Perhaps it’s a good thing. Perhaps not. But I’m really struggling to flesh out my memories with any kind of video footage of the performances I wish to reminisce on. The last ten years of football seems to have been recorded online down to the last seconds of the Kenyan Youth Cup Final, but anything further into the past seems to have been banished from history. We did have the internet then, didn’t we?
I’ve already commented on one display of striking endeavour – which did include a goal – from the 2009/10 season but we can’t go this series without mentioning the ultimate one-man forward line in some way. That man is of course Kevin Doyle. Again, there were a few options to choose from but I felt it pertinent that A) I was there, B) We won the game and C) I actually have a decent memory of it.
Doyle, it could be argued, was pushed hard in this particular game for MOTM and I’m sure there are other Doyle performances which fans will happily bring up as a counter-argument. Hell, Mick McCarthy himself called Doyle’s outing against Liverpool at Molineux that season as the best performance from a striker he’d seen without scoring.
But instead I’ve plumped for a welcome 1-0 win at home against Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham Hotspur. The game is fondly remembered for a wonderful passage of possession, at the heart of which were the two best performers for Wolves on the day – Doyle and David Jones. Jones himself was someone I considered making the star performer in this fixture, as a catalyst for turning our season around but Doyle was ‘on some other shit’ for a fair chunk of this season.
Kevin Doyle – Wolves 1-0 Tottenham (2010)
But first, some context.
Doyle had joined Wolves for a record fee of £6.5m in the summer transfer window. The season prior he had put on one of his exhibitions when Reading came to town and dealt with us in a rare home defeat, 3-0. I remember going into the transfer window feeling that basically he would be the ideal signing for us. I mean, he was Irish and this is Mick McCarthy we were talking about.
And duly Mick obliged. Now as we’ve discussed Doyle wasn’t quite ready to kick off the season as our main forward, but it would be a while before he became a genuine spearhead as Big Mick favoured a strike pairing at the time, with the promising Sylvan Ebanks-Blake also a key figure at the club and one many had high hopes for. But results wouldn’t necessarily add up to perservering with a 4-4-2.
By the time McCarthy succumbed to his nagging inferiority complex to play with just the one striker against Liverpool at home, Doyle had bagged a relatively respectable 5 goals for what was a struggling side at the time. While he only managed to score another four goals during the season, his performance levels went through the roof, earning him rave reviews as one of the best lone strikers in the league. Arsenal’s top scorer that season was Cesc Fabregas and there were reports of their interest in Doyle. While his goalscoring wasn’t tearing up any trees, he had essentially turned protection of the ball into an art form.
Moving on to the game in question, the other man who seemed to liberate Doyle and unlock his greater potential was David Jones, who was the catalyst for a number of good performances during the second half of the season which took us to safety. Jones, ably assisted by Doyle would go on to become the matchwinner with a goal which has gone down in Wolves folklore and is a real highlight from this particular stint in the Premier League. But more on the goal later…
I have vivid memories of Doyle being sent the ball from all angles, heights and speeds and generally speaking he would keep hold of it 90 percent of the time. This was extraordinary. In this fixture he was up against the brutish Younes Kaboul – who had done a number on him earlier in the season for Portsmouth – and Michael Dawson, although Sebastien Bassong featured in there somewhere too. All were taller, arguably stronger physically, but none seemed capable of taking the ball off him. Don’t get me wrong, very little of this was particularly graceful but it sure was effective.
It was difficult to put your finger on how he did it, but he had this slightly odd, squat physique without ever being muscle-bound and broad-shouldered, while his gait spoke of someone who was nearly always ever so slightly constipated. Still though, he would manage to turn and wrestle defenders whilst carrying the ball forward. Diogo Jota does it in altogether more watchable way, but I’d hazard a guess that Doyle pushed the team forwards just as many yards as Jota does now. It was very much head-down and marking territory, perhaps in the way a forward in Rugby might do so, but he was essentially the best in the league at this at the time. Never more so than on this winter night in February 2010.
About that goal then: this epitomised exactly what Doyle was all about. After a succession of passes in midfield – clearly the team were enjoying the extra man in midfield = Adlene Guedioura fires a pass in towards Doyle, whose first touch is good but allows Bassong a chance to nip in. Doyle seemed to spend a fair chunk of his football on the floor whilst managing to still play to a certain level of skill and here he shows that innate ability to protect the ball at all costs, resisting a rather forceful challenge from Bassong before laying off into midfield. He offers himself once more as a wall before he heads for the box, although his work here is done and Jones sidefoots the ball into the corner to give Wolves the lead.
From then on Doyle came into his own, holding the ball up as if he’d get a goal for the privilege. This was without doubt the best football he would play during his Wolves career and while the 4-5-1 was a gift to the team it was also a curse to Doyle. Watching him play felt like hard work at times, so I can only imagine how battered and bruised the Irishman felt after each game. He was very much a one-man band at times, but he did it because he could and he was very, very good at it. This was his zenith in a Wolves shirt and while there were more goals there were rarely better performances as he ran himself into the ground, an honourable but perhaps foolhardy endeavour.
It was with sadness that Doyle recently had to retire due to the risk he had placed on himself using his head across his career. In so many way Doyle was a sacrificial lamb out there in no man’s land, surrounded by defenders, but he wasn’t willing to sacrifice his health and we would no doubt all agree he made the right call. But few will forget this night, the night Kevin Doyle, the striker, wrote a goalless performance in to legend.