Wolves’ home defeat to Burnley last Saturday left them standing on the precipice of relegation from the Championship. This coming weekend they face an inform Brighton at the Falmer Stadium needing to win by four clear goals, whilst needing both Barnsley and Peterborough to lose. It’s a tall order to say the least; to all but the most insanely optimistic of Wolves supporters the fate of our beloved club appears inevitable.
It’s certainly a bitter pill to swallow. Wolves defeat to Burnley invoked an angry reaction from some sections of the crowd. It was the manner of the defeat that caused the most frustration. The team looked defeated from the kickoff. After the game a group of about 300 supporters invaded the pitch confronting players, smashing the dugout, advertising boards and attacking stewards. They also did their very best to try and dismantle the goal at the South Bank end, recalling memories of Scotland fans at Wembley in 1977. Outside the ground an impromptu protest against the board got ugly as missiles were thrown at riot police.
Whilst it is impossible to condone the behaviour of a few idiots whose actions only serve to tarnish the image of a proud and illustrious club –it’s easy to understand their anger and frustrations at the way the club’s fortunes have been mishandled. You don’t have to be the “Special One” to realise that all is not well behind the scenes at Wolves. Twelve months ago we were a Premiership club and now we face the likely prospect of playing Crawley Town, Carlisle and Stevenage next season. No offence to those clubs but Wolves as many would agree, are surely too big a club to playing their football in the 3rd tier of English football. So where did it all go wrong for Wolves?
Fans on Wolves social media groups have been venting vitriolic bile towards owner Steve Morgan and Chief Executive Jez Moxey for some time now. The sale of Fletcher, Jarvis and Kightley last summer reportedly raised £25m in transfer fees which many fans have argued has not been reinvested back into the club and has instead lined the pockets of Morgan and Moxey. Whilst these arguments are misinformed and too simplistic, there is a strong case to be made for pointing the finger of blame for our predicament at the club’s owner. Whilst I believe Morgan still has the best interests of the blub at heart, he has to hold up his hand and take responsibility for a catalogue of bad decisions which have left the club directionless and sinking fast.
Morgan’s decision to plough on relentlessly with his plans for the new £18m Stan Cullis stand last season left many scratching their heads as to why he felt the need to increase the Molineux capacity before we’d even consolidated our position as a Premiership club. The sacking of Mick McCarthy with thirteen games to go -a knee jerk reaction to the thrashing by local rivals West Brom -made even less sense. No one doubted that McCarthy had come to the natural end of his Wolves tenure but with the transfer window closed and no immediate successor in the wings, the decision was ill timed to say the least.
Then there was the disastrous and embarrassing search for a new manager, a job that Jez Moxey went on record as saying was “no job for a novice!” Yet after inexplicably turning down experienced Premiership stalwarts Steve Bruce and Alan Curbishley, if reports are to be believed, the job was indeed given to a novice. First team coach Terry Connor may have been well liked and respected by the players in his charge but he had no managerial experience and it was clear that he was out of his depth. He was like a rabbit caught in headlights exhibiting all the dynamism of a damp tea towel in his post match interviews. It was no surprise to anyone when Wolves went down with a whimper.
Connor’s replacement, the Norwegian Stale Solbakken, seemed a bold and brave decision, albeit a massive gamble. Stale had little or no experience of English football and he’d previously had a disastrous time at German club FC Koln. Solbakken did have a great pedigree in Scandinavia, previously leading Danish side Copenhagen to the Champions League and a win against Man United. Yet for all Solbakken’s promise he delivered very little. The board backed him with £10m in new signings including this season’s most outstanding players Bakary Sako and Bjorn Sigurdarson. Yet the football under Stale’s brief tenure was some of the worst Molineux had seen in many years and several of the players who had been reliable servants under McCarthy looked like they’d never kicked a ball before. Solbakken was quick to point out the shortcomings of his squad of players who were ill equipped to adapt to his continental system, a system that would take time to prefect. Solbakken had inherited some deadwood from McCarthy that was certainly true and on reflection he probably deserved more time but he wasn’t given it. After mixed results in the league and an F.A Cup exit to Luton, Morgan reached for the panic button yet again.
Almost immediately Morgan appointed Dean Saunders, a man whose only league experience was to get Doncaster relegated from the Championship the previous season. It was another poor decision recruiting such an inexperienced manager when the club desperately needed someone reliable to steady the ship. In his eighteen games in charge Saunders has shown himself to be tactically inept, changing formations half way through games and baffling fans with bizarre selections and substitutions. His delusional after match comments have also angered many fans who feel that Saunders has continuously failed to acknowledge how poorly his side has performed. The Burnley game was testament to Saunders lack of vision and of how low the current Wolves team has sunk.
They lacked any creativity or ideas and even when Burnley went a man down Wolves resorted to long ball tactics.
Both Mick McCarthy and Steve Bruce must be having a wry smile at our demise. McCarthy recently stated that Wolves wouldn’t be in this position if he was still in charge. Given Ipswich’s change in fortunes I’m inclined to agree with him. Steve Bruce has also proved his management credentials, steering Hull to the brink of automatic promotion at the first time of asking. Meanwhile, short of a miracle it would seem that Wolves are doomed to go the other way down to League One.
I don’t think any Wolves fans, even in our worst nightmares would have predicted that the club would be in this position twelve months ago. The plan was for automatic promotion or the play offs at the very least. The board have pledged to put things right. Jez Moxey went on record after the Burnley game promising that they would pinpoint where everything has gone wrong and rectify it. This may not be so easy. Relegation will undoubtedly put a massive strain on the clubs finances. Many of our top earners will not have relegation clauses in their contracts and inevitably the likes of Doyle, Ebanks-Blake and Sako will have to make way to balance the books.
Whether Saunders is kept on as manager is another issue. His performance this season has been subpar, and the jury is still out on whether he has the expertise to lead Wolves out of League One. Plus Steve Morgan will not want to tarnish the image of the club even further by sacking another manager. On a positive note the club is endowed with an encouraging crop of youngsters, products of the Wolves academy and Saunders is almost certain to recall Leigh Griffiths who is currently on loan and banging in the goals at Hibs. Many fans fear that Morgan will jump ship. I doubt this. For one he has invested too much money to walk away. Plus the club doesn’t look like an attractive investment for any potential buyer at the moment.
Mistakes have been made and lessons must be learnt if the club is to move forward. Last Saturday was a black day in the history of the club both on and off the pitch. It’s going to be tough for Wolves to bounce back, mentally and financially. Meanwhile the new Stan Cullis stand which has a capacity greater than many of the League One grounds will continue to loom like the big white elephant that it is. Except it will look even worse when it’s half empty next season, serving as a huge black and gold reminder to Steve Morgan of his failings at the club.