Saturday 24 March 2018

McCarthy savours ‘fantastic achievement’ as Wolves maintain their top-flight status

Ebanks-Blake 80
Nelsen 27

David Instone

ONE of football’s less demanding jobs in recent months has belonged to the soul who announces over Molineux’s public address system the names of Wolverhampton Wanderers’ goalscorers.

Not since February 10 had the volume hit such a peak as it did to provide confirmation and ringing endorsement of Sylvan Ebanks-Blake’s late header, which brought the club only their second home league goal since Christmas and sparked a celebratory full-time pitch invasion.

Mick McCarthy distanced himself from the euphoria – but only for 24 hours, Burnley’s 4-0 defeat to Liverpool yesterday making Wolves’ survival a mathematical certainty and freeing the manager to down a glass of his favourite tipple. “It’s a fantastic achievement for all concerned,” McCarthy said. “It’s been bloody hard work, so I’m really thrilled for everyone and extremely proud of the players. It’s nice to do it with two games to spare, I certainly wouldn’t have wanted it to go down to the last one, that’s for sure.”

McCarthy admitted the point against Blackburn Rovers that put the white paint of the finishing line on his players’ boots was barely deserved. Either side of erring to allow Ryan Nelsen’s first-half tap-in, Marcus Hahnemann was reprieved when efforts by Nikola Kalinic and the Molineux-groomed Keith Andrews struck his posts, and it was just as well that the goalkeeper displayed his normal safe handling when tested near the end by a flurry of shots from Andrews and Morten Gamst Pedersen.

Wolves’ games have been grim viewing in recent weeks. Ebanks-Blake’s equaliser was his side’s first goal in a day over a month and it is remarkable that a team who had failed to score in seven home league matches out of eight could, through good away results over the same stretch, have achieved safety with matches against Portsmouth and Sunderland still to come.

The paucity of the performance reminded Wolves that they operate near the bottom of the top flight these days but they at least have firmer foundations on which to build, having survived a season at this level for the first time since 1980-81. On a day when McCarthy tinkered with his successful 4-5-1 formation by adding a second striker well before half-time and a third 14 minutes from the end, Blackburn were good role models. Utterly competent as they were amid their mid-table comfort, they did enough to suggest a top-10 finish is not out of the question.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-5-1): Hahnemann; Zubar, Craddock, Berra, Elokobi; Edwards (Iwelumo, 36), Foley (Ebanks-Blake, 76), Mancienne (Milijas, 64), Jones, Ward; Doyle. Substitutes not used: Hennessey (gk), Stearman, Halford, Guedioura.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Robinson; Selgado, Jones, Nelsen, Givet; Basturk (Dunn, 45), Nzonzi, Pedersen, Olsson; Roberts (Di Santo, 83), Kalinic (Andrews, 55). Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Hoilett, Linganzi, Jacobsen.

Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).

Booking: Blackburn: Pedersen.

Man of the match: David Jones.

Attendance: 28,967.

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