On verge of successive relegations
3 May ~ First, let's put to rest the idea that tomorrow's visit to Brighton's Falmer Stadium is Wolves' "match of the season". Championship survival is a mathematical possibility but it will take a thumping win against a team that hasn't lost in eight, and defeats for main rivals Barnsley and Peterborough United. Wolves' game of the season arguably came last week, when manager Dean Saunders and his hapless team could have at least retained control over their own destiny with a home win against Burnley.
There is nothing wrong with fans holding out for a three-tiered miracle on Saturday – I will be among them – but thoughts should be turning instead to the inevitable autopsy on the still-warm corpse of a club riddled with complacency and mismanagement. In the run-up to this weekend, Saunders has matched his lack of adroitness as a coach with a fumbled message to supporters, insisting that Wolves can avoid relegation, while bracing for a summer exodus of players left cold by the prospect of trips to Stevenage and Shrewsbury.
Those departures will at least cut Steve Morgan's wage bill and force the club to conjure more creative signings than they've completed in the past two seasons. But the players are only part of Wolves' problems, as hundreds of supporters demonstrated last week when they invaded the Molineux pitch and confronted Morgan and the club's chief executive, Jez Moxey.
As the prospect draws nearer of Wolves becoming the only team in the history of the Football League to twice slip from the top tier to the third in consecutive seasons, it is tempting to demand the scalps of Morgan, Saunders and Moxey. But the most realistic outcome is that all three will be around at the start of next season, with immediate promotion the criteria for Saunders' retention. Perhaps Saunders is right; like the seemingly irredeemable alcoholic, Wolves' recovery can only start once they have hit rock bottom.
For the club's supporters, this weekend will be even tougher than last season's chaotic exit from the Premier League. And if near-certain relegation wasn't bad enough, Mick McCarthy, whom they sacked – probably prematurely – has conjured an unlikely revival at Ipswich, while Doncaster, the club Saunders left for Molineux in January, will take Wolves' place in the Championship. Saunders, though, is still holding out for a miracle. "All Peterborough have to do is not get hammered," he said this week. "But if they concede early, then we'll see."
His optimism may be misplaced but he is right to point out that the root of Wolves' problems lie deeper than this seaon's meltdown; the torpor on the pitch and incompetence in the boardroom was evident even before Stale Solbakken was brought in as manager over the summer and immediately helped into a financial straightjacket tailored by Morgan. Wolves have lost 86 games in the past four seasons, a distressing stat that says more about the board than it does the players. It would be typical of the team's ability to frustrate their fans if they avoid adding to that tally on Saturday with a meaningless win at Brighton.
To end the season with 54 points and still go down, says Saunders, "will be scandalous". But the real scandal is that Wolves should find themselves in a position where they even have to contemplate League One football. Still, there's always the derby against Walsall to look forward to. Justin McCurry