Brendan King offers a Wolves’-eye view.
Saturday afternoon was a roller coaster for Wolves and their fans. It started out on a low, with centre-half Berra, making an horrendous error in allowing Bent to snaffle the ball from him in front of goal and then chopping him down, for the same Villa striker to score an easy penalty.
Then, for the rest of the half, Wolves dominated, scoring two goals and, best of all, our returning, rejuvenated, talisman winger of recent past, Kightly, showing his old sparkling form, tormenting the Villa defence and even scoring a well-taken goal. And our previous talisman, Robbie Keane, now on a short term loan at Villa, well contained and making fruitless passes to nowhere.
So at 2-1, Wolves fans were happy during the half time interval, with the vital victory we all expected and hoped for, in sight. But we failed to predict that Mick McCarthy’s, half-time ‘strategy’ talk would fall short as it has many times before while Alex McLeish, Villa’s similarly much maligned manager, would make a brave substitution, replacing in-form front man Agbonlahor with Warnock, Villa’s out-of-form defender. Warnock, then, effectively contained a now tiring Kightly, which explained how clever was the strategy adopted by the Villa manager and which had baffled supporters on both sides.
A now transformed Villa attack proceeded to score two goals, predictably by our old boy, Robbie Keane. The winner was a terrific, vintage, long range shot, which reminded us as to why we have revered ‘Keano’ as being the greatest living product of our youth team. The ignorant bunch of fans who booed Robbie whenever he touched the ball and when he left the field near the end obviously weren’t around 15 years ago, as I don’t believe any self-respecting Wolves fan from Robbie’s ‘Golden‘ era, would ever dream of abusing him. Fortunately, far more Wolves fans applauded him off (including me) even though he was the cause of our downfall in this match and a possible factor in our future, more than likely, relegation.
I predicted in my last blog that Wolves would win this match and that we had to for the sake of survival. For a time it looked as though we’d get all three points and I still believe that our best players, who started this match and who earned the recent draw away to Spurs, had enough quality to do so. I couldn’t predict that, firstly, Berra would gift an early penalty and, then, Jarvis in the second half would send a wild pass sky-high into the air, bouncing down undefended within our goal area, for an easy prodded second Villa goal and the first of Keane’s second half winning brace.
Another blow for Wolves in the second half was a nasty eye/cheek-bone injury to Arsenal loanee midfielder Frimpong, caused by an accidental kick from the boot of Villa’s Petrov. The 19 year old was showing his team mates what Premier midfield creativity is all about, with a sizzling performance in the first half – emphasising how lacking is Carl Henry, our ever-present central midfielder, who was playing alongside him and being obviously outclassed. Frimpong will be out for most of the rest of this season, when he’ll be due to go back to the Gunners. I sincerely hope his injury is less serious than it looked on the field and that he’ll make a full, speedy, recovery. The brave lad has already reported back to Wolves and is anxious to play again for us if possible.
Anyway, we now seriously need O’Hara (who performs the same midfield creative role as Frimpong) back from his groin surgery ASAP, as Henry is nowhere near good enough for this level of football. And Henry is now banned for three matches after a stupid back-heel kick at Villa’s Albrighton who was fouling him by entangling his legs after a defensive challenge.
Wolves Dave Edwards played well enough in a forward attacking midfield role, as did Milijas who came on for Frimpong, but we need at least one more quality central midfielder. It’s an oft-said truth, that it’s from the midfield that winning teams are made. The return of O’Hara might suffice, but one other to replace Frimpong seems a must. As for Henry, even though he’s a true, grafting, local lad – get rid of I say as of now – as he’s not consistently good enough and prone to too many mistakes, as demonstrated with his latest sending off.
All three goals Villa scored were sloppy defensive mistakes of the kind we’ve been committing all season. Four wins in 22, is the joint second worst record in the league. It’s a record that surely deserves the sack, as it spotlights McCarthy’s lack of strategic nous at this level. He was clearly out-thought by the Villa manager in the second half of this match, as he’s been by many other visiting team bosses throughout this season.
There are some possible glimmers of light, however, as Wolves now have a fortnight to recoup and reflect on the season so far, as they’ve a break during the FA Cup matches next weekend. It gives time, also, for a couple of high quality signings (a top class midfielder and proven striker) even if it means eclipsing all Wolves previous transfer records and breaking the bank. And, even, the dignified exit of McCarthy and the speedy arrival of a new, high profile, managerial team to rejuvenate the squad for the serious final part of this, so far, disastrous season.
Also, in trying to add a bit of much needed hope, our next opponents are Liverpool at Molineux on the last day of the month. This will be a Tuesday evening with that extra atmosphere on which Wolves have thrived in the recent past, particularly against Liverpool. This is a Liverpool who lost away to Bolton on Saturday. I’ve already predicted a draw for this encounter; I now change that to a home win and three points, which could still make it possible for us to climb out of the bottom three into which we’ve now dropped for the first time this season and to survive.
Where there’s life there’s hope and Wolves were certainly lively against Villa, in a match we could and should have won — with a bit more luck and the absence of that long-lost hero, Robbie Keane.