Reprieved ... but only just!
This report is going to be difficult to write, as I am not only very emotional but have also drunk too much alcohol.
It`s been a nerve-wracking build-up to this afternoon`s match. The week has dragged by, though my pulse has been speeding up by the hour. I`ve anxiously scoured all the websites for information; have read the prognostications over and over again; and have thought of nothing else except the scoreline at 5.45 p.m. this evening.
In a real sense this match has been a long time coming because we have all been focusing on it since the beginning of the season. As MM has constantly been telling us, it`s our position in the table after the last game that counts. In spite of misgivings, most of us were probably happy that we kicked-off against Blackburn with our fate still in our own hands.
My wife and I slept fitfully last night, though for different reasons. Unconcerned about the fate of the Wolves, she was worried about our daughter, who is training to be a teacher and is applying for jobs. It troubles me, too, but she`ll have another chance when this week`s adverts come out. The Wolves did not have that luxury. Yet, how can I tell her to stop worrying at interviews which, after all, will affect her future when I turn to jelly merely contemplating an event which will have no bearing on my MATERIAL well-being!
I heard the church bell strike five o`clock this morning and, unable to get back to sleep, decided to get up. All quiet outside, just as it has been on the Vital Wolves site for the past few days: tension rules. On the other hand, NewsNow Wolves has been full of relegation stories, permutations and forecasts. If they had any bearing on the actual result, it would have been a foregone conclusion: we would stay up. This, in itself, is a minor miracle, given the fact that the press has condemned us to oblivion throughout the whole season, victories against Chelsea, Liverpool, MC and MU notwithstanding. I was less optimistic and events justified my concern.
I left the house at 10.45 a.m., intending to stop at all the motorway services en route to talk to fellow-supporters and to ease my dodgy back. I talked to a family of Wolves fans at Oxford services, all confident of a Wolves victory, but surprisingly saw no-one in a WW strip at Warwick. Well, I was incognito, too, but that`s because I only possess a Doritos shirt (and I don`t really like the new one either).
I arrived at West Park at 1.40 p.m. to find all the spaces taken so I had to turn round and park in Albert Road. As I was meeting friends at Nando`s in Queen`s Street at 2.15 p.m., I headed into town, which was full of Wolves fans: far more than had been in evidence for the WBA game. Leaving the restaurant an hour or so later, we could hear the Blackburn fans chanting as they were being escorted to Molineux. We hurried to keep ahead of them.
I took my seat in the Billy Wright Stand at 2.40 p.m. and, unusually, everyone was sociable, communal tension uniting us all. By the time that the match started I could hardly write any notes, as my hand was shaking so much. I clearly knew what was about to unfold.
We were awful in the first half, almost as if we felt there was no need for urgency. But nerves were probably to blame. Our defence was at its fragile worst . None of them played very well and Blackburn looked dangerous very time they attacked. Even Craddock appeared vulnerable, though he was probably the best of the bunch. Mancienne is certainly not the answer to our problem in central defence and when he was substituted in the second half I was pleased. The Blackburn players dwarfed him and he looked so waif-like that I worried for his health. It`s an admission but I longed for Berra to come on.
The defence was at fault for all three goals. For the first one Craddock did not cut out the ball and a Blackburn player turned Elokobi for the cross, which Roberts diverted into the goal. For the second, Hennessey chose not to come out and Craddock headed the ball to Emerton, who volleyed into the net. For the third goal, the defenders failed to deal with a long ball and Hoilett dribbled past three players before scoring. At this point we were doomed and even MM was shaking his head in disbelief.
Upfront, we did not look like scoring, Blackburn stifling our attacks by maintaining a high line and pressuring our runners. Fletcher and Ward were largely ineffectual and we had no real chance on goal. They were not getting much support from the midfield either. Henry was another player, who had a poor game. Not only did he not enforce very effectively, he also allowed the tension of the occasion get to him. In the 24th. minute he reacted to a free kick awarded against him by pushing the `injured` party. He was lucky to stay on the pitch. Shades of Wigan!
At the half-time whistle the team left the pitch to boos from the crowd. MM must have given the team a roasting for in the second half we made a game of it. SEB came on for Mancienne and immediately we looked more dangerous. Indeed, in the first minute Hunt should have scored from a free header in the box.
About mid-way through the half, Ward, who had shown a degree of skill and bags of commitment, was felled by Salgado`s elbow. The pause seemed to check our momentum but, hardly had I written this observation in my notebook, than O`Hara scored a beautifully engineered goal from a free kick.
Game on! With the crowd urging the team forward we went looking for the goal that could secure our future in the PL. The bloke next to me had to provide the stats but it seemed as though a second goal would give us the edge over Birmingham. And, when it came in the 87th. minute, it was a stunning strike from Hunt. At this point both sides started playing out time, the Wolves to the extreme annoyance of the home supporters who wanted us to go for the draw.
Even so, with Blackpool trailing MU by two goals and Birmingham conceding a late goal to Spurs, we were safe and the mood of the crowd changed. It was carnival time!
The game was remarkable on account of the split focus of the crowd. A number of people round me had I-players (or whatever) so we all knew the situation at the other grounds. As a result, emotions ebbed and flowed according to how we were faring, comparatively speaking, in the survival race. It was touch and go all through the match, an unenviable situation made worse by our abysmal performance in the first half. I thought we were down.
If any person even thinks about telling us that he (or she) told us so, he (or she) should immediately squash the impulse because it was far too close for comfort and we were very lucky to get away with it. I feel that I have been put through an emotional wringer today, a sentiment that all WW fans will endorse. It cannot happen again and we must strengthen our team in the summer.
MM will tell us that survival has vindicated his stewardship of the team but his reactions during the match, as well as the obvious relief he felt at the end, so apparent in the Football First interview, indicates that he knows how close he came to failure. He has to buy two decent central defenders and a left back this summer , as well as acquire another enforcer and a striker. He has bought time - and the club has the money - so he mustn`t squander the opportunity. If he does, we will be in the same position this time next year. This is not the occasion for criticism - let`s enjoy the moment - but I shall be asking questions before very long.
Reprieved ... but only just. As a bonus, when I arrived home, my wife had a bottle of champagne chilling in the fridge. It seems as though she had watched the results coming in during the afternoon and had got quite excited. Even so, the fate of the bottle of the champagne changed several times. Fortunately for us, it did get drunk. Cheers!