Phil Shaw: Difficult decision, said the chairman. Not for Wolves fans
Supporters took to the phone-ins to condemn McCarthy for a lack of balance in his line-up
Tuesday 14 February 2012
The day of a crushing 5-1 home defeat by their closest and bitterest rivals was not, with hindsight, the most auspicious time for Wolverhampton Wanderers' programme to trumpet the availability of "Early Bird" season tickets for 2012-13 with the headline "On sale tomorrow!" No sooner had the renewal hotline opened yesterday than Mick McCarthy learnt that Sunday's 5-1 rout by West Bromwich Albion had booked his ticket out of Molineux.
The graffiti was on the wall for McCarthy after the previous home fixture when Steve Morgan, Wolves' owner and chairman, broke with protocol by entering the dressing room to berate the players following the 3-0 defeat by Liverpool. Morgan was abroad for the derby debacle, but he squirmed through the match on TV. McCarthy was not Morgan's choice, having been in charge of Wolves for a year before the Merseyside businessman bought control in 2007, yet he led them to promotion to the Premier League two years later.
Since then, however, McCarthy's fallibility as a top-flight manager and the club's tendency to spend conservatively in the transfer market have combined to leave the team battling against relegation for the third year running.
The statement which announced his departure spoke of a "difficult decision" to terminate his contract. But it noted "a run [that] has seen Wolves pick up only 14 points from the last 22 league games after a promising start to the season". Indeed, in statistical terms, it was becoming increasingly hard to make a case for the former Republic of Ireland manager's survival. His 101 Premier League matches with Wolves delivered only 99 points (he had an even worse record at Sunderland); they had drawn once and lost six of the last seven at home, Albion emulating Aston Villa and Birmingham by winning derbies there; they had won just once in 13 matches, at 10-man QPR; and they had not kept a clean sheet in 23 outings since September.
McCarthy, a likeable, straight-talking Yorkshireman, justifiably pointed to circumstances conspiring to undermine his efforts. After losing Karl Henry to suspension, it was unfortunate that the similarly combative Emmanuel Frimpong, on loan from Arsenal, suffered a ruptured cruciate ligament.
Without them, Wolves' midfield was overrun by Albion, though it did not help that the home line-up was heavily loaded with attacking players. That played into the hands of Roy Hodgson's side, who demonstrated the counter-attacking qualities that have brought 21 points away from home. Wolves appeared one-dimensional by comparison, often resorting to a long-ball game that Hodgson, Norwich's Paul Lambert and Swansea's Brendan Rodgers have shown to be outmoded.
Irate fans took to the phone-ins to condemn McCarthy for the lack of balance in his line-up, which at first had striker Kevin Doyle operating in right-midfield and later saw burly forward Sylvan Ebanks-Blake uncomfortable in a wide-left role.
They complained, too, of square pegs in round holes, leading to a shambolic second-half display that had echoes of a similar collapse against Liverpool. Roger Johnson, the captain and the club's only major signing last summer, has had a torrid time. Repeatedly exposed by Albion's technical and tactical savvy, the former Birmingham man's poor form has underlined the criticism of Wolves' habit of buying players from relegated clubs.
That said, McCarthy's best buy, Steven Fletcher, came for £7m after Burnley's relegation. The Scot's 10 goals include a sublime equaliser that provided illusory hope on Sunday, so he will be a key figure in fighting the drop. But, as with goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, it is hard to see him staying if Wolves fail to scramble clear as they did last season via a goal with three minutes of the final match remaining.
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