Club Focus – Wolves – Defence key in bid for survival

After the game at Craven Cottage it is four games in a row without a goal for Mick McCarthy’s side, but fortunately Wolves’ brave defence has kept three clean sheets over the same period and has earned them some valuable points.

The men in gold know that they have a lot of work ahead of them, but should they survive, McCarthy and the Molineux faithful will no doubt show their gratitude to their defence, who have helped carry a side that has only scored 28 league goals so far. The men at the back have shipped just 51 goals this season, which is a lot less than their relegation rivals and leaves them with a superior goal difference to the teams most likely to drop. The Wanderers are 14 goals better off than Hull and 15 better off than Burnley and it may prove to be a vital stat by the end of this season.

McCarthy’s men gave a great display of their defensive ability at a sunny Craven Cottage on Saturday afternoon. Fulham may have had their midweek trip to Hamburg for their Europa League tie on their mind, but it takes nothing away from Wolves, who stubbornly held on to a valuable 0-0 draw. The point has put them six points above the drop-zone with three games to play and their current total could just be enough. A lot depends on Hull, who have a game in hand on the other bottom sides. The likes of West Ham, Wigan, Bolton and Wolves will be hoping that a European chasing Aston Villa side will defeat the Tigers at the KC Stadium and deal a huge blow to their survival hopes. But McCarthy does not want to rely on outside sources and believes his side must continue to pick up points and maintain the current gap. The former Republic of Ireland manager said: “We’re in a better position than others and have given ourselves a really good chance.” But he argued: “But there are still big games to play – three really important games which we need to get points from. Let’s not presume anything – we need to keep working and keep picking up points.”

Some may argue that Wolves have favourable fixtures in their last three games, as they are due to play Blackburn at home on the weekend, Portsmouth away and Sunderland at home on the final day of the season. Both Blackburn and Sunderland are already safe from relegation and they have nothing but positions to play for and Portsmouth are already relegated and saving themselves for their cup final trip to Wembley against Chelsea. But McCarthy is wary that things are unpredictable at this stage of the season and he does not wish his side to become careless and needlessly throw points away with “silly” results.

A lot has been said about Michael Mancienne in recent weeks and The Daily Mail has suggested that the on-loan Chelsea youngster has been Wolves’ star of the season. The Blues are set to make a decision on the England under-21 star’s future for next season. McCarthy has singled out the 22-year-old for praise many times this season as he has excelled in both defensive and midfield positions, but believes Mancienne is not ready to become a part of Carlo Ancelotti’s side yet. However, the Wolves boss does admit that Mancienne is the most likely candidate to make the grade out of the Chelsea academy players. McCarthy would of course like to have the Blues’ youngster to stay beyond this season and continue to nurture him into a defensive midfield player, which could be in the interest of both clubs and most importantly the player, who needs regular first team football in order to progress. McCarthy said: “Maybe he can stay with us next year. He’s getting a hell of a good education and he‘s doing a really good job.”

Aside from individual performances and praise Christophe Berra has declared that everything the men in gold achieve is through a combined effort and a hardworking team ethic. Berra was speaking after both he and his defensive partner managed to shut-out an in-form Fulham side which included the recently lethal Bobby Zamora. But the defender insisted that the recent clean sheets are not solely down to the defence and every team member deserves credit. “It’s not just down to the defence though – it’s the whole team” said Berra. “It starts from the front with Doyle working his socks off, the midfield backing him up and us backing them up. And if they do get through we’ve got Marcus Hahnemann to pull us out.” Wolves will have to continue grafting as a team if they are to ensure their status as a Premier League side for next season.

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