McCarthy hunting settled system after Wolves fall to Everton

Wolverhampton Wanderers fell to a 2-1 defeat by Everton on Saturday as Mick McCarthy’s side reverted to the losing ways that saw them suffer eight consecutive defeats early in the Premier League campaign. McCarthy now faces the challenge of getting his hard-working side back to winning ways.

The performance against Everton was at least encouraging, as for sections of the match Wolves dominated possession and were never clearly second best – Everton perhaps deserved the victory for troubling Wayne Hennessey far more than Hennessy’s teammates troubled Tim Howard, but the match was always competitive. Wolves however managed just one shot on target, three off target and forced only one corner in the 90 minutes. The bare statistics do not quite tell the full story of Wolves’ game, but do give a strong indication of why they left Merseyside pointless.

With Kevin Doyle leading the line and Jamie O’Hara drifting between midfield and attack to support the Republic of Ireland international, Wolves employed an industrious pair who pressured the Everton defence throughout the match, and combined with David Edwards on the right of midfield to take up promising positions that ultimately came to naught.

Stephen Hunt, the goal scorer, made up the attacking unit on the left wing. The four moved the ball around quickly and were all willing runners yet lacked a focal point in attack. At times Doyle dropped deep into midfield and the effect was to outnumber Everton in the middle but leave Wolves with few options further forward.

One Wolves blogger, writing on the website of the Midlands-based newspaper the Express and Star, noted McCarthy usually changes tactics to a lone striker formation at this time of year. Tim Spiers said: “For each of our three Premier League campaigns McCarthy has [intended to play 4-4-2], before changing to a 4-5-1 when results have gone badly near Christmas,” while McCarthy has himself acknowledged that playing a variant of 4-5-1 makes his side harder to beat. Everton certainly did struggle to break Wolves down on Saturday, but that was as much due to their own failings as Wolves’ solidity. The two factors worked in harmony to produce a workmanlike contest.

It appears the balance for Wolves needs to be found between the two schools – the dynamic wide-play 4-4-2 allows, and the compact nature of the current alternative. The Wolves supporters spent much of the match singing the name of Steven Fletcher, the striker left on the substitutes’ bench until the 86th minute, shortly after Everton had taken the lead, while Matt Jarvis, an England international winger, got only six more minutes of action. And McCarthy’s desire to stiffen his side was undermined by giving up the lead only seven minutes after taking it in the first-half.

For a side many believed would stay relatively clear of trouble this campaign – A Different League’s pre-season prediction table placed Wolves 14th – the run of eight games without a victory threatened to make a mockery of those forecasts. Sitting precariously above the relegation zone as Christmas approaches is not terminal, but, unless that balance can be found, it is the making of a nervous New Year.

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