On Friday night I couldn`t sleep for excitement. I had not anticipated a visit so keenly since 1950 when Father Christmas promised me a Rupert Bear annual on the 25th. (we were so undemanding in those far-off days of the 1950s … except for the Wolves results. We did not just demand victory, we expected it). Incidentally, I stopped believing in FC in the 1980s when he kept ignoring the requests I shoved up the chimney for our speedy return to the top flight.
At 8 a.m. I set off from mid-Surrey with a sense of foreboding: a fifth successive defeat was unthinkable yet likely.
Stopping at Warwick services, I noticed a number of Manchester United fans chatting excitedly together. I bet they were more subdued on the way back (so was I … had the Baggies really come back from two goals down at Old Trafford?).
Then I spotted a Wolves shirt and introduced myself to a couple of our supporters, who were travelling up from the south coast. We talked, among other things, about the media frenzy over the team`s alleged dirty play and the problem of our defensive frailty. Who isn`t?
At 11 a.m. I arrived at my friend`s house in Codsall, where I had arranged to leave my car and catch the train. I had hardly sat down when he pushed me out of the door and marched off to the station. ‘Blimey`, I thought, ‘That was quick. What had I said?` Probably, that I was gasping for a pint: the station doubles up as a real ale pub. Now a tied Holdens house, it was good to taste real Black Country beer again, though I would have preferred a pint of Banks`s (that came later).
As my friend and I are Welsh, the conversation soon turned to the fortunes of Wales in the upcoming Six Nations` rugby tournament. I didn`t want to tell him that for the foreseeable future the outlook is bleak, as I had already bargained away all chances of success in return for a Wolves survival in the Premiership this season. Looks like Father Christmas is still letting me down!
Having a beer or two before the match (others followed at the Moon under Water and the Wanderer) was the most obvious difference between 1960 and now. I had to show my ticket at the MUW and, to me, it seemed like I was entering an exclusive club, though a lot different from the last one I visited in Wolverhampton (Club Lafayette in 1971). Instead of flairs and fitted shirts … and droopy moustaches … a sea of old gold shirts confronted me. I had come home! Based on the predominance of the Sportingbet motif, most people were current benefactors of the WWFC trust fund. I did notice a sprinkling of Chaucer logos; a shirt with the Goodyear insignia on it (now, that`s a proper Wolves shirt); and even the strip with the three running wolves that Kenny Hibbert used to wear. I could not find a single Doritos-vintage outfit though!
Because my vague recollection of the way to the South Bank was of little use to me, a relay of officials dressed in reflective bibs shuttled me to the Billy Wright stand. I told everyone that this was my first visit to Molineux since 1960, making me appear like an elderly granny (elderly granny = anyone older than me – and female, of course) fishing for compliments about her age. I reached my seat at 2.35 p.m. and settled down to study the programme. Although far more interesting and relevant than the one I had bought at Craven Cottage, it, too, made no pretence at guessing the starting eleven. To be fair, I got it wrong as well (see below). After Pan`s People had shaken a leg and the mascots (the young, non-furry ones) had had their picture taken with Wolfie, the two captains and the officials (Aarrgghh, Clattenburg again), Wolves kicked off.
As for the match, it was the clichéd game of two halves. After the first few minutes, in which WHU could have scored, we dominated proceedings and should have gone in at half-time two or three goals up. If Green gifted us our goal, he kept them in the game with a brilliant save from Jones, which looked even better on Football First in the evening (he`s rapidly turning into the natural successor to ‘Calamity James`). The result turned on the soft ‘penalty` that Obinna won. If only we received the same level of support from the referee. Even the two WHU fans I talked to at Warwick services on my way home thought that Clattenburg was wrong. The goal fired up the Hammers and by the end of the match they were unlucky not to win. We have to press home our advantage when we have it: it`s an unforgiving league. Unfortunately, Wolves are quite forgiving, throwing away the initiative and squandering leads. It`s getting to be a distressing pattern.
Grant, in his interview, had the gall to complain about the referee`s decision not to award Piquionne a late goal. At the time, I thought that Clattenburg was making amends for his penalty gaffe but, reviewing it in slow-motion in the evening, the tape showed that the striker had manoeuvred the ball into position with his upper arm. MM was his usual philosophical self in the interview. It`s just a pity that I cannot fathom out his thoughts: on tactics and players, that is, not on the penalty.
In spite of an encouraging first half we are still in deep trouble; indeed, defensive lapses could have cost us dearly at the time. We might moan about bad fortune but lady-luck favoured us on several occasions in the match. Drogba would have buried us … just watch him next week. I thought Mancienne played well and Stearman was an adequate substitute for Craddock but why wasn`t Mouyokolo on the bench at least? Van Damme might as well go home now because, as much as I have praised him in the past, his heart was not in the game. His touch was very poor. Of the others, their shortcomings are well known: lapses in concentration, errors of judgement and shortage of pace. They`re competent but we are always going to ship goals with them at the back.
Further up the pitch our midfield and strikers flattered in the first half because we were going forward. Doyle, as ever, was great, a constant threat, and at times linked well with Fletcher, who nonetheless looked increasingly ill-at-ease in the second half. Unfortunately, all cohesion vanished after the penalty; we tensed up, stopped moving and passing the ball slickly and resorted all too often to hoofing the ball upfield. We were lacking creativity in the middle and, with Milijas warming-up, I was hoping he might get on the pitch. If not, why wasn`t Hunt out there with his kit on (Nice coat, though)? Perhaps he is not ready to play a full ninety minutes but surely he could have managed a thirty minute cameo appearance? He would have galvanised the team, put WHU on the defensive and given us a chance to score. Jarvis couldn`t manage it. For all his speed and twinkling feet, he still does not consistently get behind his man on the goal-line and, even if he does, the chances are that he`ll fluff the cross. What about the treatment of SEB? How can a person make an impact with only five minutes remaining? I just don`t understand MM`s tactics.
The one positive result of the match (apart from picking up a point) was the reversal of the trend of performing worse than we did in the equivalent fixture last year. This, in itself, is a mark of how far we have progressed since the start of the 2009-10 season (or, more worryingly, how far WHU have declined). I await the forthcoming matches with dread. At least, we`ll get them out of the way with time to put things right, that is, if we improve our tactics and splash out on genuine Premiership players in January. And, who knows, it might not be that bad this month: if the Baggies can do it …
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