Toothless Wolves must rediscover fighting spirit against West Brom

It has often been said this season that Wolves are the unluckiest side in the Premier League. Despite spending much of the campaign in and around the relegation zone, they have, on numerous occasions, turned in spirited, attractive, attacking performances only to fall short and end up tasting defeat. They have battled to famous victories over the likes of Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea, and were the first team to beat Manchester United in the league this season, only to slip up against the teams around them. The turn of the year seemed set to herald an upturn in the Molineux outfit’s fortunes, with midfield guile arriving in the form of Adam Hammill and on-loan Jamie O’Hara in the January transfer window. Inspired by left winger Matt Jarvis, in the sensational form which earned him a first England cap, Wolves’ win at local rivals Aston Villa in March seemed to offer a springboard for a great escape.

Since that day at Villa Park however, Wolves have lost their momentum, and with just four games remaining they are still mired in the relegation zone. The problems that have blighted them this term – the classic relegation combination of being toothless in attack and porous in defence – seem more pronounced than ever in this final stretch, while the battling resilience that is usually the trademark of Mick McCarthy’s teams seems to have dissipated. Their respectable home form has declined, with bright starts against Everton and Fulham giving way to collapse; the Toffees cantering to a 3-0 win at Molineux in early April, while Mark Hughes’s men came from behind to come within a whisker of claiming all three points on Saturday. Wolves have also been showing why they are the league’s worst away team, shipping four at Newcastle and three at Stoke in two particularly ignominious defeats.

The loss to the Potters on Tuesday night was perhaps a new low. This was a crucial game in hand for McCarthy’s men, and despite the Britannia Stadium’s reputation as a tough place to visit, fellow strugglers Blackpool and West Ham had emerged from the Potteries with results this season, while Wolves themselves had not lost there since 2004. Yet the visitors looked beaten from the first whistle, nervous, unable to keep the ball, and bereft of ideas going forward. To compound matters, elementary defensive errors ended the game as a contest before half time, Jermaine Pennant allowed the space to cross for an unmarked Kenwyne Jones to open the scoring, before a similarly unattended Ryan Shawcross poked home a second from a corner.

The West Midlanders’ cause has not been helped by injuries to key players such as Kevin Doyle, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Steven Hunt. Yet few of McCarthy’s signings have delivered: Steven Fletcher proving a £6.5m flop, O’Hara fading after a promising start and Hammill not even on the bench at Stoke. Jarvis’s form meanwhile, has nosedived since making his England debut against Ghana last month.

Wolves face fellow strugglers in each of their four remaining games, but while some teams may see this as a blessing, McCarthy’s side – which has enjoyed more success against the big guns – may be cursing their luck. Wolverhampton Wanderers need a miracle – and the grisly prospect of bitter rivals West Brom dealing them a fatal blow on May 8 looms ever larger.

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