“We’ve always won games when we had too”, those were the words that rattled round by head as I got out the car and took a stroll, the regular two-week stroll to the Molineux. Saunders had a point you know, when we had to win at Millwall, we did, when we had to get something at Watford we did, and when we had to beat Bristol City, we did.
It was beginning to look extremely perilous for the boys in gold, with 5 games to go, the team had amassed 48 points and needed to win in order to push them selves up out of this septic precipice that was Championship relegation. Mind you, a win would only lift Wolves to 18th, which still would not guarantee them safety, in fact every team from about 11th could still be dragged into what is turning into an insanely unpredictable relegation battle.
The hulking figures of Matt Murray and George Elokobi on the touch line, pre kick off, had fans in good spirits before what was certainly going to be a season defining game. An unfortunate broken leg in the game against Birmingham ruled out our 15-goal striker, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. It forced Dean Saunders to slot in what was, on the face of it, quite a surprising addition in the face of Stephen Ward, a man who, to many Wolves fans, seemed extradited along with Berra and Foley. He fitted in at left midfield behind the ever present and astonishingly consistent Jack Robinson, an odd move, considering Peszko, Hammill and Dicko were available to play. So with the calm head, and rather perfect hair, of Dorus De Vries in goal, the back four was Doherty, Gorkss and Johnson in the middle, who seem to be Saunders’ preferred partnership, and the aforementioned Jack Robinson at left back. The under pressure Jamie O’Hara was paired alongside Karl Henry in the midfield, with two Stephens on the wing in Ward and Hunt. Gorgeous Bjorn and Kevin Doyle were the preferred pair up top for Dean Saunders’ team
Two changes from the last minute draw at home to Peterborough saw Steven Gerrard’s younger cousin, Anthony, come in for Murray Wallace, along with Adam Clayton, who displaced the Scot, Scott Arfield. Huddersfield lined up with a diamond in the midfield, Oliver Norwood, Oscar Gobern, Adam Clayton and Neil Danns were the four cogs in Mark Robins’ midfield. James Vaughan and the influential Sean Scannell made up the front two. The back four consisted of the young, up and coming Alex Smithies between the sticks with Gerrard and Clarke at the back, Paul Dixon and Callum Woods occupied the full back positions.
Fear, nervousness, anxiousness, jitters, call them what you wish, they were all allayed inside 4 minutes when Sigurdarson drove forward through the heart of the Huddersfield midfield, passing the clambering Oliver Norwood to slide an inch perfect pass to Kevin Doyle out onto the left hand side, who took a few touches and whipped a venomous, accurate cross to the overlapping Stephen Ward, who slotted home from 8 yards out, needless to say, Molineux erupted at the sight of this somewhat questionable introduction giving Wolves a deserved lead.
Now, if you are reading this and you are not a regular visitor to the Molineux, then you won’t understand why, at 1-0. The aforementioned jitters seem to seep there way back in through the very bricks of the golden bowl. At the start of play, Wolves dropped 19 points from winning positions at home this season. 19 points that would see them comfortably in the top 6 with 67 points, it is astonishing really. So as Huddersfield picked the ball out their own net, the celebrations were there, they were. But you couldn’t help but feel that there was a tinge of nervousness just brushing the crowd as the ball was placed on the centre spot once more.
We had 86 minutes to try to either defend a one goal lead or continue with our vicious, attack dog like intent and go and get number 2, 3 or, dare we even say it, number 4. Things were looking even better, when it took 20 minutes for The Terriers to create their first real opportunity, when Oliver Norwood floated a high ball in from 30 yards out to James Vaughan who busted the proverbial gut in order to get a toe to it. He did, but it was just a toe and the chance went just wide after some good containing from the chasing Roger Johnson.
Wolves’ opportunities on goal increased when Sigurdarson burst down the right hand side, cut in, Arjen Robben-esque and beat two of the Huddersfield defenders to slide a ball to an open Karl Henry, who fluffed the shot completely. The missed opportunities were piling up for the home side, as we continued to push on. After another 25 yard strike from Kevin Doyle went sailing over Alex Smithies goal. On about the half hour mark Huddersfield found themselves on the right hand side with Sean Scannell he brushed past a committed Matt Doherty who ran in, head first, under the sheer awe of Scannell’s spell-binding step-overs. With Doherty on his arse, Scannell continued forward, parallel to the goal line, the defence, expecting a cross, kept their line and waited for the ball in. The opposite happened, Scannell dropped his shoulder and slotted the ball into the bottom left hand corner from an impossibly acute angle. 30 minutes gone, the score was, predictably, 1-1, see what I mean about those ‘one goal up’ nerves, the worry always comes to fruition.
The pressure from The Terriers increased as Wolves’ shell was well and truly shocked, the impressive Adam Clayton jinked his way through a scrambling Gorkss and a desperate Johnson, it took the goal keeper, Dorus De Vries, probably the only player in the back 5 to be comfortable on the ball to stamp his authority and go right through Clayton and clear the ball away, dispelling some of the tension, for now. In fairness, the pressure from Huddersfield dispelled until Keith Stroud blew his whistle.
As the half time pies, tea and beer were being purchased the usual moans and groans rang around the ground, “Why did we not capitalise on that early goal?”, “Why did we let Huddersfield back into the game?” and “We really are our own worst enemy”.
The second half was under way and Wolves found that hunger and intent that rewarded them with a first half goal. Hunt’s ball in was punched away by a confident Alex Smithies. Bjorn Sigurdarson flick on to his partner Kevin Doyle was seen as a good chance until Peter Clarke forced the ball out. And when Stephen Ward drove at the opposition defenders and played a reverse ball to an impressive Matt Doherty who lofted a good ball in and Kevin Doyle found him self facing away from the goal, he chested it down and set up an oncoming Bjorn Sigurdarson who fired miles over. It seemed that all these wasted chances were piling up, sound familiar?
An hour had passed and Wolves were looking on top, chance after chance after chance had passed yet the score remained at 1-1. Both managers had kept their cards close to their chests, Mark Robins was the first to make a move, he brought on Keith Southern for the impressive Oscar Gobern, his second substitute was to be the game changer, Sean Scannell’s identical and less effective twin, Neil Danns, was brought off for the 29 year old journey man, Jermaine Beckford, the loanee striker from Leicester City.
To say he had an instant impact would be an understatement, once again it began by Sean Scannell running at our defenders, he had already by passed Sigurdarson and Matt Doherty was his next target, the young right back contained Scannell well and forced the ball out for a corner. The resulting corner was swung in, Gorkss and co were far too slow to react to the ball bouncing around the 6 yard box after De Vries had made an impressive point blank save from the head of James Vaughan. Unfortunately, Jermaine Beckford was there, sharp as a razor, to smash the ball into the roof of the net and subsequently dampen every single Wanderers fans sprit.
The defending was brittle and lazy, Beckford was quicker to react than any of our players. Things were about to get worse, O’Hara lost possession incredibly easily and for a third time, Sean Scannell was running at our back four, like a repetitive nightmare that Johnson and Gorkss could not awake from. Scannell saw the run of Beckford behind Johnson, who was completely unaware of the striker. The aforementioned forward received an inch perfect pass from Scannell, Beckford waited for Gorkss to go down and chipped a delicious ball over a flapping Dorus De Vries. Boos rang around Molineux as Beckford wheeled away to celebrate, the sense of disbelief in the ground was palpable. The anger was vitriolic towards everyone, 42 games’ of frustration that could ultimately lead in successive relegations for our beloved club was being aired. Can you blame them?
Wolves had only just picked the ball out the net and put it back on the centre spot when Jamie O’Hara did the foolish thing of raising his arms to an oncoming Keith Southern. Stroud had no choice but to go to his back pocket and dismiss O’Hara who was clearly angry and shaken by what happened. It was 5 seconds of madness, but it was 5 seconds that could define our season. “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” was the chant of choice as our combative midfielder trudged off for an early shower, like a child who had been told to go to his room.
With 15 minutes to go, Wolves were two goals and a man down. Could it be done? Well no, it could not. Wolves, for the remaining 15 minutes, looked utterly deflated and devoid of any, sort of fight, desire or even Wolves fans favourite buzz word, passion. Huddersfield looked utterly content to let us have the ball. Without Blake, Wolves lacked a spearhead, we lacked our own Jermaine Beckford that was clear for all to see. The introduction of Hammill, Dicko and Doumbia in the space of 5 minutes did nothing to inject much needed zip and flair to the team.
Keith Stroud blew his whistle after a surprising addition of 6 minutes injury time. Wolves offered nothing of merit in the final 15 minutes, it was a limp and rather drab ending to the game. Glorious failure it was not. The jeers, boos and chants were louder than ever, for once they were directed towards the team and not to the men in the boardroom and rightly so. The 10 men of Wolves failed to take hold the initiative and press forward, they didn’t even try. That was the worst part about it.
Wolves’ lack of depth really was exposed, we have one goal scoring striker, just one. And he was sat at his home with his leg in a brace, McAlinden was on the bench but can he really be relied on to push Wolves away from the perilous, sometimes unreal, position we are in? There are 4 games to go, the visit of Hull on Tuesday night will be an extremely tough test, Steve Bruce has them playing some fantastic football, how much would Wolves fans swap Bruce for Saunders right now. He was so close to managing us but turned it down because he was offered Wolves’ remaining 13 Premier Leagues. Mind you, hindsight is a wonderful thing. Charlton are the team next to face Dean Saunders’ men at The Valley, winnable yes, but Chris Powell has got his men playing well and are in brilliant form, coming off the back of a staggering 6-0 win at Barnsley. The last home game is against Sean Dyche’s Burnley and then we travel to the south coast to promotion chasing Brighton on the 4th May. It could be all done and dusted by then, Wolves could be down or we could have performed a minor miracle and managed to avoid successive relegations.
If we are all honest with each other though, Jermaine Beckford introduction and his two instinctive strikes may have just sent Wolves plunging into the abyss.