Rotherham Frustrate Wolves
New York Stadium
Going to the New York Stadium was always going to present some unique challenges, but most Wolves fans would have envisaged Rotherham firmly as relegation fodder. With a new-look team still bedding in, limited infrastructure, and an ethos of pacey aggressive football, I personally expected them to flounder, and for Wolves to collect a pretty comfortable three points off them. Obviously my judgement was off, and Rotherham`s narrow, scrappy victory against Wolves might turn a few heads. For Wolves however, there will be a ruing of missed chances and a necessary lightning bolt of reassessment in order. The Wolves team lined up as they did against Norwich in a 4-2-3-1 formation, off the back of a disappointing League Cup exit at home to Northampton.
My viewing of the game was from an Arabic sports channel stream, which held the caveat of making fair-haired midfielders rather indistinguishable from above. However it was very clear in the first half that Rotherham were going to park the bus and absorb the pressure that Wolves` one-size-fits-all tactic of fluid passing would guarantee. Dicko, Sako and Van La Parra, whilst very busy in the first half, will all be disappointed that they missed some guilt-edged opportunities that a bumbling Rotherham defence handed to them on a plate. Notably, however, Golbourne and Doherty both sat back deeper in defence than they had against Norwich, making our attacks less fluid in wide areas and relying more heavily on the individual brilliance of our wingers.
There is certainly a temptation to breathe fire at brimstone at our defeated team, but I thought Kevin McDonald had a characteristically strong game from the start, whereas I felt that he took longer to account for the pace of the game against Norwich. Similarly, I thought at least in the first half, Dicko looked very sharp and nearly scored a candidate for goal of the season, turning his man expertly and lobbing the keeper from about 30 yards using the outside of his boot, except it was placed a whisker wide. Batth put in some strong challenges and just about coped with the "passing out from the back" farce that our backline seemed to advocate. Going into half time, I was disappointed that Wolves hadn`t scored 2 or 3 against a side that definitely hadn`t gone out to win.
This is where I hold back on the optimism and platitudes, and try to work out what went wrong, because we were looking good for the win. For starters, the referee certainly did not help very much. I thought he was overly zealous with his whistle; there was a misunderstanding of Baldickian proportions with the linesman which resulted in a booking for Golbourne; he did not facilitate a good flow of football for either side and seemed utterly ignorant of the notion of playing advantages. Although to blame the referee for a truly woeful defeat and overall poor display is wide of the mark. I thought we wearied in the second half and were not particularly fired up - I think this because the men from Yorkshire were properly buoyed by the home crowd and were first to the ball and winners of 50/50s. The goal was a bit of a fluke, with the Rotherham man effectively just blocking a Dave Edwards clearance from a corner, into the net, but it would be hard to argue that Wolves deserved to win.
Evans and Edwards were poor in the middle and misplaced a lot of ambitious passes. Edwards`s big asset is running through the middle, but he either didn`t run enough, or there was nothing to run onto. The energy of the wingers abated in the second 45 and Dicko was nowhere to be seen either, which meant that Wolves struggled to impose themselves on the game, and the scrappy nature of a rough Rotherham tactic meant that retaining possession became a real slog.
It is here that I lay the blame at the feet of Jackett. I am a huge fan of Jackett, and am not going to make any sweeping demands or accusations, but for every match there should be a degree of accountability, be it positive or negative, and I believe that Jackett`s inflexibility and poor use of substitutions cost us at least a point.
For starters, there appeared to be no coherent contingency plan. Jackett brought on Henry and Jacobs in the 77th minute, and failed to alter the shape of a flailing team, just injected some energy which obviously wasn`t the main problem we were facing. In the dying moments, Wolves travelled back in time and played route-one football, which in itself isn`t necessarily condemnable, but how on Nouha Dicko is expected to play the lone man in that system is beyond me. I believe that we needed a striking change, some fresh impetus in the middle of the park *cliché alert* and some response to the uncharacteristic, defensive game plan of Rotherham. I also thought our attacking players squandered chances, especially from set pieces, with Sako being the major culprit. Whilst one definitely can`t blame Jackett for that, but I think on the whole, he was bettered by the Rotherham coaching team on the day.
I should stress that this is no catastrophe: Wolves will lose several games this season, and as long as lessons are learnt, this is not an intrinsically bad thing to happen. I am disappointed about the way we lost, as we dominated play and wasted chances, though, and I think perhaps this will serve as a message to the coaching team and board that Wolves cannot ride their luck in the way they did last season.