Wolves set for second successive relegationBy: DJ | April 28th, 2013
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.