Wolves put in a solid performance just when it was needed to give themselves a good chance of avoiding the drop against what must sound like a broken record, an injury-ravaged Sunderland team, who ultimately ended a season of home games with a whimper.
Ahead of the game Mick McCarthy chose to keep faith with Fletcher and Ward upfront, leaving fit-again striker Doyle on the bench, with former Sunderland target Hunt preferred to Jarvis, who scored in Wolves only away win this year, 1-0 at Villa. The Black Cats gave a rare start to Christian Riveros, who would have been expected to feature in more games following his great World Cup with Paraguay in 2009.
Sunderland’s subs bench of Carson, Knott, R. Noble, Lynch, Adams, Laing and Cook had a weird look, how many of those players did fans know about at the start of the season? Manager Bruce had said to the media that only 12 senior players have been fit to train this week.
The first real goal effort came from Bolo Zenden after 8 min, after the ball was punted route one style by Mignolet and Mancienne pushed the ball into touch under pressure from Sessegnon. Henderson picked the ball up from the throw, squaring to Bolo who hit the woodwork from 22 yards with a rising drive. Overall a good start from the Lads, with the midfield seeing a lot of the ball and playing neat little triangles in midfield.
Running up to the 20 min. mark both Sessegnon and Bardsley had decent efforts after quick build-ups, with the home team showing real urgency in getting the ball forward early. A real shock came for the Cats though after 22 min. when the Midlanders scored with their first effort on goal. A cross from the left from Hunt eluded Bardsley on the left side of the box and Jody Craddock netted with a skilful volley in a crowded box. The goal gave the away side more confidence and on the half hour Jamie O’Hara surged forward from midfield after a Hunt pass and hit the top of the crossbar.
This signalled a period of pressure from the Lads and from a superb Zenden corner on the right, the ball bounced across for Sessegnon who had the space to net acrobatically on the edge of the 6 yard box – no more than we deserved to be honest. This set the stage for some fascinating jousting for the rest of the half. Stephen Hunt has a reputation for abrasiveness, and certainly Chelsea fans will remember that collision at Reading resulting in a fractured skull for Petr Cech, and Morinho’s subsequent rant – Cech wears protective headgear to this day. Hunt brought down Elmohamady with Zenden in a promising position.
Wolves made a change at half-time bringing on Matt Jarvis – but it was the home team that threatened after 50 minutes with a shot from Malbranque that troubled Hennessey, who pushed the ball over for a corner. But then Carl Fletcher, who had threatened previously, scored with a great header from Jarvis’ cross from the right, the flight of which Mignolet managed to misjudge, edging the visitors ahead.
There was a strong penalty appeal when Sessegnon was brought down when about to pull the trigger on the left side of the box after a neat pass from Henderson, but referee Jones waved away the appeals on 60 min. The game was really opening up, being a good spectacle for the neutrals.
Top news – A STRIKER ON FOR SUNDERLAND!!! 18–year old youth teamer Ryan Noble came on for Malbranque after 69 min. Soon after Kevin Doyle was introduced for the solid Fletcher, and sadly for the home side Jami O'Hara whipped a free-kick into the Sunderland box with some pace and George Elokobi muscled his way to the front of the queue to force home a header for a decisive lead.
After that Noble showed some good touches, and Zenden tested the keeper from distance a couple of times, but the Lads could not stem the tide that was firmly in Wolves’ favour.
Goals change games and Wolves did enough in the end for their win, staying compact at the back and hitting Sunderland on the break. This brings Wolves to 40 points and they have a great chance of Premiership football next season, with 6 of those points coming against today's opposition. From this game fans will remember Sessegnon’s goal and overall contribution, Zenden’s all action performance and a good first-half team display, which was much better than the 0-3 defeat versus Fulham 2 weeks ago but giving away 3 goals again tells its own story.
In this final home game the Lads were consequently left to rue a terrible run of 6 defeats in the last 7 at the Stadium of Light, which was a fortress in the first half of the season. I am sure the team and management will just want to forget and bury the memories this injury-ravaged period since January 2011. There is also a question mark over John Mensah’s future at the club as he trudged off to be replaced by Laing 5 min. from the end.
We need the players we normally count on for solid performances to lick their wounds and come back in full fitness, raring to go for the 2011-12 season. Steve Bruce needs the full backing of the board to completely rebuild the attack around Gyan, to secure contracts for Onuoha and Elmohamady, and to help build morale at the club. To be fair, the season up to late January was so promising that the squad must be good enough, but the task of replacing Darren Bent needs to be taken very seriously indeed for season ticket sales to take off over the summer.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen
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