Five points from three games may represent Wolves best start to a Premier League season, but after the draw with Newcastle on Saturday, the main talking point lay in the team’s approach to the game. Criticisms about the Black Country side’s physicality were issued and there were also questions about whether Mick McCarthy’s brief flirtation with 4-4-2 has run it’s course.
The game, which has been described as harking back to the 1970’s, saw 12 yellow cards waved, four of which were for fouls on Joey Barton. Newcastle may not have been pleased with their tactics but the Wolves players were quick to defend themselves and Karl Henry, in particular, pointed out that their style reflected a desire to not show too much respect to teams visiting Molineux. Considering their home form last season, this certainly seems like the right decision.
Fans do not want to see a team that relies entirely on physicality in the mould of Stoke, especially when flair players like Stephen Hunt return, but what they do want to see is their side pick up as many points as possible. The message from this tie was that Wolves are not afraid to put on a bold display, and that they are a team ready to dig deep for results to ensure they finish as high as possible. Mick clearly chose his tactics based on what he expected from Newcastle, whose claims to be victims in this match were rather ironic considering their own tough approach, and it bodes well that the team can adapt their style to match their opponents, rather than just using a standard method and hoping for the best.
Although the Molineux side’s points tally is encouraging, it does conceal a number of potential problems. It is a good sign of progress that a draw against Newcastle was considered by some fans a disappointment and perhaps the main downside so far has been Wolves inability to compete in games during the first half hour or so. The referee Stuart Attwell’s decision not to award Matt Jarvis a penalty, after he was fouled by James Perch, was completely misjudged and had a spot-kick been converted then it could have been game over. His poor refereeing, however, ensured that the 4-4-2 system would come under more scrutiny after the final whistle. At Goodison Park, and against the Toon, Wolves were outmuscled in midfield and, although the system was supposed to help the team create more chances, they in fact only had five goal attempts, two of which were on target, compared with Newcastle’s 11. If the team is lacking in defensive cover and yet is not creating more chances for the strikers, then this traditional formation can start to lose its worth. Whilst not wanting to take anything away from Wolves, because their second-half performance against Everton was impressive, and Karl Henry offered a man of the match showing against the Magpies, they have in some ways been fortunate because of their opposition’s lack of clinical finishing.
The main problem at the moment seems to be the form of Ebanks-Blake. His opener at the weekend was beautiful, and the way he took down and controlled Jelle van Damme’s superb cross reflected a player that is buzzing with confidence. His two efforts this season have ensured Wolves finished on level terms, but they have also given Mick a big dilemma and some fans feel that the team might be better suited reverting to a more defensive formation for the foreseeable future. The obvious choice would be to play Blake as a lone striker but it is well known that he needs a strike partner for his game to flourish. A ruthless manager might be ready to axe the 24-year-old for the apparent good of the side, but one would not expect Mick to do this and it is a really difficult issue.
It needs to be remembered that Wolves are still unbeaten and Kevin Doyle and Steven Fletcher are still lacking sharpness after injuries. As long as Blake keeps scoring then he is a worthy addition in the side and, after all, it is goals that wins matches not defence. Sometimes it is best not to try to fix what is not broken, something which Mick may have learnt when he opted to bring Ronald Zubar on at the weekend. The right-back gave away the free-kick which Andy Carroll was to score the equaliser from and he also lost the striker in the box, allowing him to head pass Marcus Hahnemann. Perhaps when Blake’s form begins to flounder, it might be a good idea to start games with a packed midfield, and then bring him on later when Wolves have settled into the game but for now it seems his best role is on the pitch.
The Black Country side’s inability to accommodate all their strikers into their team makes the transfer rumours circulating this week rather surprising. On the eve of the transfer window, they have been linked with moves for Emile Heskey and Robbie Keane, and they were also reportedly interested in Jan Vennegoor of Hessenlink. Jez Moxey, however, ruled out a move for Heskey but he did suggest that the club are working on bringing in a last minute recruit. Whether this will be a forward remains to be seen, but as Mick seems to already have enough of a problem in that area of the pitch, one cannot help but feel it might be a case of too much of a good thing.