Football: Wolves' contrary display

Guy Hodgson saw Mark McGhee's team refuse to give up the First Division title chase with a 2-0 victory at Huddersfield
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The Independent Online
There is something about the breed that makes footballers contrary. Advise them one thing and a proportion will do the opposite, which keeps the Sunday tabloids happy if no one else.

Take the Wolves players. Last month their manager, Mark McGhee, told anyone who would listen that the First Division championship was already addressed to Burnden Park and the rest of the division was chasing second place. So what do his charges do? Take off after Bolton like the Keystone Cops.

This was their fourth successive win and they have now reduced the gap between themselves and the runaway leaders to nine points. The pursuit is probably futile, but Wolves will not notice unless McGhee lets drop the notion that they might catch up after all.

Perhaps the manager's statement was designed to take the pressure off his charges, because they have undergone a remarkable transformation in a very short time. When they met Bolton three weeks ago, their players gave passable imitations of nightclub bouncers: muscular but not particularly bright. On Saturday, the power was still there, but it was used hand in hand with intelligence.

No one embodied the change more than Neil Emblen. At Burnden Park he looked clumsy and out of his depth, a dinosaur bypassed by quicker and smarter opponents. On Saturday he ran the midfield, winning tackles and distributing intelligently. When he started beating players with flicks from the Eric Cantona coaching manual, the temptation was to inform the authorities that the man's body had been taken over by something.

The difference was of black and white proportions, as indeed, was the margin between these teams. Huddersfield, particularly Gary Crosby, fluttered brightly on the fringes but Wolves overwhelmed them at the core. If Paul Dalton's header after 56 minutes had gone under the bar instead of hitting it, they might have lived on the scraps, but when that chance went there was a sense of inevitability about the result.

The start was indicative. McGhee had said that reports had indicated that his opponents "go off like a house on fire", but Wolves were so rampant Huddersfield did not get to the matchbox. The visitors had seven corners in the first 12 minutes, could have scored through Steve Bull and Don Goodman on several occasions and the only mystery was why it took 37 minutes for them to go ahead.

The wait was worth it, however. Mark Atkins, giving the sweeper's role its true creative edge, turned up on the left wing and passed exquisitely for Steve Froggatt charging through the middle. The former Aston Villa winger had not scored this season, but he took this chance with the manner of a man who did this sort of thing in his sleep, comprehensively beating Steve Francis with a low shot into the corner.

The second was pure Bull. Adrian Williams dallied on the ball and the Wolves striker was on him like a mastiff, claiming possession and then hitting a shot with such power that Francis's save merely slowed its progress to the net.

"I still think Bolton will be hard to catch," McGhee said, altering his stance slightly. "I wish in some ways that we still had to play them." They cannot, but it might not not matter. As long as no one tells the Wolves side they can play a bit, they will take some stopping.

Goals: Froggatt (37) 0-1; Bull (83) 0-2.

Huddersfield Town (3-5-2): Francis; Dyson, Burnett, Gray; Crosby, Dalton (Collins, 70), Bullock, Reid, Cowan; Edwards (Rowe, 74), Payton. Substitute not used: Baldry.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (3-5-2): Stowell; Williams, Atkins, Curle; Thompson, Emblen, Osborn, Corica, Froggatt; Goodman, Bull. Substitutes not used: Roberts, Thomas, Venus.

Bookings: Wolves Thompson, Froggatt, Goodman.

Referee: T Heilbron (Newton Aycliffe).

Man of the match: Emblen.

Attendance: 15,267.