McCarthy edges closer to holy grail
West Brom 1
Wolves climbed outside of the relegation zone for the first time since February after defeating West Brom in a spectacular Black Country derby that their supporters will watch and re-watch until their DVD machines glow like their golden-shirted players. This match had everything you could ask for, even a Monty Python-quoting manager.
It has been a season of few joys for Wolves, but this was one for them to savour as they unravelled their oldest adversaries through intensity, smart tactics and, admittedly, West Brom's defensive ineptitude on set plays.
Wolves' first two goals came from corners, Adlene Guedioura finding enough room to turn a supertanker, scoring one and providing another for Steven Fletcher, who added his second after the resumption.
Yet even then it could have been a cruel end. Wolves have a capacity for freaking out their already twitchy supporters and that they did not see out the final minutes in a serious funk was due to Wayne Hennessey. Two of his saves could prove just as significant for Wolves' future as his team-mates' strikes.
Heart and passion are vital but they must be anchored to sound strategy, and Mick McCarthy's controversial decision to drop Matt Jarvis, his most creative player, so squeezing the midfield and allowing room for Stephen Hunt, was beautifully judged -- and bang on.
"Hunty was the man for this occasion," McCarthy said.
Billy McNeill once recounted that, as Aberdeen manager, Alex Ferguson would instruct his players to foul someone in the first two minutes to let them know they were in for an uncomfortable afternoon.
Perhaps that was on Wolves' minds as Hunt, Jamie O'Hara and Co swarmed over West Brom. O'Hara introduced himself to Peter Odemwingie via the medium of a kick to the striker's shins within seconds of kick-off.
It had the desired effect, leaving Hodgson trying to rouse the Nigerian with a fist-pump, not the only signal the West Brom manager was making. He gave the fourth official an earful when Stephen Ward won a free-kick on the edge of the area. You could see why when Hunt found Guedioura unmarked with the subsequent corner. He in turn found Fletcher, who put the ball in to the far corner.
Fletcher has come in for some stick since his record £7m signing last summer, but the striker now has seven goals this season, four in the last four games, and none will prove more important than his first here.
It settled Wolves -- and more importantly it settled the home crowd, who are unrivalled when it comes to collective nervousness.
True, West Brom had helped with some heinous defending, and when another Hunt corner went to the back post, Guedioura was again unchallenged despite being surrounded by a crescent of defenders. No wonder West Brom have failed to keep a clean sheet in 34 games.
Odemwingie came close with a shot which was heading directly for the top corner until Hennessey's fingertips diverted it. A goal back for West Brom before the break and anything could have happened, but two minutes into the second half Abdoulaye Meite let the ball run under his foot, allowing Fletcher his second. Again, contemptible defending.
All the intensity West Brom lacked in the first half flooded in for the second. Odemwingie became the first Premier League player this season to score in five consecutive matches when he netted from the penalty spot after Guedioura had brought down Jerome Thomas.
West Brom are a tenacious bunch. Cox came close, forcing another splendid save from Hennessey; Thomas even closer, hitting the crossbar after 65 minutes.
Somehow Wolves had contrived a nervy end, but they survived unscathed. "Timely, certainly. Pleasing, definitely," McCarthy said, his voice ragged. "But I'm still fully aware that there is a lot of work to do."
It had been a long afternoon for McCarthy, but he still came up with the quote of the season. Asked why Wolves have been so inconsistent this season, out came Python: "What's the airspeed velocity of the American swallow?"
Eleven meters per second, since you ask, but more important is that Wolves are that bit more likely to stay in the Premier League, their holy grail. (© Daily Telegraph, London)