Was this a must win game? Literally, the answer is obviously no, but in reality, it might have been. A home game with Wolves is one that a team struggling for points just has to win. It’s difficult to see where the points are going to come from otherwise. On this evidence, they aren’t going to come at all not.
City made five changes from the team that lost at Old Trafford last week. Zayatte and Marney missed out through injury, Garcia was fit enough only for the bench and Barmby and Fagan dropped out. In came Steven Mouyokolo at centre half, Altidore and Big Jan up front, Mendy on the wing and making his first premier League start, 19 year old Tom Cairney in midfield. The five newcomers where the best City players on display.
The game was very similar to the home game with West Brom last season. City were depleted ad below par but managed to get into winning positions twice before throwing it away. The reason was simple then and it’s simple now; we cannot defend. As a unit, we gift goals to the opposition by making stupid decisions, losing concentration and not reacting to danger.
Wolves were pretty quiet in the first half. They moved the ball nicely in their own half but Kevin Doyle was isolated up front and they rarely threatened. Twice they won a series of corners which City dealt with well other than one which was flicked on and Christophe Berra failed to connect with from a couple of yards. On the replay, it looked like Gardner definitely had a hold of his shirt but the ref couldn’t see that through the crowded penalty area. In open play, Doyle had the beating of Gardner from the off. Gardner had his poorest outing in a City shirt, he was awful. He looked indecisive, he lost out to Doyle time and again and he cleared poorly. The only other danger came from set pieces, conceded my Dawson and Mendy found themselves into rotten positions and had to commit fouls. Dawson was booked for his offence but was left exposed when George Boateng played a rotten pass and turned attack into defence very quickly. Mendy’s was all of his own making.
Going forward, we looked threatening. We played quick balls forward, some terrific balls into the feet and chests of Altidore and Big Jan but an equal amount of aimless balls onto the heads of their defenders. When we played neat balls forward, Altidore did a superb job of holding it up and either winning a free kick or finding a mate. We’ve crossed the ball poorly all season but in the first half alone we put in four quality crosses, two from Hunt and one each from Mendy and Boateng that caused havoc but we couldn’t convert. We made the breakthrough after ten minutes, Altidore holding up the ball and holding off a defender despite being fouled. Ref Mike Dean played a great advantage and Jozy turned his man and slipped a neat ball through to JVoH. Just when you were wondering how on earth Jan might out pace their chasing defenders from 20 yards out, he unleashed a terrific low drive into the bottom corner. It was a terrific goal and one that filled City with confidence. The second goal just wouldn’t come, despite some impressive play out wide and we ended the half holding on a little bit. We were holding on because throughout the half, we were never composed on the ball. In the attacking third, we move the ball quite well but up to that point, we are rash in possession, we don’t have anyone who’ll put their foot on the ball and pick a pass and we appear in a hurry to give the ball back to the opposition. That gave them heart and meant we had to do far more chasing than we should against a team who appeared to have little ambition or ability to score a goal.
The exception was Tom Cairney who throughout the game showed real maturity on the ball and played the game simply and easily. When he received the ball, he looked up and played a nice easy pass, normally out wide to put us on the front foot. It’s a pity that his more experienced teammates appear incapable of doing the same.
We didn’t really come out for the second half and that was compounded when we gifted an equaliser. It’s hard to comprehend just how poor it was. Stephen Hunt in an attempt to save a Wolves throw-in 30 yards from our goal back heeled the ball straight to Zubar who was standing behind him. Even if Zubar hadn’t been behind him, it was a stupid decision because there wasn’t a Tiger within 20 yards. Zubar then wandered forward and threw a harmless cross into our box. Anthony Gardner swiped at it and lifted it over the head of Myhill. We literally scored for them and we provided the assist too. Within a couple of minutes, we were back in front. Mendy produced an amazing run down the right hand touchline and when his cross was cleared, Zubar barged into the back of Altidore for a senseless penalty. Mick McCarthy must have been livid. Stephen Hunt stepped up and lashed in the penalty.
From three, the result didn’t appear in doubt. Mouyokolo was playing well, Cairney passing neatly, Boateng and Hunt doing just about enough and Altidore and JVoH getting the better of nearly every challenge. Wolves hadn’t troubled us. Then came the chance to clinch it. Altidore latched onto another ball through, easily turned the defender and showed awesome pace and strength to get through on goal. He was approaching from the left so the angle was tough and he needed to try and lift the ball over the ‘keeper but didn’t get enough on it and Hahnemann blocked the shot. In truth, once he got into the position, you never felt like he’d score.
We paid for that miss almost immediately. Gardner picked up the ball in our area and decided not to risk a hurried clearance. Instead he held onto the ball calmly, dribbled past a Wolves attacker and then cleared the ball straight to them anyway. We half dealt with the first ball in but they moved it to the right and had two against one on Dawson. Cairney was far too slow to see the problem and when he and everyone else shifted across, it left Matt Jarvis all alone on the left. He latched onto the cross and hit a shot that seemed to deflect off McShane and found the bottom corner. Another goal that was of our own making and could easily have been avoided.
The last 20 minutes were a scrap with neither team able to force an advantage. Just after the second equaliser, Big Jan missed a glorious headed chance from a well delivered free-kick and late on Myhill had to make a smart stop after a Wolves free-kick caused problems for our defence. We introduced Amr Zaki from the bench, he’d been standing waiting to come on when Wolves equalised. He looked excellent; he was strong, ran well with the ball and showed great determination at times to win the ball. Our other change was less successful as Garcia replaced Mendy. We should have replaced McShane, who was hesitant all game, and moved Mendy back. I’d also have used Fagan rather than Garcia unless Fagan was carrying a knock. Garcia never got into the game at all so the change weakened us.
It’s difficult to take anything positive from the game really. Draws at home with Pompey, Blackburn and now Wolves have killed us this season. We just can’t afford to turn the points away. If we’d been smarter in possession and defended properly, we’d have had a comfortable 2-0 or 3-0 win. It’s difficult to see just where we will get the points from unless Bullard comes back quickly.
I’ll find some positives. Mouyokolo and Cairney both played well which bodes well for next season regardless of which division we are in. Altidore is getting better, which bodes well for his next club. Big Jan is looking more mobile and completed 90 minutes. Zaki looks the business. Boaz threw out a couple of terrific early balls (and a third one that caught Garcia by surprise!) and lastly, Mendy had a fine game and we managed to put in some great crosses from open play.
A big negative is our failure to get on the end of corners. We put in some terrific deliveries and just don’t win them in the middle. For a team of our size, it’s criminal. I think Anthony Gardner is about to set a world record for the number of times someone can go forward for a corner and not even look like scoring.
Two more home games this week, both against good teams who aren’t playing particularly well. We need to pick up a point or two from somewhere to counter the disappointment we feel after yesterday. If we don’t then trips to Blackburn and West Ham start to look very daunting and potentially terminal.
Ratings: Myhill 6, McShane 5, Dawson 6, Mouyokolo 7, Gardner 5, Mendy 7 (Garcia), Hunt 6, Boateng 6, Cairney 7, JVoH 7, Altidore 7 (Zaki).