started in the worst possible way with 9 games without a win that saw them sink into the relegation positions. Four wins in the next five games offered encouragement both that relegation could be avoided and that Saunders was getting to grips with the job. With the other teams battling against the drop also improving Wolves were still only out of the relegation positions on goal difference and only one win in the next five was to pretty well seal the fate with a home defeat to Huddersfield a result they could not afford. He tried to change the failing defence by replacing Foley, Ward and Berra with Doherty, Robinson and Gorkss. Although the young full backs showed promise the team kept conceding 2 goals most games and it was a mystery why having given Danny Batth his chance and he was Wolves best player in most of the games he played, that he then left him out in preference for Johnson. A number of injuries were certainly a handicap late in the season, particularly Ebanks Blake, Sako and Davis. But Saunders did not help himself when after Hunt came in on the left wing and looked like inspiring the team, he then played him out of position for the last few key games.
Poor management has to be the biggest factor in Wolves now being where they are, and Chairman Morgan and Chief Exec Moxey have to be held to account for that outcome. Morgan has been criticised for lack of transfer spending and for building a stand rather than investing more in the team. I a not sure I would go along with that. Wolves spent more than a third of the other teams when they were in the Premier League. And only Blackburn in the Championship spent more than us this season. Wolves have spent more than the likely promotion teams, Cardiff and Hull, put together. But why when things were going badly that nothing was spent in January this year was a real error. And Moxey is often credited for keeping the club in financial balance but the massive loss of income the club will suffer over two years would surely have justified some investment to avert the decline even if that meant a short term loss.
The players will also get some of the criticism and I do think there are those amongst the squad who have not given their all at times in the season. But it is a managers first priority to get the best out of the players he has, and all the three latest managers have failed to do that in a way that is one of their main failings compared to McCarthy.
Wolves can mathematically still finish above Barnsley and Peterborough so their relegation will not be confirmed until after the 12:45 games next Saturday. But then we must wonder what the future will hold. Will Morgan sell up after overseeing this decline? If he does he will do well to recover his £30m investment. But after the hostile reaction from some fans to the latest relegation, and the general view that his credibility is shot at the club, may lead him to look for a way out. And Moxey similarly may want away to a bigger club that could more justify his large pay packet.
As for the team there is the prospect of many of the best players moving on, and at a knockdown price. The likes of Doyle, Hunt and Sako will have their suitors. But the likes of Henry, Johnson, Foley, Ward and O’Hara will do well to find clubs to pay them their current salaries and the danger for the club is that they might stick around and give the club a financial problem. On the positive side there are players that have emerged like Doherty, Batth, Davis and Sigurdarson that can form the basis of a new team. And the injuries to Hennessey and Ebanks Blake might leave the club with some players needing to regain their match fitness at a level where they should be star players.
This relegation is a disaster for the club and although few would condone the actions of the few that went onto the pitch and caused damage after the game on Saturday, Morgan and Moxey can be assured that the reason the majority didn’t join in was not because they feel any more relaxed about what has happened over the last 15 months. Moxey was right when he said the managers job at Wolves was not for a novice. Wolves supporters would say running this club is not for people that act like novices when it comes to the key decisions.
The defeat at Charlton on Saturday saw Wolves return to the relegation positions, and now there are only two games left to achieve an improved league position and preserve their Championship status. The faith that they can avoid a second successive drop in divisions is being stretched to the limit and it’s likely to take another team in the danger zone to have a poor end to the season for survival to be achieved.
The overall performance at Charlton was not bad and not for the first time we saw a Dean Saunders side leave the field with less than they probably deserved. But that has happened too many times now for the sympathy to stretch too far and results are all that counts when the points are added up at the end of the season.
It was an equal and fairly uneventful first half with only a remarkable and uncharactersitic shot from Karl Henry from fully 40 yards that came back off the woodwork to stick in the mind. Wolves fell behind when a scuffed corner beat the near post cover and Charlton scrambled the ball in. The equaliser resulted from a Jack Robinson long throw flicked on by Johnson for Doyle to head his 4th goal in 7 games. And Wolves looked well worth and well set for a draw until a speculative long range shot in the last minute was blocked by the head of Robinson with the ball falling conveniently for a Charlton sub to get the winner.
The main positives on the day were the performances of Doumbia, Hunt and Doyle. And Henry had a more positive game, and the defensive foursome were better and looked generally solid. But they still conceded two despite De Vries having very little to do.
There have been a lot of games referred to as must win in recent times for Wolves but the game against Burnley at Molineux on Saturday is certainly that if they are to have any chance of avoiding the drop. To be positive it is feasible that three points from that game would be enough to secure survival. Barnsley would need to get 4 points to finish above Wolves from a home game against a Hull team looking to clinch automatic promotion and an away game at improving Huddersfield. Or Peterborough would need to win either at home to Sheffield Wednesday or away at Crystal Palace.
Those scenarios are far from impossible but if either of those teams do get those points then Wolves are going to need something on the last day of the season at a Brighton team looking to secure a play off position. And Wolves may be hoping that the south coast team get enough from this weekend’s trip to Leeds to mean they don’t need a result on the last day. But whatever happens this weekend Wolves safety or relegation cannot be certain until the last game, and the 12:45 kick off for all the final fixtures on May 3rd will inevitably be a tense time.
There is so much that can and will be said about what has happened to Wolves over the last year or so, about the performances of the owner, Chief exec, managers and players. But all of that can wait a couple of weeks, because all that matters in the short term is that Wolves somehow end up in 21st or better at the end of the season and avoid a second successive drop in status.
Just as it was all starting to look like doom, gloom and relegation for Wolves they conjured up a win against second in the table Hull City to move out of the bottom three and resurrect hopes that they won’t after all, suffer a dreaded second successive relegation. It was a hard earned success in a closely fought game of few chances and one that bought as much relief as celebration as the final whistle blew.
With so many players unavailable it was almost forced on Saunders to stick largely with the team that had suffered a costly loss at home to Huddersfield on Saturday and the recall of Doumbia for the suspended O’Hara was the only personnel change, although there was a change in formation with a 4-4-1-1- adopted instead of the usual 4-4-2 with Hunt starting centrally behind Doyle;
Doherty, Johnson, Gorkss, Robinson
Sigurdarson, Henry, Doumbia, Ward
The game started in pretty tepid fashion with Hull content to control the game at a slow pace and Wolves, with Doyle looking isolated up front at times unable to provide much of a threat. The first serious goalmouth action came 18 minutes in when Ward shot from the edge of the box but his shot was blocked as was Hunt’s from the rebound. Doumbia was making an encouraging return to the team but Hull were generally looking more comfortable on the ball and the more confident of the two teams which was no surprise given the respective league positions. But there was very little goalmouth action in the remainder of the first half with two long range efforts the only attempts of note. Quinn’s shot for Hull deflected off Ward and was only narrowly wide before Doumbia hit a decent shot from distance that wasn’t far away.
The opening ten minutes of the second half saw more of the same before Molineux came alive as Wolves took the lead. Doumbia did really well to win the ball in midfield before playing in Sigurdarson who in turn fed Doyle free on the left of the area and his low drive from ten yards out found the far corner of the net.
Now the only issue was whether Wolves could keep a clean sheet for the remaining 35 minutes and the omens did not look good as the frequency of Hull attacks increased and Brady blazed over from a half chance. When Wolves did break away Doyle made a good run but then found no team mate within 40 yards of him as he looked for support, as Wolves increasingly sat on the back foot. But then from another breakaway they did create a real chance with Doumbia blasting wide after being set up by Ward.
Wolves certainly had the crowd on their side now as they fought hard to maintain their lead and Steve Bruce gambled on getting back into it by replacing centre back Faye with striker Fryatt. And Hull came so close to tying things up as Simpson is played through and his low shot beat De Vries but came back off the post. Seconds later Simpson is through again but Doherty makes a superb tackle to relieve the danger and when the ball is played up the other end, Wolves almost clinch the points. Doyle closed down the keeper who makes a poor kick out which Hunt anticipates and drives into the area, the keeper just gets a hand to the ball to prevent Hunt being clear on goal but the ball ran free to Sigurdarson who hit the side netting from a decent opportunity.
Hull were producing attack after attack as the game wore on but Wolves were defending well and were in no mood to give up these vital three points. Foley replaced Ward and Batth for Sigurdarson as Wolves did all they could to hold on to what they had and after 4 minutes of added time which seemed to last an eternity, Wolves earned an all important win.
De Vries – despite lots of Hull possession he had few shots to save but caught some good crosses
Doherty – the pick of the defence including a game saving tackle to deny Simpson
Johnson – a mixture of good defending and terrible distribution
Gorkss – better tonight against a Hull team that lacked a cutting edge
Robinson – had a decent game and does look a promising defender
Sigurdarson – not able to get into the game too much but had some good moments
Henry – worked hard but struggles nowadays to make a real mark on the games and so prone to passing the ball backwards
Doumbia – his best game since early season and can be a real boost to the end of season on this showing
Ward – like Sigurdarson, didn’t find it easy to get into the game but did ok and added to the defensive battle towards the end
Hunt – looked a little lost in a central role first half but looked much better when drifting to his more favoured left side after the break
Doyle – showed again how excellently he plays the lone striker role, took his goal well and I made him the best player on the night
Foley and Batth came on to join in the defensive duties late on
After the home defeat on Saturday there was an air of despondency around Molineux before the game but this result has given real hope that Championship security can be gained in the remaining 3 games. It’s Charlton away on Saturday then a vital home game against Burnley the week after. The defeat for Huddersfield and the late equaliser conceded by Barnsley on Tuesday means those teams have joined already relegated Bristol City in the bottom three. And with the bottom of the league so closely packed now its all to play for with just three games to go.
With just four games to go in the season, Wolves sit one off the bottom of the Championship and look likely to suffer their second successive relegation unless form and fortunes change very rapidly. Their defeat to fellow strugglers Huddersfield on Saturday was one they could ill afford and now they will need at least two wins from the remaining four games to stay in the division.
Saunders dealt with the ever increasing injury list by recalling Stephen Ward and playing him on the left of midfield in a team selection where there were very few options open to him given who was not available;
Doherty, Johnson, Gorkss, Robinson
Hunt, Henry, O’Hara, Ward
Wolves got the dream start by going in front inside four minutes. Ward drove forward before playing the ball out to the left and when Doyle played the ball across the six yard box Ward was there to turn the ball in. For a while it looked like Wolves were going to get the vital win they so badly needed. They were by far the better team for the best part of half an hour with Huddersfield providing virtually no threat at the other end.
But out of the blue there was an equaliser for the visitors after 27 minutes that completely changed the game. Scannell picked up the ball wide on the left, beat Doherty easily and cut into the area before his shot went passed the lunging Johnson and beat De Vries on his near post. Very poor defending by Wolves all round. And after the goal it seems Wolves lost confidence and Huddersfield were looking the more competent team.
Wolves started the second half well and were dominating the attacking without being able to create any clear cut openings. The time looked right after an hour for Wolves to introduce some fresh legs to force an opening but it was the visitors that made the changes and the arrival of Beckford saw them change from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2. But immediately after that change, it was Wolves who had a golden chance to retake the lead. A Hunt corner found Doyle who layed the ball off to Johnson who had plenty of time to pick his shot at goal from 8 yards out but dragged it well wide. And that was to prove a costly moment as the Huddersfield changes reapt their reward two minutes later.
From a corner from the left there was a free header for Vaughan which De Vries saved but could not hold and Beckford turned in the rebound. And a minute later it was game over as Beckford was sent through, beat Johnson easily and slotted passed De Vries. And to complete a disastrous 4 minutes for Wolves, O’Hara was sent off immediately after the restart for reacting to a challenge and pushing over the offending Huddersfield player who rolled around in the tradition of modern football until the referee wielded the red card.
De Vries – made some decent saves but could have done better with the first two goals
Doherty – had a generally good game but was skinned by Scannell for the first goal
Johnson – missed a sitter when the score was 1-1, beaten easily for the third goal and looked vulnerable at times
Gorkss – didn’t look secure in the centre of defence
Robinson – had a decent game and I would make him Wolves best player on the day
Hunt – battled hard as usual with Wolves starting to rely heavily on him to make things happen
Henry – never imposed himself on the game
O’Hara – in and out game before a senseless sending off
Ward – made a great start with the goal but made little impact afterwards
Doyle – one of the better players but Wolves are in need of him finding some goals in the coming weeks
Sigurdarson – had some good moments but needs to make more of an impact throughout the 90 minutes
Doumbia, Hamill and Dicko came on when the score was 3-1 and it was all over. Saunders needed to make changes before or at the same time as the visitors.
So just 4 games left to save their bacon. Hull are at Molineux on Tuesday, then its Charlton away, who scored 6 at Barnsley on Saturday, Burnley at home and play off chasing Brighton away. At the moment the signs point to Bristol City, Wolves and Barnsley being the three teams for the drop but the table remains so tight that the opportunity is there for Wolves if they can get results. There is still only 7 points between 23rd and 10th but can Wolves get the 6 or 7 points they may well need. The next game against Hull sees them face a team on the brink of promotion, being 6 points clear of third place. And they will see the game at Molineux as a fine chance to further cement their chances.
It’s still bizarre to see where Wolves have slipped to. Its probably the case that if Wolves sold their entire squad, and Hull did the same, that Wolves would get more for their players than Hull would. And yet Tuesday’s game is between a Wolves team one off the bottom and a Hull team one off the top. Biggest problem Wolves have now is that there are so many players unavailable due to injuries and now O’Hara’s suspension, that Saunders has little option but to stick with a similar team, many of whom are not playing well. But that group of players have the clubs future in their hands now, and we can but hope they rise to the challenge.
Five games to go in Wolves season and they sit just one point above a relegation position. In what was hoped to be a season that they would be pushing to get back into the top flight its a disaster for Wolves to be where they are, but all that matters now is that they find the necessary results to avoid the trip to League One.
The remaining games see Huddersfield at Molineux on Saturday followed by Hull on Tuesday. Then it’s a trip to Charlton on April 20th, Burnley at Molineux on the 27th and a final day trip to Brighton on May 4th. But all eyes are focused now on what looks like a Cup Final winner takes all game against Huddersfield this weekend. With Bristol City looking buried at the bottom of the league the other two relegation positions are held by Peterborough and Blackburn on 37 points. And then Huddersfield and Wolves are locked just one point above them on 38 points with Wolves above Saturday’s rivals only because the Tykes have the worst goal difference in the division.
So its difficult to exaggerate the importance of the next game and Wolves will go into it suffering from a massive injury crisis. With Hennessey, Ikeme, Sako, Ebanks Blake, Edwards, Boukari, and Elokobi already out, David Davis was ruled out for the season with the ankle injury picked up last weekend and Matt Doherty is unlikely to be fit for the weekend also with an ankle injury. It provides Dean Saunders with massive team selection dilemnas and of all the players unavailable it is the loss of top scorer Ebanks Blake that provides the biggest concern. Wolves have not been a team to have created many chances this season and with SEB not there it means the team do not look full of goals.
Some of the replacements for next weekend look pretty obvious. Foley will surely come in to replace Doherty, and Karl Henry will be back in the mix to take Davis’ place. And there will be another change to last weekend’s team with Jake Cassidy not taking his chance to secure a place in the team and he will not be risked in such an important game. There may well be a chance, however, for Tongo Doumbia to resurrect his Wolves career. The powerful midfield player was outstanding early in the season before it all went sour with injuries, homesickness and becoming generally unhappy with his time at the club. He came on as a sub last weekend and showed a few promising signs and Saunders may take the gamble that he can regain his form. And he proved in the first couple of months of the season that he can be outstanding at this level.
I can envisage a 4-2-3-1 formation on Saturday with Doyle returning to the lone striker role he fills so well;
Foley, Johnson, Gorkss, Robinson
Sigurdarson, Doumbia, Hunt
Its a team lacking a natural goalscorer but it would surely be solid and with enough guile in the likes of O’Hara, Hunt and Doyle to open up a Huddersfield team that have conceded 44 goals in their 20 away games so far this season. They will need to because a win is vital to keep their heads above the relegation trap door and the disillusioned Wolves fans will certainly be putting their positive face on to encourage their team home in their most important game of the season.
Wolves were second best at Bolton on Saturday as they fell to what was their 2nd defeat in the last six games. The effect of that recent improved run of results is that they remain outside the relegation positions even after this defeat but it is remarkably congested at the bottom now with only one point separating Wolves in 19th and Peterborough who are one off the bottom in 23rd. And such is the narrow difference between most teams in the division, Middlesbrough in 9th are only 7 points above Wolves.
There was just one change to the Wolves team from last week, with Cassidy replacing the injured Ebanks Blake;
Doherty, Johnson, Gorkss, Robiinson
Sigurdarson, Davis, O’Hara, Hunt
Bolton started the game by far the sharper and were ahead in 4 minutes. Dawson had a free header from Spearing’s corner and De Vries did well to save but he was only able to push the ball out and Ngog was on hand to turn the ball in. The Bolton attacks were coming thick and fast and Sordell beat the offside trap but delayed his shot and it was blocked. A second goal looked inevitable as Wolves couldn’t get a foothold in the game and after Kamara’s shot was deflected it fell to Ricketts who found the net from a narrow angle with De Vries not able to keep it out despite getting a hand on it. The Wolves keeper then made smart saves from Lee and Sordell as the home team threaten to run riot.
Bolton were looking like the best team Wolves have met this season but the visitors were not helping themselves at times. O’Hara had a chance to clear but chose to try a back heel to Robinson in his own area which was intercepted and after that was cleared the ball came back to the Wolves midfield player who passed it directly to the Bolton midfield. Then Eagles reacts quicker to a loose ball than Robinson and lobbed the ball inches wide. No exaggeration to say Wolves could have been 5 down in the first half hour, and to make matters worse Davis was clattered into by a dangerous challenge by Spearing who was booked and it resulted in an ankle injury to the Wolves midfield player and he was replaced by Henry. Just before that, Wolves produce their first threat when a cross from the right found the head of Doyle who hit the bar.
Wolves now gone to 4-2-3-1 with Sigurdarson, Hunt and Doyle lining up behind the ineffective Cassidy. And Henry has a rare shot on goal and is only a foot too high. There is a half time substitution with Doumbia replacing Cassidy and taking the attacking central midfield role with Sigurdarson and Hunt either side of him and Doyle now the lone striker. Bolton looked on for a third when Ngog was sent clear but there was an excellent tackle by Henry that stopped him. But generally Wolves were looking better now and were holding their own after looking on for a thrashing early on. Halfway through the half came the key moment if Wolves were going to get anything from the game. Doyle got in a fine header that was heading for the top corner but Bogdan made a brilliant save to tip it over.
Adam Hamill was brought on to replace O’Hara and had a real opportunity with ten minutes left but took far too long and was crowded out. In the end the second half was fairly even but in the first half hour Bolton won the game and could easily have done so more emphatically.
De Vries – doing ok and made a couple of excellent saves early on to keep the scores respectable
Doherty – look exposed early on as many of the Bolton attacking came down his side
Johnson – won a lot of headers but often troubled by the movement of the Bolton attack
Gorkss – won his share in the air but like the rest of the defence was left chasing shadows in the first half hour
Robinson – another to have a difficult start particularly against Lee the best player on the pitch
Sigurdarson – made little impact on the day
Davis – not making much impact before being kicked out of the game by Spearing
O’Hara – had a poor game with some loose passes and still seems very slow since his injury
Hunt – looked the most likely to make something happen and probably Wolves best player on the day
Doyle – had a decent game and hit the bar and brought an outstanding save from Bogdan
Cassidy – totally ineffective here and yet to prove he is ready for the step up to this level
Henry – a couple of good tackles and one decent shot but not in the game that much
Doumbia – didn’t make a great impact but Wolves could do with him re-finding his early season form
Hamill – did little when he came on
Nobody has played better against Wolves this season than Bolton did in the first half hour but this was a step down from recent performances and it was a relief they weren’t dead and buried by 3:30. Just 5 games left in the season now and the next two of them are at Molineux next week with Huddersfield on Saturday and Hull the following Tuesday. The Huddersfield game looks absolutely vital now. They are on the same points as Wolves and a win would ease the relegation fears considerably while a defeat would put Wolves right back in the mire. The biggest worry now is that the high number of injuries to players in form. Davis has now joined Sako, Ebanks Blake, Ikeme and Edwards on the sick list and the assets are looking stretched as the key games arrive.
After a nightmare year or so, Wolves have suddenly remembered how to win football matches and their success at Birmingham on Easter Monday was their 4th win in the last 5 league matches, and that has been enough to lift them out of the relegation positions despite many of the teams around them finding form as well. It’s a refreshing run of results for the club and particularly for Dean Saunders who couldn’t buy a win when he first joined the club but now seems to have the team pulling in the right direction.
Despite playing for the second time in 48 hours, Saunders put faith in the fitness of his players by selecting the same starting 11 that beat Middlesbrough on Saturday;
Doherty, Johnson, Gorkss, Robinson
Sigurdarson, Davis, O’Hara, Hunt
Doyle, Ebanks Blake
Birmingham came into the game on the back of their best result of the season at Palace on Friday and made a bright start to the game with Ferguson making a run into the Wolves area before being crowded out and then Redmond bringing a save out of De Vries with a low drive. Then the Wolves keeper dropped a cross but claimed the ball at the second attempt. When Wolves do get on to the front foot they win a series of corners but are unable to make them count and Blues look lively on the break away.
But Wolves silenced the home fans in the best possible way after 20 minutes. SEB does well collecting the ball on the edge of the Blues area before laying the ball off to Davis who hits a low shot that Butland can only push out into the path of Hunt coming in from the left and he makes no mistake in turning the ball back into the net. The goal deflated the Blues and gave Wolves the confidence to push forward and after 27 minutes they increased their lead. Doherty lined up a long throw but threw it short to Davis who knocked in an excellent cross that SEB headed in from 5 yards.
Blues almost found a way back into the game two minutes later when O’Hara is booked for conceding a foul on the edge of his own box and Ferguson’s free kick went over the wall and bounced clear off the outside of the post. Kevin Doyle showed the fight that is back in his game when he flattened Paul Robinson who was trying to shield the ball out, before getting clattered himself by Hancox in what looked like a revenge challenge. But Doyle had the next laugh as David Davis makes it a hat trick of assists by sending the Wolves striker through on goal. Doyle looked to have made too heavy a touch but his next knock pushed the ball wide of Butland who brought him down to concede a penalty and gain a yellow card. SEB’s penalty was placed to his right with the keeper going the other way.
At Palace on Friday. Blues had less of the possession but took their chances for a comfortable win and here the boot was on the other foot with Wolves taking their chances despite being on the defensive for large parts of the half. But Blues rarely looked like scoring with a lot of their attacking involving lumping high balls to Zigic who despite being tall seems unable to jump and Johnson and Gorkss had the beating of him in the air. For Wolves SEB was doing a good job holding the ball up, Doyle was looking much more like his old self and Stephen Hunt was here, there and everywhere.
Blues got a foot back in the game eight minutes into the second half after an overhead kick by Redmond hit the post with De Vries looking slow to get across his goal. But when the ball ran free to Thomas on the right of the area he was fouled by O’Hara to give the home team a penalty that Elliott converted. And there could easily have been a second as Paul Robinson headed the ball across the box and Thomas sent his header straight at De Vries. Then further problems for Wolves halfway through the second period as Robinson clatters into SEB who immediately signals to the bench that he won’t be able to continue. Dicko is the replacement for his Wolves debut. Then Blues hit the outside of the post for the third time from Thomas’s header, and with ten minutes left the same player shoots wide with only De Vries to beat. Wolves should have had their second penalty of the game as Hunt is sent tumbling but the ref waves play on as Hunt is maybe too honest by jumping up and getting on with the game.
Danny Batth is brought on to replace the tiring Hunt and lines up in front of the defence as Wolves look to hold on to what they have. Wolves looked to have done enough but the home team get a boost when 6 minutes of added time is announced. And in the 95th minute we get our third penalty of the game as Jack Robinson handles as he challenges Zigic and Elliott scores from the rebound after his spot kick was blocked by De Vries. Just one moment of anxiety in the 96th minute as a free kick is scrambled clear but Wolves hold on for another vital win.
De Vries – caught some difficult crosses and did drop one, but looks confident enough
Doherty – making the right back position his own and had a steady game here including winning a few headers
Johnson – had a good game on his return to St Andrews and coped well with the aerial bombardment
Gorkss – had the beating of Zigic in the air despite being quite a bit shorter. Helps if you jump for the ball rather than standing like a beanpole.
Robinson – made some crunching tackles and towed a thin line after getting booked but did ok
Sigurdarson – not in the game that much but made some good runs and won a few in the air
Davis – had a hand in all three goals and won his share of tackles in his best first team game so far
O’Hara – a bit better today but gave away a penalty and some unnecessary free kicks
Hunt – another lively showing on the left. Must be a real pain to play against
Doyle – looking much more like the player we used to know and I made him Wolves best player on the day
SEB – lead the line really well before going off injured
Dicko – a promising debut with good pace and a willingness to work for the team
Henry – won a few tackles and looks ready for a return when asked
Batth – won a few headers late on
So its all looking much more positive for Wolves now and this win took them to 18th in the league and Blues are 11th and only 4 points ahead. So half the league are now relegation contenders and Wolves are looking well capable of finishing above more than three of them. The downside for the day is that Ebanks Blake may well have picked up a season ending injury and O’Hara and Davis also picked up strains. But such is the change in fortunes that even the difficult game at Bolton on Saturday does not look too onerous for Wolves. And credit must be given to Saunders who has put back some fight, team spirit and organisation into a team that have been lacking all of those things for much of the last year.
Wolves secured a massive three points in their bid to avoid a second successive relegation in an exciting open game where there were five goals and there could easily have been many more. Results elsewhere mean Wolves remain in the relegation positions after this game but there are a number of teams within reach now and if this type of performance can be replicated in the remaining seven games then it would surely be enough to secure safety. With ikeme, Edwards and Sako picking up season ending injuries in the last game there were three changes to the starting line up;
Doherty, Johnson, Gorkss, Robinson
Sigurdarson, Davis, O’Hara, Hunt
Ebanks Blake. Doyle
It was end to end early on in a way that was to set the trend for the afternoon. Both teams had shots blocked but the first serious goalmouth action came when Carayol showed great pace to beat Doherty and when Wolves cleared the cross it fell to Hoyte 35 yards out who hit a piledriver against the crossbar with De Vries beaten. But four minutes later Wolves were ahead. Hunt did brilliantly on the left to get to the byeline and then run goalwards before hitting in a low cross that was turned into his own net by McManus with Ebanks Blake on hand to have turned the ball in if the defender had missed the ball.
Wolves were playing well and at a good pace to get the crowd behind them but their lead was to last only 10 minutes when a missed tackle by Johnson let the visitors in. De Vries made an excellent save from Jutkiewicz but the rebound fell to Leadbittter who’s effort hit the bar before the ball came back to Jutkiewicz who hit the post. But the linesman had signalled that Leadbitter’s effort had crossed the line after coming off the bar. The goal put an extra pace into Boro’s step and Reach bundled a shot just wide before De Vries did well from the dangerous Carayol’s cross. Then Wolves had the next chance with Hunt blasting over from Doherty’s cross, before a misjudgement by Johnson let in Jutkiewicz whose shot is saved.
Wolves were back in front three minutes after the break with possibly the best goal seen at the ground this season. Hunt played the ball through to SEB who layed the ball off to Sigurdarson who beat one defender, took the ball round the keeper and side footed the ball in. But almost immediately Boro seemed to go up a gear and had Wolves pinned back and had a second equaliser within seven minutes when Leadbitter hit a good shot low into the corner of the net from 25 yards. And in the most entertaining game seen at Molineux for some time Wolves were almost back in front within two minutes when Sigurdarson got in a diving header from Davis’s cross but Steele made an excellent save.
It was such an open game by now and Leadbitter was inches away from his hat trick when he shot inches wide in almost a replica of his second goal. Then at the other end Sigurdarson had a shot saved and then so did Hunt with the rebound coming out to Doyle whose shot was kicked off the line by Friend. Wolves were well on top now and there was a penalty appeal waved aside when McManus appeared to handle then O’Hara had a shot deflected wide before Sigurdarson had a shot saved with the rebound blocked. But the pressure told after 70 minutes when a long throw by Doherty was flicked on by Johnson and Doyle headed in.
After failing to hold on to their lead twice Saunders decided to try to hold on to the lead this time by bringing on Henry for O’Hara and then Batth for Doyle. Boro were having the best of the possession late on but were unable to create another opening and SEB was doing a fine job holding the ball up when Wolves broke away. With three minutes left the outstanding Hunt seemed to be suffering from cramp and was replaced by Ward. And Wolves saw the game through to get a vital win.
De Vries – had a fine game with good saves, came and caught a lot of crosses, and looked confident on the ground.
Doherty – troubled by the pace of Carayol at times but had another decent game
Johnson – at fault for one of the goals and is prone to mix some good defending with some basic errors
Gorkss – very steady and has been a good addition to the team
Robinson – looks a promising full back
Sigurdarson – took his goal brilliantly and often a threat to Boro
Davis – energetic performance and looks capable of becoming a regular starter
O’Hara – had some good moments but generally still short of what he is capable of
Hunt – quite outstanding, full of energy and wasted few passes in a man of the match performance
Doyle – much better in recent weeks and finding the net as well
SEB – worked tirelessly along the front line and had a good game
Henry – looked more like his old self in a good 20 minute sub role
Batth and Ward came on late to shore things up
This was a game to lift the spirits of everyone associated with the club and raise the hopes that safety can be assured. Two difficult looking away games to come now at Birmingham on Monday and Bolton next Saturday. But for now it was just good to leave the ground with three points in the bag and a highly entertaining game to boot.
Wolves go into the Easter period just one place above bottom of the Championship and are clearly desperate for some quick points as they attempt to avoid a second successive relegation. The win in their last game has given them a 3 point gap over Bristol City who look odds on for the drop. But the improvement in form of Peterborough and Barnsley has left Wolves in a relegation spot despite getting two wins from the last three league games.
At least those wins have provided an up turn in results to go with some improved performances but with the league so tight it is going to take a sustained run of points to pull clear of relegation over the remaining 8 games. And the first two of those games come in the space of three days with Middlesbrough at Molineux on Easter Saturday before the short trip to St Andrews to face Birmingham on Monday afternoon.
Times are not good for Boro who looked a good bet to make the play offs at least not so long ago, but 2013 has seen a distinct downturn in fortunes. they ended 2012 in 3rd place in the table but then lost their first 5 league games of 2013 and in total this year have won only 2 and drawn 1 of 13 games and have sunk out of the promotion picture into 9th place. Their recent record against Wolves is pretty good though with 9 wins and 2 draws in the last 13 meetings. What makes matters worse for Boro is that the parachute money that came with their relegation from the Premier League has now come to an end and they posted a £10m loss last season to make prospects none to optimistic.
Birmingham meanwhile have improved in 2013. They were 20th at the end of 2012 but have won 5 and drawn 5 of their 13 league matches this year and are now up to 12th. Matches between these local rivals could not have been more evenly spread in recent years with 5 Wolves wins, 5 Birmingham wins and 7 draws in the last 17 meetings.
We know there will be changes to the Wolves team for these game because Ikeme, Edwards and Sako who all started against Bristol have all been ruled out for the rest of the season as a result of injuries picked up that day. The Sako loss could be a particular blow as he has either scored or made almost half of Wolves league goals this season. While Ikeme has had a very good season in goal and been a rare success in a disappointing season. De Vries and Hunt look likely to get their chance to replace the keeper and left sided midfield player respectively although Wolves have made use of the loan market that ended on Thursday to bring in reinforcements. Marian Kello has signed for the rest of the season as a free agent having agreed a termination of his contract with Hearts. And Nouha Dicko has signed on loan from Wigan.
Kello was on trial at Wolves last summer and played in one pre season friendly but was not taken on at the time. But his pedigree is quite impressive. After making his name with Viitkovice in his native Czech Republic he moved to Kaunas and impressed in some UEFA Cup games including against Rangers. That brought him to the attention of Hearts and after a season of settling in he became their first choice keeper. His save from Rangers Steve Davies in 2011 was voted the SPL save of the season and he was later due to transfer to Austria Wien but turned down the move and Hearts then left him out of their team for ‘political’ reasons. Dicko meanwhile, who can play as a striker or wide man, made a big impression at Strasbourg as a 17 year old and netted 12 times in his first season. Wigan took advantage of financial problems at the French club to sign him in 2011. He has made cup appearances but not a league start for the Premier League club and has spent most of the last 18 months on loan at Blackpool where he has scored 9 times in 32 games.
But they are likely to be extra cover rather than starters this weekend as Wolves must surely look to get three points as a minimum from the two games. De Vries will start in goal and Stephen Ward is likely to return to the left back slot after his one game suspension to join Doherty, Johnson and Gorkss in the back four. There will be two from O’Hara, Henry and Davies in central midfield. And then Ebanks Blake, Sigurdarson, Doyle and Hunt will likely be the most forward four in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 formation.
Time is running short for Wolves to prove they are too good to go down from this division and they will need to find some points over this bank holiday to keep on track to do so. The fans are torn between being resigned to going down and still not really believing it can happen. The team may well need to win half the remaining 8 games to be sure of staying up and that would represent a big upturn in results compared to most of the last four seasons. Whether it is expectation or just hope that says they can do it is open to opinion.
In what looked like a must win game at Molineux against Bristol City, Wolves fought back from the brink of defeat and the edge of relegation to gain a vital success that raised hope that the dreaded second successive demotion might yet be avoided. In a low quality game it looked for a long time that Wolves would not find the answers but there was immense relief around the stands as the vital result was found when all was beginning to look lost.
There were three changes to the team that lost at Forest last week as Saunders continued his regular tinkering in a bid to find the results the club are searching for. Robinson replaced the suspended Ward. Davis got his chance in place of Henry, and Doyle came in for Sigurdarson and was made captain;
Doherty, Johnson, Gorkss, Robinson
Edwards, Davis, O’Hara, Sako
Doyle, Ebanks Blake
Wolves create the first opportunity as Doyle gets to the byeline and hits the ball low across the face of the goal with nobody on hand to get the vital touch. But soon after Bristol get an even better chance as Davies is sent through on the right of Wolves area and he shot across the goal and wide of the far post.
Jack Robinson made a bright start for Wolves and beat two players before setting Sako free on the left and then gets in a fair but bone crushing tackle on City right back Anderson who has to leave the field injured and is replaced by sub Adomah. The game had degenerated into a low quality affair with both teams punting long balls upfield and midway through the first half a goalless draw could easily be imagined. But City were to take the lead after 25 minutes with one of the most calamitous goals Wolves have ever conceded. Ikeme played a poor ball out to Davis who under pressure had no choice but to knock the ball back to the keeper. It was not the best of back passes by Davis and was bouncing awkwardly but it was still unbelievable that Ikeme allowed the ball to pass between his legs for a farcical own goal.
Wolves tried to hit back immediately and forced two corners and from the second there was a half chance for Edwards whose shot was deflected over. Then it went from bad to worse for Wolves as star man Sako pulls up with a hamstring problem. He is replaced by Hunt who doesn’t get the best of welcomes from the home fans after his poor performance in the last Molineux game.
Ikeme seems affected by the own goal and his kicking was going to pieces and there was a further problem for the home team as Edwards has to leave the field injured to be replaced by Sigurdarson and we had now seen two Wolves subs and one for Bristol after only 38 minutes. There are inevitable boos as the teams leave the field at half time. Wolves looked every inch a relegation team as the half moved on and Bristol looked no better but had the goal lead gifted to them.
There was a surprise as the teams came out for the second half with De Vries replacing Ikeme in the Wolves goal. The opening phases of the second half had no goalmouth action at all and both teams looking live relegation contenders. But Saunders continued tinkering with the team and moved Doyle wide with Sigurdarson taking a central striking role alongside SEB. And there are ironic cheers from the home fans as Sigurdarson brings a save out of the Bristol keeper midway through the half for Wolves first shot on target. But the shot was to lead to Wolves starting to test the visitors and Sigurdarson shot over from a half chance and then a fine crossfield pass from Davis picked out Doherty beyond the far post who turned the ball back goalwards only to see a defender head the ball away from under the bar.
It was better from Wolves now and Ebanks Blake who had been Wolves best attacker headed over before he collected a Hunt cross back to goal and hit a fine shot on the turn to put Wolves level after 76 minutes. And he had the ball in the net again soon after but an offside flag was waving. But the home fans only had to wait two more minutes to see their team take a vital lead. Fine work on the left by Hunt was followed by a pinpoint cross headed in by Doyle. Wolves saw time out comfortably for a vital three points that all will be hoping will prove to be a turning point in their season.
Ikeme – had done fine early on but cannot be excused for letting in the comical Bristol goal. Not sure if there were any other reasons for him being taken off at half time but if not then it would go down as terrible man management by Saunders to not give him the opportunity to restore his confidence after being an important player in Wolves season so far.
Doherty – fully established in the Right Back spot and had another decent game
Johnson – good game defensively and a threat going forward for corners
Gorkss – solid game defensively
Robinson – his best game for Wolves so far and particularly impressive in the first half hour
Edwards – no real impression in the wide right position before going off injured before the break
Davis – justified his selection with some good tackles and almost set up a goal for Doherty
O’Hara – remains in disappointing form after his return from injury
Sako – had a quiet game until being forced off with a hamstring injury that is a massive blow for Wolves
Doyle – worked hard but no real threat to the Bristol defence until coming up with the vital winner that will hopefully give him some confidence
Ebanks Blake – worked really hard and got the important first goal and I made him Wolves best player on the day
Hunt – didn’t get a great reception when he came on and he looked as out of touch as the last home game when he first came on. But got better and better as the game went on, had a hand in both goals, and went from zero to hero in the hearts of Wolves fans
Sigurdarson – replaced Edwards on the right and made little impression until moved to a striker role than played a big part in getting Wolves back into the game
De Vries – had a steady reintroduction to the team with not a lot to do
So a massive relief and a vital win. With Peterborough and Barnsley winning there was no improvement in the league position but if Wolves had lost today they would have been close to dead and buried so it was so important to turn the game around. Time will tell if it proves to be a pivotal moment in the season but they go into the International break in a better frame of mind for sure. Next up will be Middlesbrough at home on Easter Saturday and Birmingham away on the Monday and hopefully those games will see further steps in the right direction.