As I was attending a friend`s 40th. wedding anniversary on Friday evening, my wife accompanied me to Wolverhampton. Not wishing to leave her at a loose end on Saturday afternoon (why can`t she visit garden centres and DIY stores by herself? It`s not that I am much help there), I suggested that she should join me in the BW Stand.
She refused, probably to avoid doing anything that would indicate that she condoned my fortnightly trips up to Molineux, thereby lessening my feelings of guilt and my need to offer compensatory perks.
The party itself provided a good warm-up for the match as it gave me the opportunity (often at the same time) to bask in the fame accorded to a Vital Wolves blogger, to discuss the respective merits of management and players and to drink several pints of Banks`s Bitter.
Unfortunately, just after my wife and I returned to our room at the end of the evening, she fainted. At first I thought it was a shocked reaction to seeing me tidy away my clothes rather than, as normal, strewing them around the room, but then I realized that she was slumping to the floor.
No problem: she would recover by the morning and I could still go to the match. Wrong! She was feeling so bad that I could not coax her to watch the France-Tonga rugby match at 6 a.m. I had to go to the bar, though that was not a bad move. Uplifted by the shock result, I said that we would travel back to Surrey once the England-Scotland game had finished. Even that result failed to perk her up, just as Wales`s victory earlier this morning did little to alleviate my gloom.
In retrospect, it was probably the wrong game to introduce a person to the joys of watching WW. I would have been poor company and would have uttered something inappropriate had she pointed out that it was only a game. And, of course, my self-sacrifice brought its own reward: if brownie points were air-miles, I could now travel to the World Rugby Cup in New Zealand and back (though I would have lost them all by going!).
Naturally, I saw no obvious WW fans at Oxford or Warwick services and vainly looked for cars coming the other way with WW scarves streaming out of the window. I did talk to a Reading supporter at Warwick, gloomily remarking that we might be playing each other the following year should our result that afternoon accelerate our downward spiral.
While it is still early days and we can turn our fortunes round, the brave new world of the 2011-12 season is turning out to be a reprise of last year`s dismal showing ... and for the same reasons. We continue to ship goals through sloppy defending and fail to convert our chances at the other end.
Yesterday`s match fitted neatly into this pattern. We gifted NU two goals through poor defending and did not put away several clear-cut scoring opportunities. How Fletcher managed to hit Krul in an open goal is a mystery to me and others squandered gift-wrapped chances as well.
Of course, we were unlucky: we should have had a penalty or two at the end of the first half and Doyle`s goal should have stood at the end of the second period. However, such injustices cannot disguise the fact that we made mistakes at both ends of the pitch. It`s not that we cannot play good football or create chances - both of which we did yesterday- but it`s an unforgiving league and we cannot expect to pick up points if we commit such basic errors. MM admitted it too.
The most positive aspect of the match - apart from an encouraging performance in the second half- was a sign that reality had finally bitten MM on the bum. The replacement of Henry by Guedioura was a shift in MM`s thinking of epic proportions. He also gave Hammill a run-out too. Even he must have noticed the all-round improvement in the team`s performance that these substitutions brought about. Now, I want him to select Milijas in the starting eleven too.
And why was Stearman picked ahead of Doherty? Of the back four, only Ward emerged with credit. Indeed, he had to help out his colleagues at times. Johnson was as bad as any of them. He failed to track Ba for the first goal and was bamboozled by Gutierrez`s trickery for the second. Mind you, the Argentinian also withstood challenges from Stearman and Hunt and avoided the despairing lunge of Berra. Henry had given him the ball in the first place! Hennessey has to bear some responsibility too.
Upfront, Fletcher was far more prominent than Doyle but both of them missed chances or were not in the right position to capitalize on a cross. Late in the game, for instance, Jarvis hit a low cross into the box, which Doyle should have swept into the net. Unfortunately, he was jogging behind, yards off the pace. Matt indicated his disapproval. If Hammill`s cross to Fletcher for the goal was perfectly struck, too many of the balls were hit too hard, a common failing this year. Presumably, Hammill, Hunt, Jarvis and Kightly all practise getting it right on the training the ground. It doesn`t always show.
My initial reaction to the match was one of disappointment, even anger. Reviewing the passages of sloppy play on Football First and MOTD still annoyed me, but at least I could see glimmers of hope. We did play well in the second half and did create a number of chances, which on another day we would have put away. We would not meet a goalie in such inspired form either. In addition, through a process of trial and error, our best starting eleven is becoming clearer. Even MM has begun to adopt a flexible and more realistic stance. We still need defenders by the bucketful in January, though! One or two signings in midfield and upfront would be nice too.
Advocates of a more cautious 4-5-1 formation could argue that the 4-4-2 system we played yesterday not only failed to deliver the goals but also left us exposed in defence. While it did the latter, it did supply the opportunities for the former. Only new signings will improve the solidity of our defence, though even at the moment we have other options. The acquisition of McFadden would liven up the forwards too.
Most of all, I want to see Milijas in the team. We miss his vision and the accuracy of his passing. It would improve the service to our front runners immeasurably. JOH has his moments and he is terrier-like in his application but he is often wayward. Indeed, his poor pass indirectly led to the second goal. He has to tighten up. The problem is: can we play Nenad in anything other than a 4-5-1 formation?
MM and the team now have a fortnight to reflect on the result and to attempt to put matters right, especially as we have to win the next two matches (against WBA and Swansea). Then, after MC, we entertain Wigan at Molineux. The day after that I am off to hospital, hopefully in a positive frame of mind in relation to events on the field as well as in the operating theatre.
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