A Game of Two Halves
Although some of us warned against complacency, last Saturday`s game still came as a shock ... even to those fans who had warned against complacency.
For the past two weeks the gardener, who mows our next door neighbours` lawn (they`re even older than us), was completely insufferable. A Spurs supporter, he had collared me the previous week before I could hide, and asked me to give him an account of the game. This week, he wanted to discuss the Spurs-Liverpool match, pointedly observing that Dalglish and Co. will probably take it out of the next team they play in the PL.
I wondered whether their honour had been satisfied by the scratchy win over Brighton in the Carling Cup? Probably not ... and even worse, it meant that Skrtel and Adam would be free to play against us on Saturday. As it was a shot from Adam that RJ diverted past WH, this affected the outcome. Had that ball not gone in, the result could have been different.
More problematically, our rather more emphatic win against Milwall did little to restore our dented pride or to change MM`s opinion of our fringe players, who performed well in that match. Only Edwards made the starting line-up, though Doherty replaced Stearman at half time and Guedioura came on with ten minutes left. Personally, I would retain both of them.
Although a non-Molineux week, I still had to pay my dues, especially as it was my birthday on Friday and my wife`s today. Traditionally, I am forbidden to participate in or watch sport, as custom dictates that we go for walks, visit stately homes and gardens, partake of pub meals and, as a centrepiece, eat something a little posher than a takeaway curry. Hmm!
The big day is the one in the middle and that`s the problem this year: it fell on a Saturday. Whereas my wife was busily perusing the National Trust handbook, I was frantically trying to think of a good reason for not moving far away from home ... and without giving away my underlying motive.
I therefore thought it politic to accompany my wife to Debenhams to pick up the curtains she had ordered and even to insist that we went on to look for a mirror that she wanted. My wife naturally expressed her surprise at this unlikely show of enthusiasm so (gallantly, I thought), I said that it was so nice shopping with her that I regretted all those missed opportunities in the past. She told me not to be sarcastic ... but she smiled.
A delivery of flowers also put her in a good mood. For a moment, when I received the bouquet at the door from Interflora, I contemplated passing them off as my own, but thought that my younger daughter would complain. Even so, putting up the curtain rail and the mirror earned me brownie points and took us beyond lunchtime and the deadline for going out ... so I could watch WW with a clear conscience
As I am still in dispute with the supplier of the Beacon broadcast, I rely on dodgy freeview sites and the WW blog on the other computer screen. The site, which other contributors here recommend, was no better than the others, freezing momentarily every five seconds and then packing up for minutes on end. Not a perfect solution and, as a result, I had to wait for the Football First replay to clear up some points.
However, I did see enough to realize that it conformed to the time-honoured footballing cliché of a game of two halves. It`s just a pity that we did not score as many as Liverpool in our period of domination. At least, I got the result right in SS`s survey: small consolation, especially as I had not wagered any money on the outcome.
If we lost the previous week because of a slow start, why did we repeat it as a tactical ploy this time round? Well, we won the first couple of minutes then disappeared for the rest of the half. Liverpool, with Suarez to the fore, ran our defence ragged and although the first goal was somewhat fortuitous (and controversial), it was no more than Liverpool deserved for all their pressure. RJ should have left it alone as it was heading around the post. He, like everyone else, was out of sorts.
The second goal was superb, a precisely aimed ball bisecting the defence and putting Suarez through on goal. Even so, he wouldn`t have scored, if Berra had taken one of the two chances to tackle him and had WH covered his near post. At this point, I turned to drink, we were so bad.
The most noteworthy aspect of the half from the Wolves point of view was Hunt`s new haircut, which does away with the need for an Alice band and the rather fey look it gives him. It did not improve his play however, even if he was involved in our goal after the break.
After the first half, I was in despair and feared the worst: I can`t survive another relegation battle. However, a half time rollicking by MM clearly had some effect because WW came out with renewed vigour and my outlook brightened.
We also had a forward on the field who could score goals. A run from Henry, a fortuitous bounce of the ball and a neat pass from Hunt gave Fletcher a chance and he made no mistake. At the moment I think that he should be selected ahead of Doyle, who is struggling. Doyle missed a chance too. If we secure McFadden`s services, I would be inclined to give him a run out with Fletcher. Jarvis is looking threatening again after several lacklustre performances (including the first half). He had the beating of Kelly, especially after the latter`s yellow card made him more cautious in his tackles.
Liverpool were by no means out of the game and were always dangerous. Fortunately, our defence was better marshalled and the replacement of Stearman (given the runaround by Downing) by Doherty also helped. Ward played OK and made a great tackle on Gerrard in the 88th. minute. WH again kept us in the game with a couple of outstanding saves.
I would also replace Henry by Guedioura. The latter came on with ten minutes of normal time remaining and made an immediate impact. He is so much more positive than Henry and gives us extra bite in midfield going forward. I would like to see Milijas on the pitch too. Together, AD, JOH and NM would add up to a combative and skilful inner midfield.
Surveying the other games after the match, the results were reasonably kind to us. Blackburn, Bolton, Everton, Swansea and Wigan all lost and WBA and Fulham drew. We are still mid-table with another tough match behind us. Moreover, MM surely has learnt the lesson of the last three games over the course of the last eight days, in terms of formations and players in form. But, if so, why did Hammill not get on the pitch?
It`s Newcastle at home next week and I will be there to watch the match, if a little hung over after my friend`s 40th. wedding anniversary in Wolverhampton the previous evening. It`s a game we can win but only if we approach the game with the right attitude from the off! It`s another acid test of our 'progress`.