April 27, 2012 by Adam Gray
As slapstick relegations go, Wolves’ departure to the Championship after a three-year stint in the top-tier was relatively inevitable. On the pitch anyway, after the 5-0 mauling at Fulham on the 2nd of March, and falling ultimately 7 points adrift as they met their end at home to Manchester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers were long since resigned to the trips to Burnley and Charlton that await them in the next season.
One win in the past 21 matches drew the air of gloom that filled over Molineux during City’s win, as the torrid weather provided the pathetic fallacy for the day. However, it was one particular defeat in this wretched run that opened the door for the West-Midland brand of lunacy that drove Wolves to a speedier fate.
As Chairman Steve Morgan watched on in the company of a select group of dignitaries, pictured finding something humorous as the pouring rain drenched out the conclusion of proceedings, it may have been him, looking back on an awfully handled 2 months at boardroom level. For Chief Executive Jez Moxey’s Laurel, you get Steve Morgan’s Hardy as they personify a comedy double act to rival the most bumbling of duos; “That’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into”. Quite. You could almost hear it being uttered as they looked on to their clubs’ demise.
Plenty of argument arose on the necessity to remove Mick McCarthy from his job following a 1-5 demolition to local rivals West Brom in early March and the question was still being posed to midfielder Karl Henry in the corridors of Molineux as the reality of relegation was still setting in. McCarthy had after all guided his team to just one win in ten and their performance in the Black Country derby was so woefully devoid of any direction or guidance. Logically, just 5 wins in 25 games wasn’t good enough for McCarthy and his six-year service of loyalty probably had to end. But, unfortunately for Morgan and Moxey’s gamble, what followed posted McCarthy’s sacking at the top end of the scale of some of the most catastrophic boardroom errors.
As negotiations for first Alan Curbishley, a sticking point encountered over his desire to draft in his own backroom staff, and then Steve Bruce hit respective snags, it was clear there was no contingency plan in place for a situation that was already on a knife-edge with the team languishing in 18th place. A fortnight of fraught panic later, as speculation became rife with a whole list of names being linked, McCarthy’s assistant manager, Terry Connor, was in place for the trip to Newcastle. Morgan and Moxey tried desperately to pitch up a desperate façade that Connor, with no previous football managerial experience, was their first choice. He clearly wasn’t and although his team wrestled a point back from 2-0 down at half-time in St James’ Park, only one more point, a 0-0 draw at Sunderland followed in the succeeding 9 matches before City sent them packing. Connor lost those said 9 games by a collective score of 24 goals to 4.
A distraught 5-0 thrashing to the hands of Fulham in the week after the trip to the North East was light-years away from the second-placed position they found themselves in after a 2-0 win over the Cottagers in the second game of the season. Blackburn had been beaten at Ewood Park the week beforehand, before a well-earned point was taken from down the M6 at Aston Villa. But if Spurs’ expected 2-0 win at Molineux wasn’t indicative enough, it was a false dawn, a 3-0 home thrashing to newly promoted QPR on the 17th September was; only 16 points have been taken in the 30 games since and they have shipped a massive 72 goals in that time. Wolves’ drop is without a doubt deserved, but the wreckage will be surveyed with a clear feeling of regret of the way it has been handled as a club.
McCarthy had only saw survival by a point last season, and the team had clear deficiencies, yet these were addressed only by a £3.5 million signing for Spurs cast-off Jamie O’Hara and £7.4 million Roger Johnson, who had just been at the heart of Birmingham’s relegation. Such improvement wasn’t sufficient and neither were the loan signings of Emmanuel Frimpong and Sebastien Bassong, who both returned to their parent clubs in North London prematurely with injuries. The writing was on the wall, even with that sunny victory over Fulham in front of an ambitious renovation job of the Stan Cullis stand, designed to add extra seats which look even vainer with the probable fall in attendance coming with the fall into the second tier. As the Stan Cullis stand towered out of proportion over the rest of the Molineux stadium, that was awash with disappointment on Sunday night, one could not highlight enough the folly of wholeheartedly renovating the stadium at the expense of substantial squad improvement, and they are paying the price.
Time should not be wasted on arguing hypothetically on whether Mick McCarthy remaining in his job would have kept them up, nobody will ever know, but it cannot be denied the hideous timing of his removal and subsequent plunge into desperation that has thrust a reluctant Terry Connor into an unwanted limelight. His future will be decided in the summer, they say, but he is not to blame for this relegation, the grotesque incompetence of the hiring process by the Moxey and Morgan double act is. It has been a fine mess indeed.