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04/05: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 26/02/05, 3.00pm
Wolverhampton Wanderers
No surprises
By Matt Rowson

There's a monstrous, ugly warehouse thing just off the right on the way up into Birmingham on the M6. Anyone who's driven on this stretch of motorway on an even occasional basis will know the one I'm talking about. Standing on its own like a sentry, just half a mile or so down from where Dave reminds me that there used to be two equally forboding blackened chimney towers. "Welcome to Birmingham," it might be saying, if you're inclined to adhere to the traditional perspective of England's second City. It's now been draped in a garish pink advertisement, possibly the largest ghastly pink thing in the world and the only modification that could have made the building look any worse.

Things are no better in Wolverhampton, where the bright orangeness of Molineux and its environs (old gold, my arse) might stand out from the general brownness of its urban surroundings, but only in the way that a zit stands out on your backside. First point of note is that Wolves now have a Steve Bull stand. What John Ireland thinks of this is anyone's guess, should I know who he is/was?

Several pints of Guinness from a plastic cup later, and we're fifteen minutes into the game. There's really very little to report. Richard Lee is in for Paul Jones in an otherwise unchanged sixteen; it's cold and wet and most of the game is running away from us as we appear to have adopted the now traditional tactic of forcing the home side to kick towards their "end" in the first half. Seol is getting a lot of the ball down their left and looks lively, slinging a decent array of balls into the box without any attempts on target resulting. We're looking a bit heavy-legged; Johnnie Jackson makes the first of several attempts to force some football into proceedings, surging forward and swapping passes with Bouazza but his good intentions are lost in the mud.

As at Ipswich, we take our time to get going but this is a very different sort of game. Playing, essentially, a five-man midfield against a vibrant, confident side with a soft underbelly is a high-risk, high potential return strategy; we got the latter at Ipswich, we could have been stuffed if the ball had bounced the wrong way. However, when you suffocate a midfield against a side that are a little low on confidence, it leads to perhaps a less uncertain outcome. There's no shame in that - Wolves may be below us, but they're hilariously underachieving if you have a butchers at their squad list. Seji Olofinjana, for example, magnificent at Vicarage Road, was a non-playing substitute here. Maybe we just got his good day in December. At any rate, a dull draw is better than an exciting defeat, and four points from the last three games is something we'd have taken and then some beforehand. And I know we haven't got to the reflective bit of the report yet but the outcome at this point in time already felt somewhat inevitable.

Back to the game, then, and on the pitch stuff is happening. It's kinda difficult to work out who most of the Wolves players are as their names hardly stand out on the browny/orangey kit. There's no mistaking Paul Ince though, as he punches the ground in pantomime fashion having scuffed a shot well wide from the edge of the area. Lee Naylor also stands still for long enough to be identified before curling a decent free kick into a comfortable position for Richard Lee to collect, and later sends in another low, bouncing drive that Lee makes look easier than it probably was. In the meantime, the lively Clarke has galloped into the right-hand channel before being decisively denied a shooting chance by a majestic, swooping Demerit tackle... probably Wolves' best chance of the half, although no shot came of it.

As the half closes, there's a bit of life in the Watford attack. Jermaine Darlington, who's had one of his erratic forty-five minutes, releases Webber with a fine ball from the back. There have been grumblings against young Danny in the stand, although in mitigation, there are easier jobs than playing a lone role against Joleon Lescott even if you are suited to the one-up job. He does well here, though, dancing across towards the right hand side of the goal before pulling back across the area for the galloping Bouazza to send a vicious drive into the side-netting. The Wolves fans with whom we're sharing the stand behind the goal mock our enthusiasm, although it must have been clearer from our angle than theirs that the shot wasn't in, so mocking with a sigh of relief perhaps.

Bouazza, who seems to have benefitted from his month's rest, is getting the hang of this and surges down the left as Watford break again. Rob Edwards tries to interrupt his progress with a half-hearted but cynical trip on the halfway line for which he is later booked by a ref who has a decent afternoon, but Bouazza barely acknowledges the challenge, finally winning a corner off Kenny Miller who stops just short of laying on the floor and kicking his legs in the air in his protestations at what must have been the slightest deflection. Jackson, whose contribution to our second goal on Tuesday surely has him on corner duty for the rest of his loan spell, causes brief chaos in the Wolves box before the half comes to an end.

Second half, more stuff. Gavin Mahon comes close to scoring a goal quite out of place in this game, lamping a left footed bending drive from thirty yards just wide of the top left hand corner from Webber's lay-off. Wolves make a statement of intent by bringing on an extra striker, Carl Cort, for a midfielder but even as Leon Clarke skips off again down the left and supplies Kenny Miller at the near post whose shot on the run clears the bar by some distance you're not entirely convinced. At the time you're aware that if the ball hits the net it'll be greeted by surprise, by both sets of fans.

There's a brief heart-in-mouth moment as we're reminded of Richard Lee's kinda admirable tendency to single-mindedly come for just about everything... on this occasion, with the ball bouncing about on the left hand side of the area, he's left stranded by a communication breakdown with Demerit, whose clearing header is hurriedly returned by Seol, bouncing well wide of the empty goal. This isn't the only blemish to Lee's afternoon - his kicking is utterly atrocious, a fact not lost on the home support - but he generally has a confident and solid return to the side. Big hurrahs all round.

There's a bit more of a suggestion of a sucker punch about Watford in this half, which is nice. Wolves still have more of the possession, but aren't being allowed to kitchen sink us... Eagles is skipping around in what must be an infuriating fashion if you're trying to mark him, and Bouazza looks particularly single-minded, waking the stadium up with a sharp turn-and-run trick on the left that leaves his marker dead... Oakes does well to beat Webber to his low cross.

Some half-hearted attempts at a "Glenn Hoddle's a football genius" from somewhere behind us disappointingly fail to gather momentum. In fairness, the pitch is appalling and the weather isn't exactly helping the spectacle either, although it almost contributes to the deadlock being broken as an aimless Wolves clearance is dragged by the wind over Darlington's head in the centre circle. This frees a Wolves attack down the right which Chambers, continuing his defensively sound performance from Tuesday night, snuffs out as the ball is played back into the box.

This heralds another spell of Wolves pressure as further attacking substitutions are chucked into the mix by the home side. Rob Edwards slices the ball over from distance and then Demerit is on hand again to beat the sorry looking Miller to a decent Kennedy cross before leading his vanquished opponent clear of the danger zone.

Dom Blizzard's been doing his usual tidy thing of looking like a rag doll until it's time to make a challenge when he snaps in like a pit-bull terrier. He's still officially a stand-in, but has rarely betrayed his inexperience; it's worth noting that we've only lost four of the fourteen in which he's featured this season, and two of them against Premiership (not Premier, not a ship) opposition. He has a decent effort from range as the game draws to a close - it would have been interesting to see how close it had been but for a deflection which wins us a corner and sends Paul Ince into caricatured apoplexy. Blizzard's afternoon is to get worse however; Amanda's fourteen year old cousin is to ask Richard Lee to extract him from the team bus for an autograph as his "favourite player", which one suspects wasn't forgotten quickly by his team mates.

From the corner, an inadvertent backheel from referee Mr.Salisbury is one of the closest approximations to football of the afternoon; we might have applauded had it not deprived Gavin Mahon of a crossing opportunity. As it is, Wolves' consequent break disappears into the brown sludge with everything else and the game draws to a close.

Job done. We leave Wolverhampton as quickly as possible, as do the team who are in the bus before we've crawled around Molineux. He's no fool, that Lewington. Four home games - plus the short trip to QPR - within a fortnight from next Saturday will now determine quite how well or badly we finish. On the evidence of the last week, bring them on.