FOOTBALL: McGhee fancies his chances with Wolves

THE MERRY-GO-ROUND: As a manager settles into his new job, the race to fill his old one takes a strange twist,
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This is unlikely to elicit any sympathy from Reading and Leicester, but the Mark McGhee Roadshow has got quite a job on at its latest port of call.

Having been given a warm, rather than a messianic welcome by Molineux before Saturday's home game with Port Vale, McGhee then discovered just why Wolves were so desperate to get him. His new team lost 1-0, gave a performance of numbing poverty, and were booed off the pitch. It was not a good start for the managerial triumvirate of McGhee, Colin Lee and Mike Hickman.

On the plus side it can only get better, but it is unlikely to do so in time to claim a place in the play-offs, despite McGhee's post-match assertion that they remain in reach. A more immediate task is lifting Wolves out of the bottom three, the club having slipped into the relegation zone with Saturday's defeat.

The prospect of McGhee disappearing to the Endsleigh Second Division, where he started his managerial career with Reading in May 1991, would be relished by quite a few people in the game. His shameless pursuit of personal betterment, while hardly unique in football, has aroused considerable resentment.

It is not so much McGhee's progress, as the nature of it. A year ago he walked out of Reading the morning after drinking champagne with the chairman to celebrate his decision to stay. Then he became the second manager to leave Leicester in 13 months. That departure aroused so much bitterness the senior professional, Steve Walsh, publicly said he hopes Wolves are relegated.

The moves do not reflect well on McGhee, which may explain the relatively subdued welcome he received from supporters. They appreciate loyalty in the Black Country, as the adoration of Steve Bull illustrates.

Bull was not the only loyal Wolves man at Molineux. Managing Port Vale was the League's second longest serving manager, John Rudge. In a dozen years in charge at Vale Park he has taken them to Wembley twice, won three promotions, and been relegated once. His outlook is the antithesis of McGhee's.

"I have had opportunites to leave but the crowd have been a big factor for me and been very loyal," Rudge said. "It would have to be something special to take me away from Vale and that has not come up."

As a Wolverhampton boy, one who stood on an orange box in the Johnny Hancocks corner as a youngster, one senses the Wolves job, had it been offered, would have been enticed him away. But, had that happened, one suspects Vale's supporters would have released him with their blessing. They would understand the emotional bond between a fan and his club never really goes away, even if the fan grows up to manage their rivals.

Instead it is McGhee, whose original managerial ambition was to revive Newcastle ("with the work Kevin Keegan has done that chance has gone," he noted) who has the responsibility of restoring Wolves' health. "Because of the way things have happened I have set myself up," McGhee admitted. "I have got to succeed. But I am prepared for that. There is also great expectation here, but I am prepared for that as well."

That expectation may take some time to meet. McGhee has, at least, bought some time by promising to retain Bull with the assertion - "he will be good for another 100 goals". Dropping, and threatening to sell Bull was the beginning of the end for Graham Taylor.

However, quite a lot of other players will be going. McGhee has a "substantial" sum and expects to change at least half the side in a year.

On Saturday it was not hard to see why. Wolves were awful. After two years of playing Graham Taylor's direct style they appeared to have no idea how to implement McGhee's passing game. The consequence was a mish- mash of the two. With Port Vale conceding the midfield and defending deep, Wolves would knock a dozen passes together on the half-way line and then, as if they had completed some arbitary quota of passes, someone would lump the ball forward in the general direction of Bull. Back it would come and the charade would start again.

"Obviously there was a bit of confusion with regards to passing the ball," McGhee said. "At times it was being passed for the sake of it rather than for a purpose. We were passing, but not moving."

An early Port Vale goal, driven in from the edge of the area by Andy Porter, did not help. It sapped what little confidence Wolves had and enabled Vale to sit back while Wolves huffed and puffed in vain.

Afterwards McGhee issued a manifesto which could also be interpreted as a damning indictment of his predecessor. "There are good players here who are lacking confidence," he said. "A team needs information, players thrive on instruction, and the failure to provide that is a big failure on the part of coaches and managers. If I can tell a player clearly how I want him to play he will be a better player for it. There are a lot of players in this team who are lacking instruction and need help."

An early move for Scott Taylor, who he took from Reading to Leicester, is predicted but Simon Osborn and Adrian Williams are also targets.

McGhee is an impressive young manager but, in his hurry to get to the top, he is making enemies. In a small industry that can be an unwise philosophy, as he may find out next week when Wolves visit Reading.

Goal: Porter (5) 0-1.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (3-5-2): Stowell; Richards, De Wolf (Birch, 71), Venus; Rankine, Atkins (Daley, 71), Emblen, Ferguson, Thompson; Goodman, Bull. Substitute not used: Jones (gk).

Port Vale (4-4-2): Musselwhite; Hill, Griffith, Glover D, Samuel; McCarthy, Porter, Walker, Guppy; Naylor (Mills, 88), Foyle. Substitutes not used: Talbot, van Heusden (gk).

Referee: J Kirkby (Sheffield).

Bookings: Wolverhampton: Bull (55), Venus (81).

Man of the match: Griffiths (Port Vale). Attendance: 23,329