February 12th – a day to remember

When golden shirts shimmered in the hazy autumn sun, nobody could have predicted where we’d end up come February 12.

Cyrille predicted a close game

Heads down and shoulders slumped come 4pm was pretty incomprehensible, but rocking up outside the Hawthorns at the first light of dawn was nigh on impossible.

Like a couple of lost fish swimming way too close to the shore, Thomas and I were wondering around the Hawthorns in a daze at 8am, trying to find a way into the s**thole to meet a load of Albion fans!

Barely believable to us two, let alone our dear wives, who usually can’t shift us out of our pits on a Sunday morning with a stick of dynamite and a spatula.

We were there in aid of lifelong WBA and Wolves fans Kieran Caldwell and Ian Marrey, who had organised a 10 mile ‘March to Molineux’ to raise money for Acorns Hospice, which is playing an invaluable role in looking after their children.

We met Cyrille Regis and Bobby Gould in the Hawthorns car park, exchanged pleasantries with some amazingly eloquent Baggies fans, high fived some similarly dazed Wolves ones, and took a walk towards our path of righteousness.

With rivalries used as a topic of endearment, we dissected each other’s teams, remembered the good old days and chose which player we’d like from either side.

Pre-match warm up

Fletcher was their near unanimous choice, while one Albion fan said he liked the look of ‘that lad called Guedioura’ who he thought was the man-of-the-match in last season’s corresponding fixture.

Cue non-stop laughter from Coseley McDonald’s all the way to Parkfields School when I mumbled where the Algerian was now residing!

Within hours of us marching through Tipton, along the Birmingham New Road and into the city we call home, we were thumped 5-1, Mick McCarthy was sacked and a tortuous two weeks ensued.

With the managerial merry-go-round twirling ever since, I didn’t think a blog about a walk was a priority to write about – until I remembered how the experience made me feel.

When materialism and cynicism rears its head with the monotony of a West Bromwich Albion attack, the Beautiful Game doesn’t always appear so scrumptious nowadays.

But when a chorus of ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd’ thawed the freezing Molineux air, you can tell how much I’m back in love with it that I wanted to sing along.

Thanks again Kieran, Ian and everyone involved with the March to Molineux.

Wolves 1 West Brom 5

Humiliation can take many painful forms but none, I’m quite sure, are as excruciating as this.

I’m not just referring to the scoreline either.

That didn’t even flatter them.

In every possible way that one team can better another, they did so emphatically.

Odemwingie pefectly mimmicks every Wolves attack

And of all the damning statistics in Albion’s favour on this grave occasion, 26 shots on goal is perhaps the one that appropriately underlines their dominance in a match that served to highlight the crippling deficiencies of this Wolves side.

Where do I start?

Above all else, our chronic inability to pass the ball inside the opposition’s half continues to upend our progress.

Aside from Fletcher’s juggling act and majestic finish to drag us level completely against the run of play, our tactics were as one-paced and predictable as they normally are.

In possession we have 2 routes to goal, namely:

1. Pass to Jarvis.

2. Go long and feed off scraps.

That approach, however well executed, will rarely get the job done at this level, as 5 wins in 25 matches will testify.

We need more craft, more variety, more guile.

You know, attributes that actually separate us from lower league sides.

Today’s teamsheet, whilst suggesting a refreshing, attack-minded approach, simply offered no cohesion.

It was lunacy.

Yes, that 11 brought home the bacon against 10-man QPR but surely we needed a cuter strategy in a local derby against a side with a full compliment of players on the pitch?

Obviously not, if your name is Mick McCarthy.

And that brings me to the inescapable fact, that above and beyond anything or anyone else, he is to blame.

He picks the team, he defines the strategy and he shapes the style of play.

The buck stops with him.

And his time is now up.

You simply cannot argue against it.

What frustrates me most about a man I have the utmost respect for, is that he patently does not learn from his mistakes.

Case in point, we were slaughtered in the first half today and only bailed out by a moment of brilliance.

Now surely any rational manager (or human being for that matter) would gratefully clasp this second chance and alter their tactics accordingly?

He did not and ultimately, every gold shirt inside Molineux paid the price.

Now he must do the same.

I’m of the opinion this group of players are capable of better; much better in fact based on today’s debacle.

Yet some still seem to question whether any manager could do better?

My response is simple:

Could anyone do worse?

Wolves Vs West Brom Preview

When Steven Fletcher swiveled to volley home the winner against Sunderland at the start of December, I didn’t think we’d be sitting here two months later still waiting for our next Molineux-maximum.

But we are.

No way through at the Hawthorns

Make no mistake, survival very much depends on Wolves doing better business on their own patch, with Bolton and Blackburn still to pay a visit after Sunday’s gargantuan match against Albion.

Speaking of our dear neighbours, their need for a win is becoming as desperate as ours.

Swansea’s victory at the Hawthorns last weekend means they now boast an even worse home record than us with just 2 wins to show from their 12 matches to date.

What’s keeping them afloat is their away form, which is sumptuous, particularly for a team in their position. With 5 wins and 3 draws, they’ve collected more points on their travels than Arsenal and just 2 less than Chelsea.

Gulp.

Just as well the form book goes out the window in a derby then…right?

The Team

Both teams have been struck down with injuries of late.

Brunt and Gera are long-term absentees for Albion, which is a plus for Wolves as they’ve definitely been thorns in our side over the years.

Shane Long is in a race to prove his fitness and after the anarchy he caused in the match at the Hawthorns, it would probably be better for us if his name didn’t appear.

Still, enough about them, what about us? This is the team I would personally pick:

Hennessey, Foley, Johnson, Bassong, Ward, Milijas, O'Hara, Edwards, Jarvis, Doyle, Fletcher

That’s very similar to the side that finished the match at QPR, but as we’ll be starting off against 11 men this week, we probably need to be a little more cautious, hence Milijas added to the midfield.

I like the idea of Doyle playing from deep. We need to get him facing the play more as it brings out the best elements of his game, so starting him wide on the right and allowing him to drift inside could be a good bet. He might have to do some defending though.

I hope the introduction of Bassong at the back will be as telling as I believe it should be. Too often over the last 5 years or so, Albion have had pace up front that’s caused our lumbering defenders problems. We’ve lacked any real athleticism at the back, so I’m pinning my hopes on the Spurs man to solve the problem.

So that’s my preferred team, but as to what eleven Mick will send out, I’m not so sure.

I think he’ll want to play Doyle from the start and I can’t shake the suspicion he’ll move Foley into midfield again and play Stearman at right-back. Most likely a 442 I’d say.

Prediction League

Well done to the 10 pundits who kept the faith and predicted a win against QPR.

Hats off to Morph, Putney Wolf, Philly Pete and Hudds Wolf who got the 2-1 scoreline too. They get the maximum 3 points, the others take a single.

I said before the Liverpool game I thought we’d take 4 points from the next 3 games.

So we had the defeat to the scousers and a fantastic win at QPR, which leaves a draw to support my logical conclusion.

Can’t see either team keeping a cleansheet, so how about this for a prediction – 3-3.

I genuinely believe there’s nothing to choose between the sides in terms of ability, so on any given day the result could be pretty much anything.

If you’re at Molineux Sunday, be loud and make the place bounce rather than boing. This would be a massive win if Mick and the boys can pull it off.

Up The Wolves.

* Just one final plea to support our March to Molineux fundraising efforts. Ben and I will be doing the 10-mile walk on Sunday morning to raise money for Acorns children’s hospice and any donations would be gratefully accepted. Here’s the link to our fundraising page. It’s a wonderful cause, so be please do dig deep.

West Brom 2 Wolves 0

After taking 7 points from the first 3 games, Mick McCarthy brushed off the achievement and defiantly proclaimed we still had 35 matches to worry about.

He was right to be concerned.

5 defeats on the bounce have since followed, all demoralising but perhaps none highlighted the shortcomings of this Wolves side more than today’s.

This is how you finish

Sloppy at the back, clumsy going forward and lacking any real pace at both ends of the pitch.

Albion’s early opener was a neat, incisive move, capped by the type of thunderous finish Wolves frankly seemed incapable of, particularly in the absence of Steven Fletcher.

Nenad Milijas is one player who does have the capacity and the Serbian’s low drive was about as close as we came to an equaliser.

I was ecstatic to see him back in the side and despite a few misplaced passes, he looked by far and away the most likely route to goal. He should not have been taken off.

Despite enjoying plenty of possession, Wolves struggled to create throughout. By contrast, one hoof up the field was enough to unlock our cumbersome back four.

Shane Long was too hot to handle for both our center backs. His pace was always going to be a problem, but the number of aerial balls he was allowed to flick on or bring down was horrifying.

Johnson in particular had an awful game, exposed frequently by Long’s dancing feet. He also fluffed Wolves’ best chance, heading wide when it seemed easier to score just before Albion registered the decisive second.

And how long will it be before Berra costs us dear with his antics inside his own penalty area? It’s not the first time we’ve seen the Scot wrestling opposition players to the ground from a corner and it needs to stop. It’s cheating and it’s embarrassing. If you’re not good enough to defend, you shouldn’t be in the side.

Thank goodness for Stephen Ward.

We’re 8 matches into this season and he’s the only player to consistently meet the standards required.

Had it not been for his determination, bravery and all round awareness today, we’d have been out of this game, long, long before Peter Odemwingie finally put the result beyond doubt.

And how predictable was it that while Doyle, Jarvis and Hammill consistently tripped over themselves in promising positions, one decisive swing of the Nigerian’s boot would be all it took to end the contest?

With the possible exception of Fletcher, we just don’t possess that kind of direct threat.

There is absolutely zero cutting edge.

The ball goes into the box over and over and over again but nobody can get on the end of anything. Nobody can register a clean strike on goal. It’s pathetic.

Our manager will now face a stern examination next weekend in front of an impatient Molineux crowd.

I hope for his sake, he has the answers.

West Brom Vs Wolves Preview

If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that Albion have developed a rather unpleasant knack of coming out on top.

Take last season.

Four points from six against our near-neighbours would suggest the Black Country belonged to Wolves, but dig deeper and you might well come to an altogether different conclusion.

We were all sucking our thumbs at full-time

For starters, the point at the Hawthorns, whether we like it or not, felt like a defeat.

That late Carlos Vela goal also provided the shot in the arm the Baggies needed to embark on an impressive run of form, which saw them comfortably sidestep the relegation drama.

Of course we deservedly overcame Roy’s boys later in the season; a result that proved decisive in preserving our own Premier League status.

But somehow even that crucial victory felt like winning a battle rather than a war.

The same could be said for this game.

Sure, a win on their patch would go a long way towards exorcising the demons of the last decade, but it’s only one battle.

Sitting above them after 38 matches would win us a war.

As luck would have it, we actually go into this match 2 points and 3 places above over dear rivals, but a home win would obviously overturn that in an instant.

Omen? I hope not.

Both teams are struggling, but perhaps in different ways.

Albion have yet to really fire, while Wolves have misfired after a shotgun start. This game will either be a major a tonic for someone or another great anti-climax. I’m predicting the latter but more on that later.

The Team

After all the Karl Henry kerfuffle of two weeks ago, Mick’s team selection will be interesting for this one. Personally, I’d be looking for him to go 451, drop Doyle to the bench and bring in another midfielder, preferably Guedioura or Milijas.

I don’t think he’ll do that though, I think he’ll stick with the same starting eleven that lost to Newcastle.

Hennessey, Ward, Johnson, Berra, Stearman, Henry, O'Hara, Hunt, Jarvis, Doyle, Fletcher

You’d expect Hammill and Guedioura to both be pushing hard for starts, whilst the bench will likely be bolstered by the fit-again duo of Ronald Zubar and SEB.

Prediction League

8 people correctly predicted defeat against Newcastle and half got the score too, so 3 points and a pat on the back go to ben, Exeter Wolf, Putney Wolf and Michigan Wolf.

I think this one will be a draw.

Both sides need the win but neither will want to contemplate losing. I can see that having an effect on the play.

I’ll go for 2-2.

If you’re going to this one, have a great time, stay out of trouble and get right behind the lads.

Up The Wolves.

Wolves 3 West Bromwich Albion 1

“Bloody Ward.”

An all too familiar cry of anguish went up as I spat out the team news at precisely 11.32am, crammed inside a Costa Coffee surrounded by stressed-out gold shirts (because all the pubs in town were astonishingly slammed shut).

By the time I arrived at the ground, I couldn’t determine whether I was shaking because of the caffeine rapidly flooding into my bloodstream or because Matt Jarvis had been dropped. I eventually reasoned it was the latter, but also had something to do with the fact that Milijas was once again on the sidelines and Hammill wasn’t even in the squad.

It just seemed mental.

Need a hero? Take your pick.

But as some scientist-bloke shrewdly pointed out, there’s a thin line between insanity and genius; a point which has been repeatedly accentuated this season by ‘Mad Mick’ and his tactical epiphanies.

There’s a similar divide between love and hate too, which I myself have flittered between in recent weeks, pondering the plight of our manager. But today, however begrudgingly you want to admit it, he got it bang on the money.

For starters, he brought Stephen Hunt back into the side, a player built-to-measure for a Black Country Derby. When I said in the preview I expected Wolves to explode out of the blocks like a pack of rabid animals, I didn’t think Hunt would take it quite so literally.

But he did you know; buzzing around the pitch like a man possessed, snapping at ankles and rascally getting into as much trouble as he possibly could.

He was also the chief architect of Albion’s downfall, delivering both crosses that led to Wolves establishing a decisive foothold midway through the first half.

The Baggies marking was non-existent, but that should take nothing away from Steven Fletcher and Adlene Guedioura for twice putting themselves in there to benefit from the others vital knockdowns.

It was the least Wolves deserved having muscled into the ascendancy early on and generally shown a greater appetite for the scrap.

For the visitors, it was the kind of performance they would have secretly feared as their side struggled to get started.

Sure they threatened at times, Jerome Thomas constantly asked questions from the left and Peter Odemwingie posed a threat whenever he was given ample time and space to run at our back four.

But it was Wolves who came closest to scoring again just prior to the interval, when Fletcher somehow contrived to head wide from another incisive set piece. It was an astonishing miss really, but the Scot soon made up for it minutes after the restart.

You always got the impression Meite was capable of a big mistake and so it proved when he clumsily let the ball slip under his foot, allowing Fletch to sprint in and coolly slot home Wolves’ third.

Dreamland.

Sadly though, it didn’t last.

A sluggish outstretched leg from Guedioura saw Albion correctly awarded a spot-kick and Odemwingie did the rest, firing confidently passed the outstretched arm of Hennessy.

View from my seat (pre-match)

Suddenly it was game on, panic stations and the distinct possibility of the worst kind of misery.

Thomas ran clear and crashed a shot off the bar, Hennessy smartly clawed out Cox’s flick and Tchoyi nodded a fabulous opening over the bar when left inexplicably all alone in the box.

Phew.

But as the seconds ticked agonisingly by and the Albion blitz eventually subsided and the sun started to shine again, suddenly everything in the world seemed good.

And then through the steamy haze, a mirage. A vision. It must surely have been a dream?

Stephen Ward plucks the ball out of the vivid blue sky, audaciously lifting it over the defender in one beautiful, seamless movement before shrugging off the attentions of another stripey shirt and taking aim at the hopelessly exposed Albion goal. It couldn’t be, could it?

Then, reality, as he slammed his fierce shot narrowly wide having done all the hard work in crafting the space.

What a shame. That was his moment and he deserved that goal.

But still, he should hold his head up high for a performance that took all the bile, disgust and criticism (some deserved, some not quite so) he’s received all season and became a hero, at least for this one glorious day. Why wouldn’t you smile for him?

And why wouldn’t you smile for Mick McCarthy?

If you’re prepared to rip him to shreds, as I myself have in recent weeks for a string of logic-defying brainwaves, you have to be willing to tip your cap to him on a day like today.

Sure, we might ultimately come up short in our quest for survival, but today was a stark reminder that you write off this team and this manager at your peril.

Oh, and my man of the match?

Bloody Ward of course.