Big spender McCarthy reaps early rewards

Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 Stoke City 1
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The Independent Football

More significant than Mick McCarthy's reference in his programme notes to his being among the Premier League's highest summer spenders is the assertion that he has the strongest Wolverhampton Wanderers squad of his four-year reign.

Buoyed by Steven Fletcher's goal-scoring start and Jelle Van Damme's steady debut, McCarthy has considerable grounds for optimism as he looks forward to blooding two other close-season captures, Steven Mouyokolo and Stephen Hunt, and to the imminent reintroduction of last season's leading scorer, Kevin Doyle.

McCarthy is one of four managers who had tried and failed to oversee an opening-day win for the club since 1999 but this deserved victory over a Stoke side raised from the same hard-working stock was a case of Wolves picking up where they had left off with their 15th-place finish in May.

Second season syndrome is something he is reluctant to acknowledge, although he insists his young team will find themselves in trouble if they forget the basics that have lifted them to a point approaching the top-flight stability Stoke have achieved. Not only has McCarthy been able to recruit heavily this past summer, he has had the additional luxury of doing so early enough to bed new players in thoroughly.

With exciting stadium redevelopment plans also in place, Wolves' outlook appears rosy. There are satisfaction and long-term hope at last, following all the years of baffling under-achievement.

"It is a good club and run very well," Fletcher said. "The gaffer has signed the quality that can keep us in the league again. I've had lots of service already, so hopefully I can score more than the 12 I got last season."

Stoke's challenge rose and fell in tandem with the fortunes of Kenwyne Jones. Their new £8m record signing rattled Marcus Hahnemann's bar in the third minute, then crumpled under Jody Craddock's challenge in the 10th and faces a lengthy lay-off with ankle ligament damage.

Match facts

Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-4-2: Hahnemann; Foley, Craddock, Berra, Ward; Jarvis, Henry, Jones, Van Damme (Elokobi, 71); Ebanks-Blake, Fletcher (Keogh, 49; Halford, 87). Substitutes not used: Hennessey (gk), Stearman, Milijas, Guedioua.

Stoke City 4-4-2: Sorensen; Huth, Shawcross, Faye, Higginbotham; Delap, Whitehead, Whelan (Tonge, 67), Etherington; Fuller, Jones (Sidibe, 14; Tuncay, 51) Substitutes not used: Begovic (gk), Collins, Pugh, Wilkinson.

Booked Huth, Whitehead.

Man of the match Jones.

Referee J Probert (Gloucestershire).

Attendance 27,850.