O’Hara’s contribution was not only seen in his 39th minute effort that flew past Boaz Myhill in the home goal. The on-loan midfielder was at the heart of everything positive from Mick McCarthy’s side, acting as the creative hub of a team that, in the first half struck the right balance between a massed defence and weighty attack. Hodgson’s West Brom failed to do the same, putting more emphasis on being difficult to break down and leaving Marc-Antoine Fortune and Peter Odemwingie isolated for large periods of the first 45 minutes. The gap was such that West Brom’s main tactic was to play balls from deep with the aim of putting them over the Wolves defence for Fortune or Odemwingie to chase, but Christophe Berra and Richard Stearman coped without much trouble.
The flaw in Hodgson’s original game plan – playing with two rigid banks of four and pressing from the half way line – was seen throughout the early stages. West Brom’s compact nature meant Wolves enjoyed plenty of possession without creating many scoring chances, but when it was West Brom’s turn to attack, the players were unable to break the stiff system and support the move in enough numbers. With Fortune also dropping deep to supplement the midfield, Odemwingie was even more cut-off. Compared to Wolves, who packed their defence when needed, but also committed players forward at the right time, and had O’Hara directing the play, West Brom were toothless. The home side’s main threat came from corners, with a number of Chris Brunt deliveries upsetting the Wolves’ defence, and before Vela eventually drew the Baggies level the closest West Brom came to scoring was a Jonas Olsson header from a Brunt corner that Matt Jarvis cleared off the line in the 71st minute.
As the game went on with Wolves still ahead, West Brom did force the initiative and, around the hour mark, Fortune and Odemwingie finally combined to create one of the better chances of the game, woefully wasted by the Frenchman. Vela was introduced shortly after and instantly looked more dangerous in his first five minutes on the pitch than Fortune had in 75. The Mexican forced a save from Wayne Hennessy just after entering the fray and, with Odemwingie pushed to the right wing to accommodate Vela, West Brom found the attacking edge lacking for much of the game. Wolves’ dominance of possession receded and eventually tipped in favour of West Brom as Hodgson’s side found the urgency they missed. At the same time O’Hara’s influence diminished and the tricky Jarvis, who devilled Gonzalo Jara throughout the first-half, was anonymous for much of the second. Vela’s late goal was ultimately deserved for West Brom, but their anaemic start, and Wolves’ inability to hold onto a lead, might not bode well for either teams’ Premier League future.
Wolverhampton Wanderers Starting XI
23 Zubar – 5 Stearman – 16 Berra – 3 Elokobi
32 Foley – 8 Henry – 24 O’Hara – 20 Milijas – 17 Jarvis
69 – 9 Ebanks-Blake on for 20 Milijas
85 – 11 Ward on for 32 Foley
90 – 6 Craddock on for 17 Jarvis
West Bromwich Albion Starting XI
36 Jara – 30 Tamas – 3 Olsson – 20 Shorey
11 Brunt – 33 Scharner – 17 Dorans – 14 Thomas
24 Odemwingie – 28 Fortune
61 – 7 Morrison on for 14 Thomas
73 – 18 Vela on for 17 Dorrans
84 – 12 Reid on for 36 Jara