McCarthy seeks out the positive as Wolves miss their chance

Chelsea 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
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The Independent Football

They scored fewer goals last season than any team in the country and have recorded less than one per game this time. Yet, as Wolverhampton Wanderers prepare to meet Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal in the next three weeks, their manager, Mick McCarthy, insists they have the firepower to avoid relegation.

The lesson of the previous campaign, when McCarthy controversially wrote off a game at Old Trafford to keep some powder dry and legs fresh for a relegation six-pointer against Burnley, was that it is matches against teams in your own mini-league that matter. While Wolves will undoubtedly have a go at home to City and Arsenal, their ultimate fate is again more likely to depend on the next sequence of games, against Bolton, Blackpool and Sunderland.

"You stay with it, weather any storm that comes and pick up points where you can," the relentlessly down-to-earth manager said.

Saturday's game emphasised that, when taking on the bigger boys, there is no chance of a little bonus if the few scoring chances that materialise are frittered away. Chelsea, feeling the effects of a gruelling trip to Moscow, offered more opportunities than could have been expected from a side that have not conceded on their own ground for 13 hours. Since Gabriel Agbonlahor scored for Aston Villa in March, the champions have run in an extraordinary 38 goals without reply.

With greater power or shrewder placement, Christophe Berra, Dave Edwards, Jelle van Damme, Nenad Milijas (twice) and Kevin Doyle could all have ended that run. That was just before half-time. As for the run of fixtures which begins tomorrow with a Carling Cup tie at Old Trafford McCarthy insisted: "It's better than Scunthorpe, Doncaster, Barnsley and Derby."

Apart from Richard Stearman's fully justified yellow card for an old-fashioned clattering of Didier Drogba, there was no sign either of the big, bad Wolves of recent reputation; Karl Henry was under suspension for his dreadful lunge at Wigan's Jordi Gomez.

Only West Ham's late defeat by Newcastle kept Wolves off the bottom of the table but McCarthy is positive about their position in the relegation zone with almost a quarter of the season gone. "I don't think we will be there come the end of the season," he said.

He would hardly be surprised if Chelsea are being crowned champions again by that point, believing them to be the strongest side in the League. "They've got a terrific goalkeeper, both centre-backs are outstanding, and both full-backs are like wingers, with [John Obi] Mikel and [Michael] Essien sat in front of the back four."

Essien and Jose Bosingwa, who made a confident return 12 months after a bad knee injury, were the best on Saturday, when Drogba made a more hesitant comeback and the front three did not gel, even after Florent Malouda benefited from good work by Nicolas Anelka and Yuri Zhirkov for the first goal. Carlo Ancelotti was prompted to move them around, pushing Anelka out to the left, then replacing Malouda with Salomon Kalou, who finished off the best move of the match.

Taking control of their Champions League group, clinching a kit sponsorship worth up to £160m and extending their lead at the top of the table was not a bad week's work. They will just have to do without Wayne Rooney, of whom his England team-mate John Terry said: "It's a boost for United and harder for us because they'll probably go and spend again in January."

Match facts

Possession Chelsea 58% Wolves 42%.

Shots on target Chelsea 10 Wolves 9.

Referee L Probert (Wiltshire). Attendance 41,752.

Man of the match Malouda. Match rating 6/10.