My eyes. My poor, innocent eyes. What have they just witnessed? A massacre, a genocide of a football match. At one point I honestly considered gouging them out. As a Wolves fan, as a football fan in general, this was a horror show of a game and worst of all one team was playing this way intentionally. My Sunday League side strings more passes together. But Wolves…oh Wolves.
We knew what we were coming into. This was peak Cardiff. This was pure unadulterated, unapologetic, Warnock-ball, a sport for bloodthirsty, violent beings who only concern themselves with the 18-yard box. This was 90 minutes of American Football, with interruptions and Hail Marys at every turn. The lack of sophistication was astonishing for a top-flight football match and the worst part of it? Wolves played their part in all of this.
It’s often the case in these games where tactics go out the window. Managers could be tempted to field their most physically robust side, but that wouldn’t have made a difference last night. It would still have been a game of first and second balls, with opportunities to counter-attack after a breakdown of a Cardiff attack. We actually defended the long balls quite well, especially in the first half. Romain Saiss’ introduction was met with derision, but he’s nothing if not ready to mix it with the bullies. All three of our central defenders battled manfully against a barrage of long throws, long balls and set pieces.
The great irony of it all was that we managed to take the lead through a set piece. Cardiff may be a big, strong physical side, but that doesn’t mean they’re any good at defending. Anybody who has watched us play this season can see how toothless we’ve been from our set plays and to come out on top this scenario was as big a surprise to us as it wasn’t to Cardiff fans, as they now hold the record for most conceded from set pieces. And people think this is a weakness of ours?
The thing that got me was that throughout the game, even without dominating possession and Cardiff continually disrupting the flow of the game with set piece after set piece, we still had plenty of chances to break on them. The trouble was, our front three played like they were marking each other. Cardiff did everything they could to force the ball into the corners and win throw-ins and free kicks and on the whole we defended well. If our front three had managed to hold on to the ball a little better, the pressure would have reduced and we would have been able to get into the game more.
Raul Jimenez usually knits things together so nicely, but him having a bad game has a profound impact on those around him. The story of the poor form of the wide forwards has been told on a number of occasions this season, so to expect them to pull rabbits out of hats was perhaps unfair, but we had acres to run into a number of times. This was epitomised by Traore, one-on-one with Bruno Manga, having a heavy touch and allowing the defender to smash the ball clear. Traore was literally brought in for that situation, his bread and butter. Cardiff were poor, but they have an excuse, they’re an average team with average players who can’t be expected to come and outplay teams. We, on the other hand, were just plain awful.
But we had the lead. This was our calling card, our top trump, our superhero trait. We never lose once we go into the lead right? Except this is Cardiff. They play like they’re playing the lottery – buy enough tickets and one day you’ll cash out. Junior Hoilett’s strike was the bonus ball bailing them out. Even when we went behind, we still had chances to score and we’ll rue this result for a while.
We have to learn to play without the conditions in our favour. It would be just us to produce another classy showing against Chelsea, as we did against Arsenal. But sometimes we’ve got to just get the headguard on, put in the gumshield and take a few hits. There was a naivety to our attacking that spoke of a young, inexperienced team. We constantly looked for a Hollywood pass into our forwards, who simply weren’t equipped with the confidence to take advantage. This was the most startling aspect of our game – for the first time we didn’t look assured of ourselves. Even against Huddersfield, we still tried to do the right things and you could see a decent opposition had made things difficult for us. This time? We were our own worst enemy.
But all is not lost. By the end of this weekend, we will be 12th at worst and 11th at best. If the season finished tomorrow, it would still be considered a good job, well done. This run of form needs to stop as soon as possible and the nature of fandom is to panic at the notion of winless streaks. We’re getting tetchy and we should rightfully be concerned. But Nuno and his staff have earned the right to figure this out. I still have confidence that there are combinations and formulae within the current squad to see an upturn in form until January. We have plenty of chances till then to arrest the slide and anyone who isn’t performing will know their place and future at the club is at risk.