Taylor still to find the light Taylor's recovery not yet complete

FOOTBALL: Welcome win for former England manager as he struggles to adapt to his new life in the company of Wolves
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Some people go to Eastbourne to recuperate, or a spa town like Bath. Not Graham Taylor. He went to the Black Country, to Molineux, a spanking, newly rebuilt stadium laden with memories and heavier still with expectation.

Tomorrow it will be two years to the day since his nadir as manager of England - the defeat at Rotterdam which effectively ended England's World Cup before it had started. It is fair to say his rehabilitation still has some way to go.

In 18 months at Molineux he has taken his team to the brink of the play- offs, then into the play-offs. On the first occasion, Taylor's appointment inspired a revival only for the team to falter in the final weeks. Last season, they blew the chance of automatic promotion with one win in the last nine games.

This year, having again been the division's heaviest summer spenders, they have started poorly. Even Saturday's 2-1 win at Ipswich was unable to lift them into the top half of the table. But the League is only a quarter done and it is still very tight. Wolves are only a win off the play-off places, eight points from a promotion spot.

And yet the pressure is on and Taylor's recuperation is being tested. Twice in recent weeks he has walked out of press conferences, and according to observers, there has been a haunted and hunted look about him, his eyes darting about his inquisitors, trying to spot where the next loaded question may come from - and what lies behind the apparently innocent ones.

On Saturday there was little sign of that. Three points provide a greater shield than any minder or spin-doctor. Even when faced with one of his former tormentors - his journalistic inquisitor from that Rotterdam press conference - he was civil and honest. Not that that should be a surprise. The essential decency of the man has always been evident. So has his courage - unlike many managers, successful and otherwise, he has rarely shirked his responsibilities to the media and the wider public.

There remained, however, a sense of paranoia, a wariness and weariness about him. The tendency to run at the mouth has not been checked either.

"Was this week a turning point?" he was asked. "I think the thing is that when you actually look back you have got to go further ahead, you know what I mean? If, in another three months' time we are, sort of, winning and we have had the odd draw, we may look back and say this was a turning point. It is too early yet, it is five games [unbeaten] now. Only time... you never know when it is a turning point, it is easy to say, but you cannot tell. We will give it another couple of months before we can look back and say 'this might have been a turning point'."

There is sense in there, somewhere. But should anyone be surprised if he is scarred. Three years of abuse, often personal, from both public and press would mark most people. The wonder of Taylor is that he keeps coming back for more.

Was he enjoying management again? "I have always enjoyed certain aspects - no one can enjoy every minute of their job. I became a manager in 1972, someone told me I am the longest-serving League manager and I wonder where the years have gone."

The recent weeks, he admitted, had been difficult. He had worried about the start. "You have got to win games," he said. "With everything I brought to the club, with my profile and the fact that money was made available, everyone expects it. It does not always work like that. Expectancy is so high at the club. I would rather be with an expectant club with passion and feeling than one where it does not really matter."

There did not seem much passion about Wolves at the beginning. Ipswich so dominated the first half-hour it was impossible to tell if Wolves were playing long-ball football, as they never kept possession long enough to find out. The inevitable first goal came after 28 minutes when Eric Young held back Alex Mathie after he had been turned on the edge of the box. Steve Sedgley scored from the spot.

A second should have followed five minutes later as a break by Mathie and Micky Stockwell set up Claus Thomsen 12 yards out, only for the Dane to shoot casually and criminally over.

It was a telling error. With Stockwell still coming back, Wolves fed Goodman by the half-way line. Tony Mowbray, making his debut, recklessly committed himself and Goodman was away. Stockwell got back but failed to tackle as Goodman beat the 17-year-old goalkeeper, Richard Wright, at the near post. Seven minutes later, Mark Atkins scrambled the ball in from a corner and, though the second-half was awful, Wolves had done enough.

Ipswich, shorn of Ian Marshall, looked pretty but lightweight. Sedgley was the most cultured player on the pitch, Geraint Williams the busiest, but they had no way past Wolves' three-man defence.

Dean Richards was the outstanding member of that trio, bringing the ball out with aplomb. Taylor said he still needs work on his defensive qualities, but they can be taught; composure on the ball is a more elusive trait. Few of his team-mates have it, but while Wolves are not a purist's delight, they are not exclusively long-ball either. Darren Ferguson, in particular, still attempts to play in his father's traditions and Atkins is a good acquisition.

But even in victory there were unpleasant reminders for Taylor. As he signed autographs for the home fans someone had a go at him and he walked away, shaking his head.

"That is part of it," he said. "It is not going to go away. I have to live with that. At the risk of sounding boastful, I think I live with it quite well."

However, it is the Wolves support he has to win over. They are still not convinced. Bobby Robson, another former England manager, one who previously managed Ipswich, was at the game. When the Ipswich fans acclaimed him - and booed Taylor - there were no countering cheers of support from the Wolves fans. They look at Barnsley and Millwall, both of whom have sold more than they have spent in recent years, and ponder the worth of Taylor's pounds 4m transfer deficit.

And now Taylor must risk alienating them again. Wolves have scored nine goals in their last three games - and Steve Bull has been suspended for all of them. Will he recall him?

"The Wolves and Steve are the nearest thing I have ever been involved with to a one-man club," he said. "I will deal with it in the right way to the benefit of the whole club."

As Taylor spoke, one could not help noticing the motto on the club blazer he wore: "Out of darkness, cometh the light". But does that old-gold glow presage the end of the tunnel, or is another train approaching?

Goals: Sedgley (pen, 28) 1-0; Goodman (34) 1-1; Atkins. (41) 1-2.

Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Wright; Stockwell, Sedgley, Mowbray, Taricco (Yallop, 42); Uhlenbeek, Williams, Thomsen, Slater; Scowcroft, Mathie. Substitutes not used: Milton, Gregory.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (3-4-3): Stowell; Richards, Young, Venus; Rankine, Atkins, Ferguson, Thompson; Williams (Wright, 66), Goodman, Daley (Cowans, 71). Substitute not used: Emblen.

Referee: M Pierce (Portsmouth).