McCarthy already staring at relegation

MICK McCARTHY is a manager renowned for scoffing and snarling at statistics in equal measure but the last time Wolverhampton Wanderers suffered such a nightmare start to a season they were relegated.

Not since the campaign of 1983/84 have Wolves fallen to five successive defeats and the omens are not looking promising for McCarthy to navigate a route to survival for the third year running.

Despite being at such an embryonic stage of the season, this performance had the inescapable stench of relegation as Roy Hodgson finally ended his curse against Wolves as a Premier League manager at the sixth attempt.

Chris Brunt, the Northern Ireland international, and substitute Peter Odemwingie provided the telling contributions to give Albion their first win over their deadly enemies in the top flight for nearly 30 years, and it was fully deserved. This victory was as timely as it was one to savour for the Baggies, for it was only their second win of the season and will succeed in dissipating some of the negativity that has been coming Hodgson’s way.

But McCarthy, who only stayed up last season on the final day, clearly has his work cut out to avoid being condemned to the same fate as Graham Hawkins, who was unable to prevent the drop the last time Wolves endured such a difficult start.

McCarthy had made no attempt to play down the importance of this bitter Black Country argument after both clubs’ dreadful starts to the season. And the early stages must have given him hope of emerging from his own personal pit of doom, as his players attempted to recover from their embarrassing defeat to Newcastle a fortnight ago.

But the defensive disasters that have afflicted Wolves over the past few weeks were in evidence again as they fell behind after eight minutes.

Billy Jones was given far too much room to manoeuvre his way into the Wolves penalty area and his cross into the box bamboozled the home defence to find Brunt whose finish was emphatic.

The sense that it wasn’t to be Wolves’ day was enhanced shortly after the goal when they somehow conspired to fail to equalise. Nenad Milijas’s shot was saved by the feet of Ben Foster and Kevin Doyle could only watch in disbelief as his goalbound shot was hacked away by the outstretched leg of Jonas Olsson.

West Brom had not won a Premier League match at the Hawthorns since May but should have been out of sight by half-time. Youssouf Mulumbu drew a fine save from Wayne Hennessey before Paul Scharner curled a shot narrowly wide as Wolves’ defence frequently displayed a propensity to go AWOL.

The away dressing room walls at the Hawthorns will probably need a new paint job after McCarthy’s half-time chat, for his side were improved in the second period. Adam Hammill forced a reflex stop from Foster while skipper Roger Johnson — who endured a torrid afternoon in defence against Shane Long — somehow headed Doyle’s cross wide from a decent position.

Their proligacy proved fatal as Albion secured three welcome points 15 minutes from time through Odemwingie, who had only just been introduced. His clever finish out of nothing, arrowing a left-footed shot into the bottom corner, extinguished any final hope McCarthy may have had of salvaging something. A nailbiting month of May looks ominous on recent evidence.

Key moment

When Ben Foster saved from Nenad Milijas and Kevin Doyle somehow failed to convert the rebound, Mick McCarthy must have known it wasn’t to be his day.

Terrace talk

Albion fans gleefully chanted “You’re getting sacked in the morning” to McCarthy and while all the suggestions are that Wolves will keep faith with the manager, he can’t afford many more performances like this.

Man of the match

Gareth McAuley (Albion). The Northern Ireland international already looks at home in his first season at this unforgiving level.

Man in black

Chris Foy. Considering it was a Black Country derby, Foy had a relatively easy afternoon.

Boys in green

Shane Long was a constant thorn in the side of the hapless Roger Johnson while Kevin Doyle endured a frustrating afternoon. Steven Reid was faultless at right-back and had no problems dealing with Stephen Hunt after his introduction late on.

What’s next?

Albion have a short trip to Aston Villa next weekend while Wolves face what already looks a must-win home game against Swansea.


John Percy

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