Football: Wolves draw blank

Wolverhampton 0 Sheffield United 0
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The Independent Online
In A bookshop in the town, the Wolverhampton Wanderers Quiz Book is marked down to pounds 1. Clearly Molineux's long sufferers have had enough of questions. They now want some answers. The club's patron, Sir Jack Hayward, has spent some pounds 40m on stadium and team and the best to be said about that so far is that it is a rather fine stadium. We could be charitable. To paraphrase an old manager with a gift for these things, perhaps it was the heat that made Wolves freeze yesterday.

Both these teams may still be unbeaten but only Sheffield United should point to it with pride. Their newly appointed manager, Nigel Spackman, has them well organised in a new 3-5-2 system and they might well have poached all three points had they taken one of a poor match's few chances, the majority of which fell to them. "We changed our system to counter Wolves and it worked," the impressive Spackman said.

By contrast, Wolves lacked urgency or drive and created little. A belief that this might finally be a promotion year had been fuelled by two opening 2-0 wins, at Norwich and then Queen's Park Rangers in the Coca-Cola Cup, but on this evidence such speculation is premature. Not that the Wolves manager, Mark McGhee, viewed it the same way. "I can't believe how some people see it," he said. "We played well and passed the ball. It was a major result for us. I'm delighted."

Neither club wanted to be here, of course. Both were defeated in last season's play-offs by Crystal Palace, United's grief the greater after the last-gasp goal at Wembley by David Hopkin, and thus rejoined the long list of clubs who are considered too big for the Nationwide League.

United's legacy of disappointment looked the less from the outset, however. The new formation gave them a more attacking aspect with the wing-backs Vasilis Borbokis, a pounds 900,000 signing from AEK Athens, and the 20-year- old Cornishman Wayne Quinn prominent. At the back, the 37-year-old Paul McGrath, on a month-to-month contract, organised and covered well as spare man, while up front Brian Deane, having returned from Leeds for pounds 1.5m, was a lively target.

For Wolves, Steve Sedgley, the pounds 500,000 signing from Ipswich, was composed and constructive at the back but they could establish little rhythm. The aim was clearly to send free Steve Bull or Don Goodman, but the latter in particular, although willing, was too rushed in his work. Just behind them, the 17-year-old prospect Robbie Keane, who had scored both goals at Norwich, learned a hard lesson against Nicky Marker.

The game's two best chances fell to Deane. Early in the first half, Borbokis switched play perceptively from the right to Quinn on the left and from his deep cross Deane's volley was turned aside by Mike Stowell, one of the division's best goalkeepers.

Then, midway through the second half, the keeper excelled himself by deflecting Deane's stooping header from Quinn's cross. Stowell also recovered to grab the ball after the substitute, Andy Scott, had gone round him.

It took Wolves half an hour to create a goal-scoring opportunity, Goodman clipping the outside of a post from Steve Froggatt's cross, and only the introduction of Mixu Paatelainen for Bull livened them up.

Despite his optimistic verdict, McGhee is aware of the deficiencies, his priority a creative midfield player although he admits he cannot secure his intended target, Aston Villa's Sasa Curcic, with just the pounds 2m he has received from Crystal Palace for Neil Emblen. Still more questions than answers.

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