Saturday 21 February ~
Mick McCarthy is not a character to inspire huge amounts of confidence when things aren't going to plan, so Wolves fans must have been slightly concerned to read a missive, entitled "The only way is up", from their manager on the club website earlier this week. Despite remaining top of the Championship, Wolves have only won one game in nine and McCarthy bluntly responded to last week's defeat to Burnley: "I've watched the game again and we were poor – I've said to some of the guys that has to be our rock bottom. " The game on Sunday will do little to soothe the nerves of Wolves fans as Molineux hosts Cardiff a side who have lost only four times this season. The Bluebirds have not been beaten in the Championship since November and their first defeat in 14 games was to Arsenal last Monday. They sit fifth but could draw level with the leaders if they win their four games in hand.
Dave Jones also brings memories of failed promotion attempts to the Black Country. Though they went up the following season, Jones was the Wolves manager in the fated season of 2001-02. In mid-March his team were in second place and held an 11-point lead over nearest challengers West Brom. The season, however, ended in play-off semi-final defeat to Norwich. So the final word on the matter must go to McCarthy, who tempted fate in attempting to put recent performances behind him: "We can't perform worse than that, so if we are starting afresh, it's a good time to do it."
In Wolves' single season in the Premier League they played Southampton, who were relegated themselves the following year. There have not been many more dismal venues for football matches this season than the St Mary's stadium. Southampton have won just one of their 16 home games with recent matches also accompanied by fan demonstrations against chairman Rupert Lowe who returned to the club last year having stepped down in 2006. Lowe's claims that the financial problems that have beset the club are the responsibility of the previous board has not had a receptive audience – there was even a protest march in the city centre before the recent game with Swansea.
The club's inability to win in front of their own fans was one of the factors that prompted the departure of Dutch coach Jan Poortvliet in January with his compatriot Mark Wotte, formerly the club's academy director, stepping in. Lowe appointed the Dutch pair because he believed they had the coaching expertise to get the best out of the youngest squad in the division. But Wotte's promotion last month looked to many like a money-saving exercise which had not worked when Lowe tried it before – former coaches Steve Wigley and Stuart Gray both having had short and calamitous stints as manager while the club was still in the Premier League. Today's visitors Preston have the poorest away record of any club in the top half of the Championship with only three away wins, but on current form they will still expect to depart with at least a point. Rupert Lowe will not need reminding that if Southampton do go down, one of the teams swapping places them will be Leicester City, managed by Nigel Pearson who was dismissed as Saints boss at the end of last season.