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Baggies Debagged

Of all the must-win games this season, this was the most critical of them all and, as is customary in such circumstances, we succeeded ... and in some style too. Indeed, the players pull us back from the brink so regularly that I am beginning to think that MM and the team are teasing us.

I was so excited on the way home that I followed a car with a Wolves logo on its rear window along the M40 to Oxford services, merely so I could share my joy with someone else. A little further down the road I beeped furiously at another Wolves driver, exchanging thumbs-up signs as I passed. In the evening, I phoned up every Wolves fan, whose number I could get hold of, thereby delaying this report!

It was so different on Thursday evening. Coming out of the polling booth in my Surrey village, I met a couple, who also support the Wolves, and we spent thirty minutes in a gloomy dissection of the season so far. Had I met any Wolves supporters at Warwick services on the way up to Molineux, they would have deepened my depression but, as I started out at 7 a.m. yesterday, I did not meet any of them.

I arrived at West Park at 9.45 a.m. this morning, due, I should stress, to a day out at Oxford with friends rather than to pressure of traffic on the motorway. The city centre was relatively quiet for a match-day. Even so, Queen`s Square had a Spring-like air: the sun was shining, people were strolling about and diners were enjoying their lattés and pastries at pavement tables. I joined them.

I reached my seat in the Billy Wright Stand just in time to hear the announcement of the two teams. Hmm, lovesW would be pleased, I thought, as MM had plumped for a 4-4-2 formation, with Fletcher and Ward up-front. Hunt and Guedioura replaced Jarvis and Hammill and, in spite of his blunder last time out, Mancienne retained his place in central defence with Craddock.

I was not the only person to express surprise but it certainly succeeded ... at least for today. Fletcher was impressive once more and he worked well with Ward. Together, they posed a constant threat to the WBA defence ... so credit where it is due. Ward should have scored a deserved goal in the 83rd. minute but, having done the hard work, pulled the shot inches wide.

Although Fletcher received the official Man of the Match award, Hunt got my vote. Apart from his pinpoint corners, which led to the first two goals, he was a veritable ball of energy. He flew around the field (often literally), displaying sharpness in attack and pit-bull terrier qualities in defence. Listening to Five Live on the way home, the commentators spoke of fresh legs (and, perhaps, fresh heads) and that`s what it seemed like. Jarvis has looked a little jaded over the past few weeks, though it was still brave of MM to rest him.

When the first goal went in, we were naturally ecstatic, though our elation was tempered by the knowledge of previous leads thrown away, especially to WBA. Getting the second goal allowed us to hope, and the third one settled the nerves. Surely, we could not lose from 3-0?

But with the Wolves this was a possibility and it could have happened. A gifted penalty in the 54th. minute brought WBA back into the game. Not only did it encourage them, it also seemed to knock the heart out of the Wolves players. They tensed up and failed to maintain their high line of defence. WBA had their chances, notably a shot from Thomas that hit the crossbar and a free header that Tchoyi should have buried in the back of the net.

We survived but at times more by luck than judgement. Craddock stabilizes the defence but he does lack pace, and Mancienne is not the answer to the problem in central defence either. While he was generally competent, he made another error (fortunately not a costly one this week) and was outrun on several occasions (as was Elokobi). Foley, on the other hand, was solid in defence and effective when going forward. Hennessey played well too and if he had not made two great saves in the 59th. minute, the final half-hour would have stretched the nerves virtually to breaking point. And, we had to suffer for an extra five minutes on top of that.

So, have we found another winning formula, one that will hold up for at least another two games? Possibly ... we created so many chances in the first half that we could have been out of sight by the break. WBA`s dodgy defence, especially against set pieces, helped and in this respect we were fortunate to play them when they had three of their experienced (and tall) defenders missing. Meite`s error that let in Fletcher for the third goal was akin to the ones that have cost the Wolves so dearly this season. Moreover, the system creaked in the second half when WBA put us under pressure: we needed that three goal cushion.

I watched the wins over MU and Chelsea but this was the season`s highlight for me. Of course, any sort of result against Blackburn will exceed it, as long as it keeps us up, but in the meantime I will enjoy the moment. MM looked quietly euphoric in the post-match interview too.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

The Journalist

Writer: southbank60 Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday May 8 2011

Time: 11:27PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

Change to most recent first
Excellent report young man. What a day for it. I cracked a beer just before the second half began (8am New York time) partly for the nerves, mainly for the purpose of celebration because whilst in recent weeks I have sat back resigned to defeat, today I really did not doubt us going onto win the game- Fletch topped things off nicely. Of course the penaly, theatrical in my opinion although hardly the smartest of tackles, took some shine from the gloss and indeed as you say 'the edge' kicked in. Very few managers would have made the changes Mick made today and credit where credit is due it worked a treat. Hunt was outstanding throughout. Adlene gave us exactly what we knew he was capable of; the running was a joy to watch, to the point in fact that nearing the end of the first half I was worried our legs would start going in the last 20 minutes. They didn't. In his post match interview Roy gave it up and said, they chased every lost cause every dead ball and it got their crowd going, and that passes onto the team. He's right, it was infectious. Every man on the field gave everything today and we forced Albion. They did not create mistakes, we forced mistakes. We were great today. Once again Fletch showed it- play me and I will score. Truly dseerved it today. As I was parading around the living room arms aloft singing my songs, my wife said 'why don't they just play like this every week.' I met her question with a blank stare and sat down.
New York City Wolf
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09/05/2011 02:27:00

A game we had to and did win but as you say we did need I think that three goal cushion.We may play our last two games against teams who are already 'safe',Sunderland are and Blackburn may be by then, according how results go!.Is that a good thing?who knows,I think though we will have to win that last game,unless of course we can win next week then maybe a draw will do!.What also worries me as well is that if Man utd have won the title by next week,what team will they put out against Blackpool on the last day?All sorts of twists and turns but at least it is now in our own hands,something which it has'nt been for some time.UTW.
Crete Wolf
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09/05/2011 06:41:00

I knew Fletch can do it, just he just needs the manager to trust and support him :-) He was great yesterday, deserved a hattrick. Ward was good too :).... Even if he is not the best on any position, he is a fighter, you have to leave that to him.... And then Guedioura... what a brave performance ! Finally positive result.... Now hopefully Doyler can get back for the last two matches. C mon you Wolves !
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09/05/2011 06:42:00

So far, my last prediction - that is, the one after I said we would win all our remaining matches and finish on 56 points - is still on course. I predicted the 3-1 score against WBA. Now for the hard fought 3-2 victory at The Stadium of Light and the 3-0 demolition of Blackburn at home on 22 May.
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09/05/2011 07:56:00

You saw, now you believe..."blessed are those who, though not having ...." Great of Mick to have the courage not to select Jarvis. He need not have given explanations at all for it. This is where our trust should come in. I am sure he will have the same courage should it come to opting to leave Doyle out in order not to upset a winning style of play.
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09/05/2011 11:01:00

Riding high on yesterday's euphoria, it's easy to think that it will be just as easy in the next two games. It won't be, as neither Sunderland nor Blackburn will be as neighbourly as WBA. All three goals derived from defensive errors of a magnitude that I thought only our players were capable of. When the Baggies started to play in earnest in the second half, our defence looked increasingly fragile, and they could have pulled us back. To be fair to our players, they were exhausted after their earlier exertions. In such a situation, a 4-5-1 formation would have spread the physical load and allowed them to maintain their energy levels. Of course, we might not have scored three goals in the first place, even against such a generous back four as WBA's. MM has a difficult choice to make for Saturday's game but I am sure he is happier now than if he had to make as a result of a defeat yesterday. We still need wins, especially as MU will put out a reserve team against Blackpool on 22 May. So, we balance out a potential 1-0 win with a 4-5-1 system and a 3-2 win/1-3 loss with a 4-4-2 formation.
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09/05/2011 11:39:00

39 points is likely to be enough. So 1 win from 2 will do it.
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09/05/2011 11:50:00

The question is will mick put Doyle straight back into the starting line up or play 2 up front or use him as a sub? In my opinion I wud probably start with 2 up front and then drop back to the defensive 4-5-1. What are your guys opinions? Also should he start jarvis?
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09/05/2011 21:49:00

Superwwfc: I agree with you about starting with two upfront, the same players as on Sunday. Ward did enough to keep his place. The aim would be to play at high velocity, nick a goal and then revert to a 4-5-1 formation with Doyle as the man at the sharp end. MM will also play Hunt again. Jarvis is jaded at the moment and needs a rest, whereas Hunt is ... er ... buzzing!
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09/05/2011 22:09:00

I would keep everything as is. Play like this - try at least. MM has recently said what I said he would if asked: he has no idea why the team switches off at times. So this is one question. The other is that MU's games are against Blackburn and Blackpool, and with the title now secure and Barca on the 28th..
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10/05/2011 05:40:00

So you would drop Fletcher Banksy???
Crete Wolf
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10/05/2011 06:21:00

No way! We start with Fletcher and Ward and make them run around at twice the intensity of Hunt on Sunday in order to get a goal or two. Then, when they are shattered, we revert to a 4-5-1 formation, with Doyle up-front. Conversely and depending on circumstances, we might continue in the same groove as on Sunday. My worry is that the WBA result may be giving us a false reading of the viability of the partnership. Remember, the Baggies' defence was awful. The previous week the same pairing looked toothless agains a ten-man Birmingham. MM told us that the Blues defence was tough and hard to break down. Perhaps, but Liverpool managed to do it easily enough the previous week.
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10/05/2011 07:00:00

I hold that it would be a mistake to revert to 4-5-1, even in mid-game. 'Ride the wave' while it lasts. Doyle for Ward yes, but retaining the scheme of things, not in a 4-5-1.
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10/05/2011 10:37:00

Just as important as lifting themselves from the bottom three, the win alone must have made a world of difference to the players confidence and when they have it they are a different side. Another plucky/lucky point would not have provided that and for this alone I think a different team (as in not the nervy one) will turn up at Sunderland believing they can go there and win. Banksy is right however- whilst we forced those errors Albion truly were awful at the back providing us with as generous 'defending' as we have seen all season. It is important to step back and realize we did not become great overnight. That would spell doom. For me, going there the same team has to start- otherwise you drop any player from that side and they will wonder what they have to do to keep a place in the side. Hunt and Fletcher were outstanding and Ward was not far behind them- he got caught offside too often and missed a good chance but overall he was great and you have to play him again. Surely if we go there, attack and indeed take a lead why jeopardize it when the game is wearing on and we have to opportunity to maintain a lead. It is not arguing for us to take a lead and then 'go defensive'- the players tend to do that anyway, it would be reverting to a system that is aimed at protecting a lead with the extra man in midfield but, as we have repeatedly discussed, turns into a 4-3-3 when going forward. From the last ten games Doyle was invovled in we won 4 drew 2 and lost 4. The system works. Doyle himself has said he will be happy if the side can do it without him basically admitting his knee is not yet 100%. He has missed a lot of football so it woud be silly to expect him to stroll on and play to previous standards. Similarly there is no way Hunt can or will be dropped after that performance. Let's look on the bright side; few teams will have the likes of Jarvis, Blake and Doyle on their bench this weekend especially those around us. It is never an easy place to go but Sunderland have had a dire second half of the season and only before last weekend lost yet another three players. We are out of the bottom three and the manager has options to go with a side who have just lifted the club with as big a derby win as there ever has been. We have had chance after chance and as things we have removed ourselves from the bottom three. Plain and simple- it remains in our hands and if they mess it up now then they will deserve to go down. I am stuck on a draw at Sunderland but with a mini run going I believe they will have enough belief in themselves to finish the job on the last day. It's been emotional? We have not seen the half of it yet.
New York City Wolf
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10/05/2011 13:12:00

Yorkie: we are singing from the same £3 WWFC hymn book. It's just that you have explained our shared views in more detail, thereby clarifying the points I was trying to get across. We have to start with the same team but, as we will not necessarily obtain the same result, we have to be flexible enough to adapt INTELLIGENTLY to circumstances. While the 4-4-2 formation (and the poor WBA defence) gave us a three goal cushion on Sunday, it could have snatched the victory away from us. Three of the players in the back line struggled at times and we were extremely lucky not to concede a second goal. Had we done so, I reckon we would not have won the match. Sitting at the WBA end of the BW Stand in the second half, it was frightening to see the gaps opening up in front of the Baggies, as they pressed forward.
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10/05/2011 15:32:00

Thanks for the first-hand report on the defensive vulnerability, Southbank. I could not make out a tenth as much from the highlights of the match alone- it was Mother's Day, of all days, and I just could not get myself to bring up an excuse to miss the family lunch, nor be honest about it and say I could not attend because of a football match. Such is life at times- you can't lie, and you can't even be honest. I trust that you can, however, be honest about whether you think we will stay up - and I know you cannot lie.
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10/05/2011 19:40:00

I think we will stay up but we must not relax and consider that the job is done. We played well on Sunday and deserved our victory but, had Thomas's shot or Tchoyi's header gone in (and they were easier chances than Ward's), we would have tensed up and probably would have shipped another goal. We are still vulnerable at the back, especially when defending on the flanks. Foley's return to form on the right hand side has stabilised that side, though. Small margins matter. They helped us on Sunday but they might work against us in the last two games. Moreover, Fletcher might put the ball round the post instead of in the net.
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10/05/2011 21:20:00

Just the reply I expected. In-depth as usual. My 42 points total forecast is gone.... not superwwfc's: he has us finishing 14th on 43 points, ahead of Villa and WBA (Relegation fight thread). What will you rename him? Maximus Optimum?
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10/05/2011 22:11:00

After 36 games I find it incredibly difficult to call; looking at the games Wigan and Blackpool have their best chance of improving their chances this weekend with home games. If they have won and we have even taken a point we can go into the last game back in the bottom three and the fears our our mental strength will hit an all time high- last day match with the potential of it being a winner stays up? I see there is a new thread above this about whether we were good or Albion bad so I will move over to their. It really is all in our own hands now and going into the Albion game I really thought we would be going into these final two games relying on others losing and us wondering if or where we coud possibly pick something up from. We hit an ugly patch there and whilst it is our own fault we are battling this out to the end, we have taken 4 points and remained unbeaten in two derby games; if only we could have 'found enough' to beat a ten man Birmingham side. Some, mainly Tottenham fans were saying after the 3-3 result they hope that game would not be the one to send us down because we deserved to win. I said thanks but dont feel bad because no matter how awful the ref was that day the result was inked and it was upto us to get over it and make sure from there on in that we used our remaining games effectively. We beat Albion but that, the same as the wins over the likes of United, Chelsea and so on will ultimately count for nothing if we go and lose the next two games. No doubt about our ability to beat Blackburn at home, but if we can take a point at Sunderland 8 from our last 4 goals I believe will certainly prove enough to see us safe.
New York City Wolf
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11/05/2011 13:36:00


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