Most of the recent football headlines have centred on the removal of Roy Hogdson at struggling Liverpool, Gerard Houllier becoming embroiled in similar bother at Aston Villa and Carlo Ancelloti’s stuttering season as Chelsea look to retain their Premier League title. Were it not for the fact some of the England’s most toried clubs are in such a wretched run of form then Wolves’ recent wins over Liverpool and Chelsea might not even have made the back pages.
But this is a Wolverhampton Wanderers side that is producing some beautiful football in the face of an intense season-long relegation battle. Mick McCarthy’s side completely outplayed Liverpool at Anfield during the Christmas period, recording a richly deserved 1-0 win. Yet all the headlines the following morning were about Hodgson and Liverpool’s plight rather than the manner in which Wolves recorded a much needed win.
In a season of inconsistency in the top echelons of the Premier League it says a lot about the quality of English football on display when Wolves, Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers are producing the best and most fluid, passing game. For that reason alone you would hope that Mick McCarthy and Ian Holloway are still Premier League managers come August. Wolves’ pressing and harassing of their opponents during both the Chelsea and Liverpool victories was terrific, an invaluable trait that is often overlooked when even the likes of Manchester United eek out narrow wins.
Wolves possess pace and power in abundance but McCarthy has married those abilities with a fluid counter-attacking style that gets the best out of the raw material at his disposal.
Republic of Ireland international Stephen Hunt looks a player reborn since his arrival at Molinuex and is a perfect fit for McCarthy’s style of play. The work ethic of strikers Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Kevin Doyle and Stephen Ward clearly demonstrates the honesty of effort running throughout the whole squad as they automatically becomes the first line of defence. Marcus Hahnemann and Wayne Hennessy are proving astute purchases and neither goalkeeper has disgraced themselves this term. Wolves’ heaviest defeat so far is an acceptable 3-0 but their biggest victory remains 1-0 which suggests as long as the midlands club can keep a clean sheet they are capable of eking out victories.
“Their effort and endeavour is always there. They don’t leave a drop on the pitch and I’m hugely thankful and proud of that. Sometimes there’s a lack of quality and they make mistakes, but so do I. What they give me is fabulous.” Mick McCarthy following the 1-0 win over Chelsea.
If there is one thing which could cause Wolves to lose their battle for survival it is inconsistency. Sandwiched in between the recent Chelsea and Liverpool wins were crucial losses to fellow strugglers West Ham United and Wigan Athletic. Currently hovering just a point above the relegation zone Wolves desperately need to pick up points on a more consistent basis.
McCarthy has already intimated that the style of play will not change as the season progresses. This is admirable considering most relegation threatened sides tend to resort to a 4-5-1 and punt the ball long to the lone front man in the latter stages of the season for the simple reason they cannot afford to lose. Wolves play best when they are on the front foot and looking to link with their strikers using quick passes rather than hoofs out of defence. Matt Jarvis, Nenand Milijas and Michael Kightly (when fit) are best utilised with the ball at their feet and not looking up into the sky as their defence launch howitzers into the oppositions’ half.
McCarthy should be commended for sticking to his guns and practising the quick-passing game he has always preached as a manager. In his time as Republic of Ireland Coach he is best remembered for re-inventing an ageing squad an introducing a host of young stars. Saipan apart, those years as Irish manager McCarthy implemented a more attractive brand of football to that which he played as a centre back under Jack Charlton.
Wolves should stay up by virtue of the fact there are at least 3 teams worse off than they in terms of quality and squad size. If McCarthy’s side avoid the drop it will be major triumph but staying up having played such an attractive brand of football would constitute an even bigger achievement.
Once again a refreshing dose of the Wolves Manager’s realism says it best: “We might go up and down like a fiddler’s elbow but it is nice to be out of the bottom three. We’re probably going to have 10 good days out of 38. The rest of the time I go home feeling sh*te”.
Ger McCarthy is author of the book entitled ‘Off Centre Circle’ about a lifetime spent playing amateur football in Ireland. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.