It wasn’t so much the result that was disappointing at St James’s Park, but how it happened. Wolves gave their worst performance of 2011, perhaps of the season and maybe even of the last 12 months. Every one of Mick McCarthy’s men was outplayed by their opposite number at Newcastle. We defended like strangers, frequently gave the ball away and were out battled all over the pitch.
When the teams met at Molineux near the start of the season, Wolves got a lot of criticism. That was because there was a lot of publicity about how many times hard tackles went in on Joey Barton. I don’t think Mick would ever be telling his players to go out and foul another player, or hurt him, because he likes his teams to play hard but fair. But Barton had clearly been singled out as the man that needed to be stopped from influencing the game. It worked, in that the match ended as a hard fought draw.
On Saturday though, Barton was allowed the freedom of the pitch and he ran the show. Why oh why were we not in his face at every possible opportunity? Newcastle’s big strength now that Carroll is gone is their midfield which is full of running and creativity. Yet Barton had the freedom to thread countless passes through to the front men, Jonas ran with the ball all over the pitch and Nolan repeatedly got into dangerous positions in the box.
Some say Nolan should have been sent off for his foul on Hammill, which the whole world knows prevented a clear goal scoring opportunity. However, while I think that the foul was cynical and deliberate, I can understand why the red card wasn’t shown. It is not that the referee got it wrong, but that there is a grey area in the law which Nolan was able to exploit.
Once Hammill had beaten him it was a two-on-one situation. Either the Wolves winger takes the shot or the cover comes across and he plays in the striker for his chance to beat the keeper. Either way there is going to be a shot at goal. The problem with the law though is that the cover was there and so it gives the referee the option to issue the yellow. So in this case, I was angry with the law and not the referee.
Similarly, the Lovenkrands goal. He was standing yards offside; the ball was played to an onside player who crossed for him to score. Doesn’t that mean he should become ‘active’ and the flag should be waved? It’s another grey area and again, I agreed with the ref’s decision but was frustrated with the lack of clarity in the law.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of these rules though, Wolves were still totally outplayed by the Magpies. Anything less than three points for the home side would have been a travesty.
The good points to take away?
Kightly got back on the pitch – even though he looked off the pace. And it was encouraging to see Ebanks-Blake and Fletcher combining which suggests we can cope without Doyle. Plus, it really will be the four home games where Mick will be hoping our points come from. If we were going to lose badly anywhere in the remainder of the season, St James’s was the place to do it.
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