27 November ~ A summer spending spree was followed by an encouraging start to the season but Wolves have now lost nine of their last 11 Premier League matches and are kept off bottom only by the continued incompetence of West Ham. Unlike Avram Grant, Wolves boss Mick McCarthy has built up considerable goodwill after hauling the club up by its bootstraps to win the Championship title. He then followed up by doing what had previously eluded both Wolves and himself – staying in the Premier League. However, goodwill only goes so far and, despite the plaudits Wolves have received for their positive play, nobody is in any doubt that points are the currency that will dictate the club's future.
A difficult run of games saw Wolves incongruously out-pass the opposition in a four-game run against Chelsea, Arsenal and both Manchester clubs – only to then succumb to disappointing odd-goal defeats at the hands of Bolton and Blackpool. Indeed, odd-goal defeats have perhaps been the defining aspect of Wolves' campaign. Last Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Blackpool was the first time they had been more than a goal behind at the 80-minute mark in any match so far. As a result, McCarthy’s side can at least take solace in the fact they have been “in” games.
Even so, such hard luck stories litter the history books – even Portsmouth lost their first seven games last season by just one goal – and the more damning statistic is surely the one that shows Wolves as the only team in the top five divisions of English football without a clean sheet in any competition. It's a statistic unlikely to be lost on Wolves chairman Steve Morgan who will doubtless be feeling increasingly fidgety given recent events. Morgan has only had one manager in his four years in football but there are a huge few months coming up. A decision is soon needed on whether the club is to go ahead with stadium expansion plans costing millions and that call will surely be dependent on Premier League football.
Morgan’s decision to watch the away defeat at Blackpool sat with the fans, Mike Ashley style, could also have unnerved McCarthy. The chairman may yet be unwilling to entrust the January budget to a manager who appears to have made a mess of his summer improvements. The £7 million purchase of Steven Fletcher has added a fine player to the ranks but he now looks to be part of McCarthy’s abandoned plan to switch back to 4-4-2. Meanwhile, the £2.5m signing of left-back Jelle van Damme has been a disaster with the Belgian homesick within weeks of his arrival and desperate to return to Anderlecht. As a result, Wolves are left with their record signing on the bench and a Championship defence still in desperate need of reinforcement and/or protection.
Sadly, at the risk of sounding like Andy Gray, there is simply no let up in the Premier League. Today brings the visit of Sunderland – a team that have recently treated Sky audiences to the two extremes of their ability on their travels. They followed up an embarrassing humbling in the Tyne-Wear derby by romping to a spectacular victory against the champions at Stamford Bridge just two weeks later. With Mick McCarthy admitting the contest is “must-win”, Wolves will be hoping it is the St James’ Park version of the Black Cats that turn up at Molineux on this afternoon. Adam Bate