Wolves 1 Wigan 2

If ever there was a performance worthy of lumping a football team bottom of the league, then this Boxing Day effort was probably it. Ok, we didn’t leak goals left right and centre – but given the consequences of West Ham’s three points at Fulham in the midday kick off, it was painful to see Wolves so slow out of the blocks yet again.

Unfortunately, ‘embarrassing’ quite aptly sums it all, which is concerning and disappointing – it’s rare to leave a Wolves game feeling betrayed by the endeavours of our team.

Bar a glimmer of light from a fit again Jarvis, when eventually called upon, and SEB’s efforts to galvanise the men tasked to supply him, most other performances from the home team sent the Christmas spirit plummeting to Bah Humbug by 20 minutes.

Mick made these lot look sane

Lining up as we did for Birmingham, we’d not got started before Wigan got their first on ten minutes, a well finished twisting effort from Rodallega inside the 6 yard box after we failed to deal with a corner.

Slick passing from the Columbian on 20 then saw our pedestrian defence sliced open after Stearman was guilty of being lured in to a challenge, leaving a gap for the spritely Cleverley to take advantage of and finish well through Hennessey’s legs.

Both goals were well taken in fairness and Wigan defended resolutely when we finally started to pepper their area with more searching crosses. In Ben Watson, they had a niggling player who broke down play throughout, keeping our playmaker Milijas from being effective, as the Serbian’s radar went astray until Jarvis’ arrival and offered him an outlet.

Wolves had to endure being booed off at half-time before the winger appeared later in the second though, and he tormented the Wigan defence from both right and left flanks.

But we were guilty of being second to the ball all over the pitch, misplacing simple passes, and being pulled out of position. Across the back four in particular, there looked a frailty; a lack unity in the middle, and nervousness from both fullbacks when under any sort of pressure.

Fletcher, on with twenty to go, prodded home with five minutes left to make for a tasty finale, but the bluntness of our resolve at that point would have made it a travesty for Wigan if we had scored.

Perhaps the stinging cold has exacerbated this negative view of the game. Or that losing on Boxing Day always feels like Father Christmas has failed you. But there were at least five bewildering instances that led to me using the word ‘embarassing’ at the start;

1) The downright lack of impetus given the significance of the result on the league table from the very first minute

2) The rather pathetic sight of Stephen Ward despondently trudging back to left back, after record signing Stephen Fletcher comes on to replace George Elokobi. It just looks weird.

3) Said signing declining to rise for an unchallenged header in the opposition area, opting instead to wait for the ball to bounce and then attempt an overhear kick that goes wide, by a number of yards. Cue SEB kicking the post in frustration

4) After our equaliser, and attempting to get forward in the final throes of the game to rescue a point, Ronald Zubar managing to slice the ball from one side of the pitch in his own third perpendicularly to the other – a knock that rather summed up a clumsy game for the Frenchman

5) The Molineux faithful being outsung by fourteen Wigan fans wearing banana outfits (in fairness, we’d not a lot to shout about)

Perhaps there were stonewall penalties to take issue with, and perhaps the injury table is still too busy for us to complain too much; but for me, this performance saw us look like we deserve to be in the position we’re in.

Roll on the return of Karl Henry and Jody Craddock. Didn’t think we’d be needing to say that this season.

Man Utd 2 Wolves 1

‘Oh, you silly, silly buggers’ is all I could despondently muster on both United’s goals yesterday.

Like a disappointed parent to a clumsy child, or a dogwalker to their mut caught up in its own lead, Wolves had reduced me to lamely cursing into my copy of United Preview. It was beyond expletives in both instances: the first for hapless defending, and the second for, well, it just being so typical and predictable.

Park was once again Wolves tormentor

Not necessarily a game to write home about, we nonetheless played well against a weaker United team, who started the game with the busy Hernandez surprisingly pretty much alone up front, and with Owen Hargreaves making his first appearance in a United shirt since Slade were last top of the charts.

You couldn’t not to feel for the guy as he limped off within ten minutes of the game starting with what looked like a niggly hamstring injury – it served as a harsh reminder of the potentially tricky path that our own Michael Kightly still faces.

Starting with the same line-up for the City game, we were being gifted things on a plate by United to us to a certain extent in the first half. Misplaced crosses and an overall lack of involvement from the likes of O’Shea and Fletcher allowed us to continually find our man of the moment, Matt Jarvis who, along with an increasingly confident Stephen Hunt, enjoyed the best of the exchanges on the wings. Hunt’s lunge for a Matt Jarvis cross should have seen us take the lead, but it was a gaping hole left for Park to run in to that benefitted United instead at the end of the first half.

In spite of their lead, United were out of sorts: Bebe and Obertan were often chief culprits for the Old Trafford crowd, and we continued to pick up the ball as United attacks broke down. In the centre, I’d say we were ‘steady’ – Milijas found some great balls and made one or two great tackles as well, but Karl Henry was the busier – bar his role in the first United goal, he had a great game. At the back, I thought Berra and Stearman worked well together to nullify most of what United threw at us.

Credit to Mick – he sniffed an opportunity in the second half and took it, bringing our Number 9 on with Fletcher to go three up front with Doyle. It paid of quickly: a well built, patient attack eventually saw the ball fired at the feet of SEB, and took a true striker’s goal; strongly holding off Vidic and then swivelling to shoot between Van Der Saar’s legs: a proper SEB bit of business.

With it paying off so soon though, it meant another twenty minutes of the game to go. When Scholes came on we were still creating chances, but United were also finding some rhythm in spite of an impatient home crowd.

I’ll leave our friend in Houston to lament on Park’s goal, as unfortunately Ward was found wanting as the Korean made use of the space afforded to him, jinking in to the box and beating Hahnemann.

With two United supporters and an Aussie for company at the game, it made for a difficult post-match assessment. No matter how much I could have talked about a ‘good’ performance and slight sense of injustice, they more than anybody know that to be ‘great’ takes something different.

Wolves 1 West Ham 1

Whilst we’ve finally managed to stop the rot of four games without a point, the shared spoils from this game leave Mick McCarthy and the rest of us with plenty more questions than answers going in to a torrid series of fixtures.

Two games against United, with a sprinkling of Arsenal, Chelsea and City to boot are enough to put you off your pint of Mild at the best of times, let alone after the abject second 45 minutes at Molineux today.

Wolves bossed the first half and were deservedly ahead

I don’t use that word lightly.

In the first half, at times, it was a thrill to see Fletcher, Doyle, Jarvis and Jones combine at pace, with movement and guile. It was reassuring to see Richard Stearman offer some pace at the back when he was called upon to replace the injured Jody Craddock at centre back early on. And it was satisfying to see almost any attempt from West Ham to get going after the first ten minutes fizzle out in to thin air, as we neatly kept shape and composure.

We worked our way in to some fantastic positions, turning the Hammers on their heels continually; and when the play did break down, we hassled and harried as a unit to get the ball back and start again.

So having gone one-nil up, with Jarvis volleying accurately in to goal when the ball dropped to him in the area, and having demonstrated such purpose, it was simply disappointing to see us surrender after the break.

Until TV cameras get allowed in to changing rooms, we’ll never have a true picture of what goes on in them at half time. But going on today’s evidence, there were a couple of pots of camomile tea awaiting the home team, with a 70’s Open University maths lecture on a TV in the corner and Mick giving a small talk about his favourite Barnsley brass bands.

In the second, we frustratingly lined up more conservatively – Fletcher looked deeper and adrift from Doyle – and, sensing blood, Parker, Boa Morte, Noble, Piquionne and Obinna exerted themselves as we looked utterly tired, rudderless and lethargic.

The calls around Molineux were, somewhat ironically given recent times, for a tackle – but there was little response offered. Foley was hard done by for the penalty when it came, but our heads dropped further after Noble buried it and the faithful saw little to encourage them to get behind the team.

The truth is that we lost the second half in midfield – Jones and Mancienne in particular didn’t seem capable of recouping things. McCarthy disappointingly withdrew Fletcher for Van Damme, supposedly to get a grip on things but his presence simply removed any remaining balance we had and underlined a lack of authority that was needed from the bench at that point.

Thrown on with barely five minutes to go, you had to feel for SEB when his boss caved in to the pressure from the South Bank for the number 9’s presence. What on earth was he meant to do, with the rest of his team looking so void of energy?

Ending on a positive note though – Jarvis was again the pick of the Wolves players. Crafty and gutsy throughout, we can only hope he inspires some more belief in his team mates. They are, on the first half’s form, undoubtedly capable of weathering the oncoming storm – but on the second half’s, only in fits and starts.

Training Match: Man Utd 3 Wolves 0

Dan kindly volunteered to put together the report for last night’s match, as he made the journey to Old Trafford for what proved to be a controversial night. He reports:

For 25 long minutes at Old Trafford it appeared that our, somewhat divisive, manager might be in the process of pulling off quite a coup. A leftfield, unexpected starting line-up, announced to a shock media shortly before kick-off had commentators tearing up their research notes – and possibly those of Sir Alex Ferguson and his team too. Could Mick McCarthy have outwitted the Uber Lord King of the Mind Games?

Matt Hill - One of Ten changes from Mick McCarthy

Matt Hill - One of Ten changes from Mick McCarthy

Don’t get me wrong. Within those 20-odd minutes with the scores still standing level, United never really had too much to worry about from a Wolves team with the whole 10 outfield players rotated from White Hart Line. But then United didn’t look particularly worried about anything in general, which was surprising considering the 0-1 defeat to Villa at the weekend.

Wolves lined up with Hahneman keeping his place, and a back four of Elokobi and Mancienne in the middle, Zubar on the right and Matty Hill on the left. They were protected in the centre of midfield by Castillo and Foley, with Surman at times slightly more advanced. Halford and Friend, recalled from loan at the weekend (his name wasn’t even on the programme squad list), operated the wings, with the Hoff upfront.

A curious tempo to the game ensued. Whilst United had changes in their side, a team featuring Vidic, Rooney, Berbatov and Scholes should really have mauled us. We were opened up a couple of times, with Hahneman being called on to competently save from Rooney at short range and balls in to the box not always cleanly dealt. We even managed to carve a couple of chances ourselves – a Halford long throw eventually fell to George Friend who fired over when he should have kept his head down – but there was little outlet for us to use to relieve what pressure we needed to soak.

Our best football was played in the middle by Foley, Surman and Castillo who neatly at times knocked the ball around at close quarters – Foley in particular caught the eye, enjoying the opportunity of a more central role. But without an industrious Dave Edwards, spirited front line or cultured left peg of Milijas, we were never really able to work our way up to the final third with conviction.

Up front, Maierhoffer lolled around, pointed a lot, shrugged and got involved in some daft muscle flexing with Vidic. I recognise he’s a target man and thrives of service – but there were plenty of balls put his way and he didn’t get on the end of them to bring other people in and kept too far away from the action. He’s certainly a character – but not one that fits with the Wolves ethos of teamwork and unrelenting hardwork at the moment.

A Zubar handball bought about a well taken Rooney penalty to break the deadlock, which arrived as a few United fans were growing a touch restless at their lacklustre gazillionairres and it was always going to be a big ask to come back after Vidic powerfully headed from a corner just before half time.

Iwelumo, Jarvis and Dave Jones were bought on in the second half but couldn’t make the required impact to create a good enough response. It was good to see Jones back, who bought with him some more varied, reaching passes that managed to find Jarvis later on in the game out on the left, but an ongoing lack of guile and strength from the winger prevented him from putting in any telling balls when he got to the touchline.

Pure, unadulterated yet mercurial class from Berbatov allowed substitute Valencia to score in the box after an hour as United strolled their way to the final whistle.

The real talking point here of course is McCarthy’s selection. What’s to be learned from it? Well, for me the positives were the two centre backs who played efficiently and as a unit. Mancienne in particular looked like he relished the Old Trafford floodlights, tackling and carrying the ball to try to spark something. I’ve already mentioned the middle three, but I thought Matt Hill worked hard too. Elokobi looked more focused and confident, though his distribution made for a couple of nervy moments.

All the players deserve credit though. It must have been a tough ask to play together for the first time like that, with the prospect of a potential thrashing given the gulf in class. The fans stuck with the team which was good too considering the controversial selection. Whilst the media has latched on to some of the “We want our money back” chants, being in the United end (my Dad and I sat amongst Scandinavians) it was tricky to hear if there was anger or irony in their voices.

So – bring on the debate. The question I’ve been asking myself is: Should we be happy to take three points from the last two games? I’ve been saying, emphatically, ‘yes’. But as the traffic jams grew longer and on the M6 heading back and news of Brum in sixth blasted out from 5Live, ‘four’ started to sound much better.

Highlights

McCarthy Defends Decision