31 March ~ "We have been in deeper holes than this before and got out of them," said former skipper Karl Henry earlier this month. In some ways it is true. Wolves looked to be heading for relegation with just three minutes of last season remaining when Stephen Hunt's strike curled into the corner to lift the club out of the relegation zone. But this is a different Wolves. That fighting spirit appears to have gone as they head limply towards the Premier League exit. The obvious reason cited for this surrender is the decision to axe battle-hardened boss Mick McCarthy.
The visit of Bolton to Molineux today provides a convenient narrative for this argument. While Wolves labour under Terry Connor, Bolton are now out of the relegation places and appear to have reaped the rewards of sticking with Owen Coyle.
That being said, the sacking of McCarthy might just be the only board decision that Wolves supporters have agreed with in this most tumultuous of seasons. McCarthy’s much-vaunted team spirit had hardly been in evidence during a run of three wins in 23 games that culminated in home defeats to rivals Birmingham, Aston Villa and West Brom in the space of a month.
Should the decision have come sooner? Wolves were bottom of the Premier League when Sam Allardyce was sacked at Blackburn. They were bottom when rivals West Brom moved for out-of-work Roy Hodgson, and they had taken only four points from ten games when Martin O’Neill elected to return to management. Wolves owner Steve Morgan decided to ignore these options only to sack his man just two weeks after the January transfer window shut.
If that is a frustration, the choice of replacement is a source of bewilderment and anger. The Mirror’s Oliver Holt sought recently to imply a racist element to the lack of support for Connor’s appointment and while that may be merely imagined, the team’s ongoing struggles have been very real.
Five-goal thrashings at the hands of both Fulham and Manchester United, together with a dismal home defeat to Blackburn, have given weight to chief executive Jez Moxey’s original assertion that this is “not a job for a novice”, let alone a faithful assistant during the McCarthy regime.
“We could all be perfect managers with the benefit of hindsight,” said owner Steve Morgan. But it did not require hindsight to know this appointment was folly; that storming into the dressing room to berate the players is inappropriate behaviour from a chairman; that spending big money on transfer fees while maintaining one of the smallest wage bills in the league was a flawed business approach; or that constructing a new stand and grandly announcing plans for a 50,000 capacity Molineux was nearer to reckless fantasy than ambition.
It will be fitting if Coyle's Bolton should put the final nail in Wolves’ coffin by 5pm this afternoon. Many neutrals will enjoy the delicious contrast. But Wolves fans know there is more to this particular disaster than a simple case of not sticking by their manager. Adam Bate