x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

One bad decision could end with relegation for Wolves

The bottom-placed club fired Mick McCarthy without having a replacement lined up and are now stuck with the inexperienced Terry Connor until the end of the season.

Terry Connor, the Wolverhampton Wanderers manager, has earned just one point from four games in charge. Jon Super / AP Photo
Terry Connor, the Wolverhampton Wanderers manager, has earned just one point from four games in charge. Jon Super / AP Photo

There is a recent addition to the Wolverhampton skyline. Uncompleted, but towering above the rest of Molineux, is the top tier of the new Stan Cullis Stand.

It is part of a plan to raise Wolves' capacity and improve facilities.

It is a sign of ambition, an indication that a historic giant intended to return to prominence.

Now there must be doubts whether it will be packed when it opens next season. Because, despite the £18 million (Dh104.6m) cost of redevelopment, the key aspect may not be the number of seats, but the name.

Cullis was Wolverhampton Wanderers' greatest manager, proclaiming his side "champions of the world" and winning three league titles in the 1950s.

Their principal domestic rivals were Manchester United's Busby Babes. More than half a century later, the gulf between the two clubs is gargantuan.

United's Sunday victory at Molineux was still easier than the score line suggested; Sir Alex Ferguson seemed nonplussed, not the normal reaction of a man whose side had won 5-0 away from home. But these are not normal times in the Black Country.

While a revered manager's achievements have been recognised in concrete at Molineux, a reluctant one finds his future debated on a weekly basis.

Terry Connor is no Cullis. Even by the standards of the assistants given misguided promotions - and Steve Wigley, Stuart Gray, Sammy Lee, Les Reed and Ricky Sbragia were scarcely successes - his reign has begun terribly.

Wolves have taken one point from his four games at the helm, conceding 12 unanswered goals in the last three. Half of his matches in charge have ended 5-0 and, if the stupidity of the sent-off Ronald Zubar contributed to Sunday's thrashing, it was somewhat symbolic that it took Wolves to the foot of the Premier League. They have hit rock bottom.

It is both the consequence of a slump that began in August and the result of a terrible decision. When Mick McCarthy was dismissed last month, Wolves were under the misapprehension experienced managers would jump at the chance to succeed him.

It remains bemusing that at least one did not take the job - after almost four years out of work, what does Alan Curbishley expect to be offered? - but the reality is that they did not.

Wolves were too honourable or too naive, depending upon interpretation, to tap anyone up while McCarthy was still in situ. Steve Morgan, the owner, had never appointed a manager before and, in many respects, he still has not.

Instead, he has Connor, emerging blinking from the shadows and clearly uneasy in the spotlight.

The former assistant is no fool, credited by McCarthy with instigating the turnaround at Queens Park Rangers, Wolves' last win, and coming from 2-0 down to procure a point at Newcastle United on his managerial debut. It was not a sign of things to come.

Since then, Wolves have been shambolic. A defence that was never watertight is now alarmingly porous - witness the space afforded to both Michael Carrick and Jonny Evans for United's first goal, when Wolves still had 11 men - while they are granted precious little protection, no matter how many men Connor stations in midfield.

They have missed Karl Henry, whose unflashy style appealed to McCarthy but not his terrace critics, just as they have missed the former manager. As results showed, his decisiveness, his charisma and his bloody-minded bluntness did not constitute a magic formula, but he was an authoritative presence.

A chorus of McCarthy's name on Sunday was a belated appreciation of the former manager. The Molineux crowd can be hard to please and the Yorkshireman did not always satisfy them. But he is a leader and, as Connor's fortunes show, management is a specialist job, separated from coaching and other behind-the-scenes roles.

Wolves' problem is that having appointed Connor until the end of the season, they can't replace him. Not merely because of the embarrassment, considerable as that would be, but because the position has become more enviable.

There were rumours last week, swiftly denied, that Gary Megson, the former West Bromwich Albion and Bolton Wanderers manager, was being lined up to succeed Connor.

In the short term, Wolves may only attract the desperate. They may only be only point from 17th place, but they look doomed.

Many a manager would decide the wiser move would be to wait for the summer, rather than be tainted with relegation.

Meanwhile, gallows humour is deployed at Molineux, the crowd cheering whenever they won a free kick in the closing stages against United. The reality is that others are laughing at them.

Connor, a decent man put in a position he never coveted, merits sympathy. So, less obviously, does Morgan, who provided McCarthy with money to spend and helped Wolves become a debt-free, well-run club.

But, as many clubs in the lower half of the table can testify, their Premier League status can be precarious. One mistake can send a club spiralling downwards and Wolves' managerial misjudgements look costly.

They planned for future occupants of the Stan Cullis Stand without working out who would sit in the dugout.


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