Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Old Gold Sunset - Wolverhampton Wanderers vs the Mighty

From the moment I leave work to the moment I park the car, this drive is not the kind of drive to prompt poetic reflection. The traffic speeds up. It slows down. There's diversions. There's random queues at junctions. There's a nosebleedingly complicated route to the car park that culminates in being stuck behind a standoff betweeen a little old lady and a massive gangster 4*4, neither of whom are prepared to give way. 

Several times, I consider whether this was a mistake. I'm already knackered and books like 'How to ensure you are mentally and physically healthy in order to maximise your productivity in a world where really, your only value is your ability to work' suggest things like yoga or having a walk and looking at a duck in order to overcome tiredness. Those kind of books constantly outline to you that your mental health is up to you and you alone. You must rest and play in spiritually nourishing ways! It is is what the ancient Tibetan gods of management bullshit demand... 

Nowhere in owt I've read does any guru suggest 'get in the car after work and drive a long way to watch an almost meaningless game of football that your team are pretty much certain to lose when you've got to be up again at 6.30am' as a means of 'being kind to yourself'  

Even the walk up is fraught, a lad on a bike falls off in busy traffic. There's the horror moment as you think you're about to witness something horrific. Thankfully he isn't squashed by a vehicle. It looks as if his handlebars snapped. Passers by rush to his aide. He's ok.  

As soon as I get in the ground though, it all disappears. I'm so glad I came. Molyneux is glorious. The sun setting behind the stand is the perfect tone to offset the old gold and black decor. It's a rare treat these days to be in a ground with four different stands. It's a new old ground and it retains some sense of place and character. The pitch is perfect, the home end looks fantastic with the rail seating looking like a proper terrace if you squint a bit. There's more than I thought here, and the atmosphere, is, by football standards, relaxed and convivial. 


I hope this game might suit us - maybe Critchball 3.0 will come to life against a side who, whilst technically gifted will play in a different way to what we're used to. Perhaps we'll see what it is we're going for tonight. 

Those hopes are quickly dashed. After a few minutes of fairly equal sparring, Wolves assert themselves and score a goal that has a faint air of 'everyone watching whilst the ball moves quicker than they can handle' 

Then we actually press and harry and disrupt Wolves. The ball breaks to Dougall and he hits a most glorious effort, swinging away from the keeper and smacking the base of the post. Maybe this could be good after all? 

It's a false dawn. Wolves crush us without any great sense of going through the gears. A clinical move is finished after Lyons concedes possession twice in a row. A swift counter attack is nodded home after a floated slow motion cross. The fourth resembles a goal you'd score on FIFA against someone who doesn't know the controls. The fifth is a lucky defection after a spell of quite lovely passing, all acute angles and constant movement. 

At points in between those goals, a few other things happen. 

Callum Connolly takes a ridiculous free kick from miles out. It smacks the bar. It would have been more than worth coming if that had gone in. 

Carey and Beesley both struggle to make any headway at all. 

Andy Lyons has, to be frank, a pretty ropy night. Thommo does ok and looks the play with the most energy at times. It is noticeable how we don't seem especially desperate to chance our arm and really go for it. It's understandable that Wolves are better than us, but there's the same, well, sameyness about our play. It's really hard to identify anyone as a particular 'danger' to the opposition. 

Oakley Boothe comes on and makes one really good tackle. He weirdly ends the night playing up front. I'm not sure why. 

There's gallows humour as we laugh at the idea of CJ bagging 4 on his own from the subs bench. There's confusion as the story of a fight in the concourse is relayed round the crowd. There's a PA system that keeps making me jump because it's really loud and the announcer leaves a little oddly timed gap before shouting 'Goal for Wolves.'

Rob Apter comes on and I love watching his constant movement, he bobs around the pitch in little sideways skips, always turning and changing direction, constantly scanning play, pointing and offering himself. He immediately causes Wolves a different problem. He's determined to burrow through their defence but also clever in how he offloads at the latest possible moment. He's the first of our players to really look like he backs himself to make something happen. My overriding thought is 'how, when we're drawing 0-0 against significantly worse teams than this, do we not bring this little bundle of energy and ideas onto the pitch to try and win the game?' He looks like he has more ideas in about 15 minutes than some of our players have had in the last year. 

He perks everyone up a bit, on and off the pitch. He plays like it's fun to do so, whereas the others make it look a bit like office work. It says a lot about the homogeneous functionality of the majority of the squad that Apter is the only real reason I stay to the end.  


To be honest, I don't feel any sense of anger or even particular frustration. This game just confirms that, exciting 20, gifted and energetic year old Scottish age group internationals who really should be getting more game time aside, there is no magic bullet in our ranks. There is no player waiting in the wings to magically change it all. We've got more honest pros who will do their pressing and stay in lane, but no horrendously overlooked wizards ready to set a tempo and drag us to glory. 

As far as you can enjoy being comprehensively outplayed by a team in cruise mode, I did enjoy it. It was weirdly low key on a warm late summer night. It was good to be outside if nothing else.

I think there's probably a certain usefulness in realising that we're short of what we need, regardless of how the opposition play. We couldn't withstand some nice passing, moving and breaking by technically able players who didn't really have to try too hard - we lost in the same way we've struggled against the more rugged stuff in our own league. The opposition changed but our game seemed more or less the same. 

We weren't criminally bad and, in fact, at times we played some quite nice stuff but overall, we just look well short of being a real team (as in an effective combination of players) to me at the moment. It's all very safe. At one point I note that Wolves get 7 players in and around the box on a break. When we try the same, our front players are isolated. We get maybe 3 at most to where they were at the same point when we broke.  

It is what it is. I sense change is coming. I hope so at least. I can't see how we can not roll the dice a bit. An exotic wonderkid who doesn't do defending is a decent start. Imagine him and Apter spinning magic. Fuck defence. We can just attack. We can only dream... 


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