Seven games ago Mick McCarthy took the decision to deviate from his preferred 4-4-2 formation at Wolves. In his three-and-a-half years at the club he had rarely strayed from this tactic, but due to Sylvan Ebanks-Blake’s unforeseen poor form, Big Mick decided the time was right to switch to a 4-5-1 set up. Of course, many of the sides in the Premier League side use such a system in various guises, with the onus on the wide players and central midfielders to support the lone striker. It has not quite had the desired results at the Black Country club with just five points from the seven fixtures, but I think it is worth persevering with – it could probably just do with some tweaking. And by this I mean that McCarthy needs to find a place in the side for Nenad Milijas, his creative Serbian midfielder.
How he does this is the big question. But while Wolves are staying in games and giving all a good battle – even the top teams – they are not scoring enough goals, and McCarthy knows it. 21 times they have found the net this season, in 28 games. And if they are going to turn all their hard work and good football into wins then something has to give. Once again the Black Country outfit played very well against Man United, like they did against Chelsea and Birmingham in recent games and came away with nothing. The same fluidity wasn’t in their play at Bolton but they hit the woodwork twice and again the outcome was zero points. The Molineux club have had their chances to get points from these games. Petr Cech was in fine form for Chelsea and Sam Vokes missed an absolute sitter in the dying seconds against the Red Devils. So the lack of goals cannot be simply put down to little creativity, but it may be time now to bring back the inconsistent, yet effective, Milijas. There are plenty of grafters in this Wolves side. The likes of Karl Henry, David Jones, Matt Jarvis and Kevin Doyle will run all day and will be able to cover for Milijas’ lack of chasing and harrying so he can concentrate on what he is good at. And that’s producing that little bit of magic that can make such a difference.
The Serbian international, who played a key part in his country’s qualification for the World Cup this summer, has the knack of delivering quality balls into the box, with an accuracy that makes them so hard for defenders to deal with. In his 12 starts and four substitute appearances in the league this campaign he has played a direct part in seven goals, a third of Wolves’ overall total. He has also started four out of the West Midlands club’s six wins. McCarthy’s argument for not playing him at the moment is the form of David Jones. I would agree that the former United man has been on top form, but also feel there is room for both of them in the side. Stephen Ward is not having the best of times at left-back and Foley, who is playing right midfield, is more than good enough to take his place. Last year’s player of the season has ability on the ball and wouldn’t be troubled by playing on the left side. This would free up a midfield position for Milijas and add some much needed vision.
Furthermore, against Stoke earlier on in the season – with Wolves trailing 2-0 at half time – Milijas was brought on as a substitute and produced two assists to give his side a much needed point. This indicates that McCarthy, if he can’t find room in his starting 11, should at least be using the Serbian more productively from the bench. I’m also not sure anyone else in the squad would have been capable of scoring the goal he did against Bolton in December. It was an absolute screamer from 35 yards and, along with his earlier assist in that game, was vital. His set piece delivery is the best in the squad and this was again highlighted in the impressive win over Spurs at White Hart Lane back when Milijas was a regular feature in the side.
It is great that McCarthy has finally got a settled 11 and it is showing with good performances. But a slight change could now be needed if his team are to score enough goals to secure their place in the Premier League for another year. This formation would indulge the best of the creator’s qualities and would see that much needed bit of craft added to the endeavour and measured play Wolves have displayed over recent weeks. End product is now needed and the midfielder has shown he can deliver this more often than not. The ‘icing on the cake’ is a much worn out football cliché, but to hell with it, I really do feel Wolves’ sugary coating is ready and waiting and he goes by the name of Nenad Milijas.