Wolves get lucky
Before the Middlesbrough and Blackpool games I would have settled for two points so I am really pleased with three. Of course, we should have earned at least a point against Boro`, possibly three, but, having watched us ride our luck this evening, I cannot complain.
We could have gone in at half-time three goals down not one goal up. Having deservedly gone ahead through a well-taken goal by SEB, we surrendered the pitch to Blackpool. According to the TV stats they had 62 per cent of the possession and a greater advantage in shots on goal. Fortunately, we scored from our sole chance and they squandered at least four times as many better ones.
Ince gave Ward a torrid time, creating a number of gilt-edged chances for himself or a colleague. We survived because he either over-hit the ball, took the wrong option or came up against a goalie in inspired form. In the second-half Ikeme even surpassed his first-half performance, in one 90 second burst, for instance, pulling off three full stretch saves. He deservedly won the man of the match award.
Normally, SEB might have expected to win the bottle of champers. He scored two goals and missed a sitter for a third. In the 2nd. minute Pennant spotted SEB`s movement off the ball and gave him the defence-splitting pass that many of us having being crying out for all season. Receiving the ball outside the right upright, SEB calmly angled it in beyond Gilks. For his second, in the 70th. minute, he typically blasted the penalty down the throat of the goalie, that is, if Gilks had remained stationary. At some point, goalies are going to suss out SEB`s tactic and will not dive to left or right.
The second goal came when Wolves were beginning to exert a little pressure, having spent most of the previous 25 minutes as much on the back foot as they had been in the first half. Naturally, it eased my tension a little but, given our past history, I would have liked a third, just to make sure. And had SEB not side-footed the ball over the bar of an open goal at close range in the 87th. minute, he could have saved us all a great deal of anxiety.
Inevitably, Blackpool pulled a goal back, though, surprisingly, Phillips, who had come on in the 74th. minute, was not the scorer. With two minutes of normal time to go Baptiste headed home after a goalmouth scramble. Six minutes of agony followed before the referee blew the whistle, thankfully bang on the end of the 4th. minute of extra time (though where he found four minutes of stoppages from is anyone`s guess).
Blackpool scored a minute after Solbakken had made another poor substitution, putting on Stearman in place of Sako. At the time, we were controlling the game and were looking dangerous on the counter-attack, especially through Sako. The substitution completely altered the dynamic of our play. On the other hand, our manager`s substitution of Davis for Doumbia in the 66th. minute improved our game. While Doumbia played well (and with pace and spirit) in the first half, he became increasingly ineffective thereafter. Davis strengthened our midfield and helped stem the tide of Blackpool attacks.
We still lack something in midfield. Pennant flitted in and out of the game, though he made a great run in the first minute and made the killer pass to SEB shortly afterwards. We could do with a fit and functioning O`Hara out there. Naturally, Sako will always provide us with chances but so much of his work is wasted because there is no-one in the box to tuck his crosses away. At least, he bottles up two players and poses a constant threat, which is another reason why Stearman should not have replaced him when he did.
Our lack of steel in midfield, Henry apart, puts a lot of pressure on our back four. Our two central defenders had steady games, in spite of the occasional wobble, and somehow managed to repel most of the Blackpool attacks. At full back Foley had a better game than Ward but he did not have Ince to contend with. We do have to strengthen our team in this area.
Upfront, Doyle had a quiet game, perhaps because the ball did not stick to him as closely as it usually does. SEB was by far the perkier of the two. Even so, if SEB is going to play the lone front man, chasing long balls, he ought to lose some weight. We really do need a tall target man.
In terms of points on the board and the confidence that accompany them, this win is a significant one. However, we have to play better than this if we are to advance up the table. We were overrun for most of the game and if it were not for Blackpool`s profligacy in front of goal (and Ikeme`s brilliance), we would have lost by a bucketful.
We desperately need a full back or two, a central defender, a midfield playmaker and a striker with height and power. If we cannot fully utilise Sako out wide, why don`t we play him further infield behind the forwards? Peszko can replace him on the flank, as can Bukari in the long run (pity about his continuing injury problem though).
We have two winnable games coming up, including the intriguing prospect of seeing a MM-managed Ipswich at Molineux after Christmas. We should approach these games in a more positive frame of mind than we did the one today. Well, that is after the first few minutes. When we get an early lead, we seem to forget everything that gave us the advantage in the first place, we tighten up and defend too deeply. It`s cost us points ... but, fortunately, not this evening.