Wolves are hungry for a lasting bite of top flight
Promotion beckons for Mick McCarthy's young side today – and this time they intend to stay there, says David Instone
Saturday 18 April 2009
A pristine £10 note pressed behind glass into a decorated frame bears testimony to the deal that secured Steve Morgan's takeover of Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2007.
He should have had it for nothing but the outgoing Sir Jack Hayward mischievously reneged on his agreement simply to hand the club to the right man by deciding it would be fun to demand token payment that could be displayed on a wall in Molineux's impressive foyer.
It is what remains of the £30m that had to be pledged as working capital, though, at the same time the tenner moved from one deep pocket to another, that will determine whether the club Morgan is on the brink of leading into the Premier League will turn their step up into more than a fleeting visit.
The Liverpudlian building magnate is achieving in two years something that took Sir Jack 13 seasons – and a full house will descend for this afternoon's visit of Queen's Park Rangers in feverish anticipation of the three points the side need to be sure of promotion.
For a club who won three League Championships in the 1950s and added to a couple of post-war FA Cups by twice lifting the League Cup, a record of one top-flight campaign in the last 25 years borders on embarrassment.
Such is the gulf between divisions that has developed while, apart from 2003-04, Wolves have been away, that supporters will be banking on more of the investment from Morgan to which they have grown accustomed.
As a reminder of how much harder the going will be in 2009-10, those fans need only to look at how neighbours West Bromwich Albion have struggled painfully following each of their three 21st-century promotions; also, how Birmingham City came straight down the last time they went up. "The Premier League is a damn sight easier to get out of than it is to get into," observes Wolves' manager, Mick McCarthy (left), wryly.
Although his side have won six games out of the last eight and have a trip to Barnsley and a Molineux encounter with Doncaster Rovers as insurance against a stumble today, their progress has not been convincing.
McCarthy described them as "rubbish, bobbins" in Monday's victory at Derby County, having seen them toil through a new year run of one win in 11 league matches.
Not since Christmas have they truly impressed, harvesting an unspectacular 27 points from 19 games that barely add up to top six form, let alone top of the table. It is a long season, though, and some of their earlier attacking was invigorating as they stockpiled 56 points from 24 games and twice won seven in a row.
Yet with Easter Monday's starting XI having an average age of little over 24, it is one of football's ironies that Hayward's relinquishing of power at Molineux has led to the building of just the sort of young, hungry all-British team of whom he would have been thoroughly proud. Patriotic "Union" Jack was once moved to say that he longed to see players with names like "Cullis, Wright and Slater" again, because he didn't understand "all these Viallis, Vieiras and Viagras".
While Dave Jones won promotion in 2003 by recruiting the ageing likes of Paul Ince, Paul Butler, Denis Irwin and Alex Rae from the top division and then signed several foreigners who "bombed", McCarthy has targeted emerging talent, going to Luton for Kevin Foley and David Edwards, Plymouth for Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Gillingham for Matt Jarvis and, most eye-openingly, Grays Athletic for Michael Kightly.
Doubtless there will have to be some heavier hitters in the bigger league and you suspect Morgan, with his tougher edge, will not make the mistake his predecessor did. Hard though it is to believe after spending 13 years striving for the Holy Grail, Sir Jack took his eye off the ball when they finally made it and admits he so enjoyed the celebrations and back-slapping that it took him a month to clear his head and plan what needed to be done next.
McCarthy, clearly, is not so easily distracted and descended into a strop at training on Thursday when the club opened the doors of Molineux to hundreds of youngsters. "I was grumpy because too many people were saying the job was done," he said. "No, I was very grumpy, exceptionally irked. I was OK with the kids being there but I certainly wasn't handing sweets out to them.
"Everybody wants to celebrate, so do I," McCarthy added. "We're in a lovely position that every other club in the division envies but I have to be hard-nosed and remind people we need three more points."
The outlook is certainly much rosier than when McCarthy first strode into Molineux in 2006 in the aftermath of Glenn Hoddle's walkout and told his interviewers they were off the heads to think Wolves could win promotion any time soon.
Three years on, he has rebuilt brilliantly and will soon receive the oxygen he was starved of when he last scaled such heights, with Sunderland in 2005.
Ups and downs: What could happen this weekend
Wolves will be promoted if neither Sheffield United nor Cardiff City better their result at home to Queen's Park Rangers this afternoon.
Charlton Athletic will be relegated if they fail to beat Blackpool today, or if two of Norwich, Barnsley and Nottingham Forest get a point.
Leicester City will be promoted if they win at Southend today, or if Milton Keynes Dons do not win at Scunthorpe.
Hereford will be relegated if they do not beat Colchester, or if Carlisle get a point. Cheltenham will be relegated if they lose at Crewe, or if they draw and Carlisle also get a point.
Brentford will be promoted if they beat Accrington Stanley and Bury fail to win at home to Macclesfield.
Luton are already relegated.
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