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.