A masterclass in organisation saw the Lads take a well-deserved point from "champions elect" Wolves in a game that emphasised both our ability to play to a system, and the ref's inability to apply the rules correctly.
The last week was more like the usual stuff – a full seven days of looking back at a miserable result. I told you to enjoy the jollity that followed the Burton win, and the bump with which we came back to earth last Saturday is still causing aftershocks on Wearside a week later.
Except it isn’t, is it? That’s because the vast majority of us knew fine well that the corner had not been turned, just identified by the new manager, and that there was every possibility that we’d fail again. Losing McNair before the game, and Oviedo during it, are big blows to a squad already busted with injuries. The former had been beginning to show decent form after his long lay-off, and the latter one of our most consistent performers this season. With Ndong returning from a family do injured, Rodwell pulling something when surprised by a cat, and Kone developing an allergy to grass/footballs/Red and White stripes (and associated away kits), the young’uns are going have to be used…..but even Asoro, so bright in the last three games, got a bang on the heid last Saturday which might keep him away from Molyneux. Yer couldn’t mek it up, marra.
Being an afternoon game, there was time for a proper stop-off at Lichfield and to discuss travel plans for Cardif over our prosecco. Half twelve kick-off – oh, give awwa man Sky man woman man. Oh, and the small matter of an unwanted repeat trip to sunny Teesside in the FA Cup. Despite the absence of the Santa in our midst, ho-ho-hoing in bandit country, we made merry enough to steel our nerves for a game that the sensible punter would consider a home banker. With Lichfield’s finest pork scratchings making my innards groan like a blue whale on heat, we were of along the toll road to the next chapter in Coleman Saves the Day. The snow fell, it was slippy around Molyneux, and I remembered my last two visits, when I'd seen Robert Plant score a penalty and Luke Molyneux miss one. Ah well....
Matthews O'Shea Browning Wilson Love
Ooh, three/five at the back (you decide), and in our pale blue kit, we set off kicking across the visiting fans and to the left, with piles of snow our side of the hoardings, and after a flame, flag, and firework show that indicates a club getting way ahead of themselves. Warmed by a swift sip of Mr Gillan's Special Coffee, we watched as it quickly became apparent why Wolves are top of the league - but then, as they failed to get the better of us, we could see that we aren't that far behind them in terms of quality, and certainly not in terms of organisation. Of course, they had loads of the ball, as you'd expect of a team full of £15 million players nobody's heard of, but they just kept running into O'Shea, or somebody he was telling what to do.
When we had the ball, it mostly went through Gibson, and he took advantage of the time and space afforded him by the tireless running of Gooch and Honeyman to spread the ball about quite well. There's a decent footballer in there, and he's trying hard to get out. Ruiter calmed our nerves by catching things that got past the defence, and when he couldn't catch, he punched it effectively. Wolves did create a couple of decent chances, but fired them well off target, and weren't afraid to fall over and feign injury when clattered, with their number 18 being the subject of much abuse from a certain visiting fan, who was probably me, as the ref eventually stopped the game after a harmless whack on the the shinpad. Play football, man. If I could have reached the piles of snow without the stewards noticing, I'd have pelted the bugger as he lay clutching the wrong leg.
We had a couple of breaks of our own, as Gibson fed Gooch on the right and Honeyman on the left, but we didn't trouble the home keeper, and the half sort of petered out as both sides decided that they'd be content to reach the break on level terms. Which, after a single added minute and nary a shot on target from either side, is exactly what they got. It might not have been particularly pretty, but we stopped the top side in our division from giving Ruiter much to think about, so we were quite content with that.
No changes for us for the second half, and, as you'd expect, Wolves tried to up their their game. Their extra urgency meant that Gooch and Honeyman had to work harder defensively, and as a consequence Gibson had less time on the ball and his game dipped a bit. Mind, it wasn't all defence, and when Gooch worked hard to win the ball deep in our own half, then race sixty yards down the right to the by-line, we thought summat was on. Unfortunately, he nudged a defender as he headed along the line, but that burst had Wolves considering their options more carefully.
Then it went more than a bit daft. Around the hour mark, our attack broke down, and Catts caught their player as they carried it away from their box. Foul, no question, but you do wonder if the yellow card was more to do with the name on the shirt than the actual offence. Ah well, he'll have to wind his neck in for a few minutes at least. Which is exactly what he didn't do. Again, it wasn't the nastiest of challenges when he lost the ball a couple of minutes later and forty yards from our goal, and he stretched to poke it back to Love but caught their player. The ref was flinging cards around like a demented postie as he raced to the spot and Catts was off. You can argue, and I will argue, that far worse challenges went uncarded, but Lee man - the first yellow showed that the ref didn't like you, so why, so quickly, give him another chance to show his dislike?
Daft bugger. That left us thirty minutes to go, a man down, against a side that, last game apart, had been banging the goals in. Tough one, but we were up to the challenge, and we reminisced about the late goals from SuperKev and Bally that had earned a draw and a win many years ago. Could we manage it again? They brought on big Alfie N'Daiye (remember him? Just starting to look like a footballer and we bombed him out), and Grabban was seeing less and less of the ball. With our defence working its collective socks off, players were tiring, and with ten to go Love made way for Galloway, whose fresh legs gave us a lift at the back. A few minutes later, Vaughan was on for Grabban, and, as expected, he harried the life out of the home defence to ease the pressure at the other end.
As five minutes extra was announced, Embleton replaced Gooch, and, while it wasn't quite sandbags and tin hats, we defended like men posessed. Stirring stuff, and a well-earned and hard-fought point...and a clean sheet against the division's top scorers. Nice one, Mr Coleman - good organisation, good use of substitutes, shame Catts is a nutter.
Man of the Match? Well, you know who it isn't. Ruiter had a fine game, and the defence was superbly marshalled by O'Shea. I'm no big fan of three/five at the back, but today it worked well. Gibson had a decent afternoon overall, and if only Grabban was as aggressive as Vaughan...he'd be playing for Chelsea and England. Gooch and Honeyman expended more energy than a nuclear device, so it's between those two.
Tosses a coin, heads it's George, but only just. Now to listen to the wheels fall off somebody's 125th birthday party....and they did, but they day was about us and not them. Good management, Chris. Keep it up, please.
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