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Wolverhampton Wanderers 4 Watford 0 (10/03/2022) 11/03/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1-  For the most part, it’s a great day.  There’s not much to dislike about an afternoon off work in any case, a criminal waste not to enjoy it.  The sun is shining, the route up isn’t without kerfuffle as you’d expect from the M6 in late afternoon but it’s fine and the car is full of happy chatter.  The parking place is accessible enough;  when we get to the ground there’s a fanzone, vans selling a good line in Curried Stuff, coffees too.  “This is the grimmest place on earth”, smiles the woman serving us coffees, warmly, and she’s exaggerating a little bit but that’s fine too – we haven’t had to pass through The Underpass.  Will arrives from working in Birmingham, proud to report that the lady booking his schedule has an eye on the fixture list and manoeuvres things accordingly.  Inside the ground Erica, a native of New Mexico, asks the lad in the kiosk to sell the concept of a Chicken Balti Pie.  Unpracticed at being asked his opinion by the paying public, he does a sterling job.

The way home is also good.  Limited trouble getting out of Wolverhampton, a playlist – Pixies, the Breeders, Bowie – being hummed along to and occasionally joined in with as we trundle our way home again.  You’ve got to enjoy the journey.

In amongst all of this, a football match happens.

2- We sort of started OK.  Sort of, in the sense that until anyone did anything we looked halfway credible.  We’re missing João Pedro as the result of a convoluted COVID test and Isma is still out, but Joshua King is back in an otherwise unchanged side from the relatively encouraging defeat against Arsenal.

Yes, a home defeat being “encouraging” is already setting expectations, but here we are.  Wolves aren’t pressing early on particularly which seems a bit odd given our manifest inability to cope with such, and as Cucho is briefly awarded a penalty before an unassessable offside flag aborts the only jumping up and down the away end is going to enjoy this evening we look briefly threatening.  Wolves, notoriously miserly, already look get-attable.

But once things start to go wrong they spiral out of control very quickly.  Hassane Kamara for one was already looking wobbly and he’ll be one of several culpable parties in each of the opening two goals.  The first isn’t as comical as what follows but it is weak, Hwang and Jiménez wandering through as if they’re picking flowers in the park, the finish is tidy but it’s far, far too easy.  

Wolves barely need to be paying attention to find themselves 3-0 up.  Kamara is more eye-catchingly exposed for the second scrambling after a neglected opponent before the ball finds its way to Ait-Nouri, similarly neglected on Wolves’ left flank.  He sends a perfunctory ball across the face of goal and Cucho, of all people, inadvertently tucks it inside Ben Foster’s near post.

Foster is increasingly the source of joyful abuse from the home stands reflecting his West Brom history in particular, this growing in volume with the certainty that such rashness isn’t about to come back to bite the home stands.  His worst moment comes just three minutes later when, closed down on the edge of his box he makes an impossibly sloppy clearance to Daniel Podence, who drops the ball into an empty net with a shrug for 3-0.

3- It’s not really the “what”, though there’s plenty wrong with that.  The bigger problem – the bigger surprise, perhaps, despite our poor form – is the how.

This wasn’t just a bad performance.  It wasn’t even a bad performance compounded by a few things going wrong and running away from us.  This stank to high heaven, the lack of fight and bottle in the side as stark as the sudden abandonment of the discipline that has seen us gain a creditable if modest haul of points on the road of late.  Wolves’ low-scoring reputation might have suited us, their edgy defeat to Palace here last time out more so.  We might nick a 0-0 here, we’d thought, whether that would prove “enough” or otherwise.

But there was nothing.  Almost nothing.  Moussa Sissoko, in his one forceful contribution of the evening, played Joshua King through shortly after the third – King lifted the ball slightly too high.  It was a pretty bad miss rather than an awful one but we needed that to go in.  Elsewhere Kabasele came on for a struggling Femenía after half an hour – given Kiko’s staccato availability of late in the absence of Jeremy Ngakia perhaps we’d risked him here out of necessity but he’d had a bad thirty minutes.  Kabasele stood out simply for looking like a competent footballer as things steadied;  Kamara, too, salvaged some small credit from the evening, his surfeit of personality allowing him to recover from his personal horror show to dig in for the rest of the game.  Louza showed some signs of taking responsibility.  He still wanted the ball.

But elsewhere there was very little to cling to.  No movement, no confidence, no conviction.  We struggled along, all our efforts expended in treading water in the face of an understandably relaxed Wolves side – the goal celebrations were grotesquely co-ordinated by a deafening sound system (“Have fun NOW!  Stop NOW!”) but the team looked no less co-ordinated if they scarcely had to exert themselves.  The kindest interpretation of Watford’s lack of anything much came from Will – “perhaps we’re playing for goal difference”.

4- Three years ago we would go toe-to-toe with Wolves and “the likes of Wolves”.  That tightest and most dramatic of Cup Semi Finals, the parallel league campaign in which both sides made credible claims to be the best of the rest.  As has been much discussed, we lost our footing around that time and have suffered a merciless tumble since.  We were nonetheless unlucky to be relegated in 2020.  We won’t be unlucky to be relegated this season.

Who to blame, and how much?  There’s no doubt that mistakes were made in the revision of the squad in 2019.  Scott Duxbury’s forthrightness in acknowledging those mistakes and promising learnings has been flung back in his face… but once those mistakes were made we were sliding downhill without the luxury of the financial backing that might have made an instant return an inevitability.  We’re not a club with massive backing or support, we’re in the Premier League for as long as we can keep overperforming but once that stops it’s going to take the same sort of overperformance, of challenging the odds, to repeat it.  Mere competence won’t be nearly enough.  The yo-yoing of Norwich and Fulham in particular doesn’t reflect “lack of ambition” on their part, it reflects the reality of a circumstance where the growing number of heavily backed Premier League clubs means that well-run sides with the cushion of parachute payments are no longer guaranteed fifteenth-placed anonymity if they return.  Getting promoted again straight away was no small achievement, however easy it is to dismiss it now, 

But that’s not a free pass either.  Much of that criticism of Duxbury and “the model” boils down to “win good, lose bad”….  but this is appalling by any standards, even standardising for circumstance.  Roy Hodgson’s curmudgeonly post-match reflections would have been charming, to a point, had they come with success on the pitch.  They are far less so in these circumstances – all the more so when mindful of the need to get everyone on side, to make the most of whatever tools you have available to dig us out.  Failure to keep the crowd onside, or at least to not wilfully sabotage the relationship, seems extraordinarily short sighted. Particularly surprising given Ray Lewington’s ability to unify us behind a banner during his own challenging time in charge of the team twenty years ago.

One consolation on the night is drawn from the fact that the gallows humour on show from those brave/loyal/stupid enough to make the trip is of high quality, in contrast to some of what away travellers have had to endure this season.  A personal favourite was the gentling soothing monotone of “we’ve won the ball…. we’ve won the ball….”, segueing seamlessly into “we’ve lost the ball…. we’ve lost the ball….” as appropriate that was the soundtrack to the second half.

5- There was no prospect of a fightback, no suggestion of it.  “We don’t talk about Bruno” levels of not entering the conversation for fears of sanction.  Instead an unusually hirsute Ruben Neves pulls out an outrageous fourth;  little to criticise anyone for this time, beyond the fact that conceding three pathetic goals earlier in the game means that this sort of brilliance, par for the course in the Premier League now and again, would be impossible to accommodate.

The League table, the fixtures suggest it’s still “on”.  Leeds lose, awfully.  Norwich lose, predictably.  We’ve still got to play a whole bunch of teams directly above us, at home.  With performances as supine as this, none of that is remotely relevant.

I won’t be at Southampton on Sunday, but pre-match Will and I had agreed to take our kids to Anfield in defiance of the lunchtime kick-off and inevitable hammering in three weeks’ time.  Confirming in the cold light of the morning after the night before, Will was defiant.

We have to do it. Who knows when we’ll be back. Kids have to know that’s how we do it!

 Yoooorns.

Foster 1, Femenía 1, Kamara 2, Cathcart 2, Samir 2, Louza 2, Sissoko 1, Cleverley 1, Hernández 1, Dennis 2, King 1
Subs: *Kabasele (for Femenía, 30) 3*, Kalu (for King, 46) 1, Etebo (for Cleverley, 73) 2, Sema, Kayembe, Sierralta, Masina, Kucka, Bachmann

Comments»

1. Robin - 11/03/2022

Just be grateful you didn’t have to listen to the God-awful “commentary” on R5SX. Basically 2 Wolves fan-boys having a chat and occasionally mentioning the football, and only very occasionally getting a Watford player’s name right (more often mixing up one black player with another, draw your own conclusions).

Think I’d rather have been at the game.

Fez - 12/03/2022

Agreed. I turned it off immediately before the second goal. The commentary being marginally worse than Watford’s “performance”.

2. Jeff Lloyd - 11/03/2022

Appreciate that this will seem like hopeless optimism but…I don’t quite subscribe to the ‘we’re totally cooked’ just yet. Leeds and Everton might not win again this season (as indeed we might not), Burnley and Norwich are officially not much better/worse than we are. Being at the top and having 3 games in hand is great but being at the bottom isn’t because you’re there due to not being able to win games. Everton won’t be thinking ‘well that’s 9 points better off’, they’re more likely to know that they MUST win a game or two and that then becomes added pressure.

I just think that whatever combination of luck/bravado made our front line click against Everton away can happen again – but does Roy want to even risk trying something new?

3. Harefield Hornet - 11/03/2022

A long-standing Hornets fan mate of mine now lives in Staffordshire and made the short journey to Molineux last night on behalf off the rest of us. He described the performance as a total embarrassment and left just after half time. That just about sums it up . Well done to you and all those who were there – my daughter bounded over to me 20 odd minutes into her football training session last night and asked how we were getting on. When I replied the look on her face also just about summed it up . We need a miracle !!

4. Andrew H - 11/03/2022

I imagine somebody at the club reads this (despite everything, I’d be amazed if they were so unconcerned at picking up on rational fan opinion that they didn’t read what is the epitome of this). Hopefully they will make sure Thunk 3, Paragraph 4 is put in front of Roy & Ray…

5. Mike Smith - 11/03/2022

Good constructive report…again Matt.
I like certain fans optimism. They seem to be conveniently overlooking 3 away games at Looneypool, City & Chelski plus a home game (not that we’re any good at home) to Leicester.
Sad times for someone like me who’se been supporting since 1959!

6. Fez - 12/03/2022

Keenly observed as always. The shame of that performance at that ground at that time. Probably compounding disappointment by my having the temerity to think we could get a point at least.

Not a ground I visit anymore having trouble find me on each of these visits, let alone their small change raining down on us from corporate, corporate ffs, during the semi final. No problem elsewhere in the WM, just there.

7. skipton65 - 12/03/2022

To be honest this simply feels like a team of confused journeymen who aren’t sure if they’ll have a place at the club come July. They go to work, because that’s what you do, but that doesn’t mean they’ll win games.

Psychologically they must be in a very difficult place right now.

It’s times like this that highlight the difference between thoughts of the fans – the club, the badge, the history, the moments, the joy, the sorrow, the friends, the rivals – and the player’s day to day concerns – work, training, contract, health, transfers, termination.

The current owners of the club have tried to create a working environment where one cog (the first team coach) can be swapped out without the rest of the organisation skipping a beat. This seems quite alien to the rest of the league – imagine Burnley without Sean Dyche. Look at the difficulty of replacing Ferguson at MU. In some ways it’s the right way to go – most organisations with any intelligence ensure that key personnel cannot crash the organisation by leaving, or threatening to leave.

But, there is no doubt that something is not working properly in this organisation, and that something needs to be found and changed. The current squad contains as much talent as its near rivals, and has done for some time despite the loss of the likes of Deulofeu et al. Look at what our loanees are doing elsewhere. Something in this organisation, beyond the coach and the players, is not producing the results that are required.

Our message should be – find it – change it – fix it.

8. Harefield Hornet - 13/03/2022

Agree with all of that


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