What’s going on? Now we’re even winning ugly. We looked leggy and jaded through the game, which is understandable given the run of games and effectively unchanged side, lost Hughes to injury after about 15 minutes, and struggled throughout to create much worthwhile in a game that won’t go down in too many people’s choices for their most beautiful games. The ball spent a lot of time being humped in both directions. That we won said a fair deal about Wolves. Met a couple of their supporters in the pub before then game and they mentioned that their team had no pace, which proved to be true as they failed to get behind our defence once. What was surprising was their lack of ambition, given their position, as with more endeavour they could well have won.
Perhaps they know their limitations, but having gone 1-0 down they made a change to bring on a forward, then made another when they went 2-1 down. They even had a corner in stoppage time and their keeper started to go forward, only for them to take it before he reached half-way. No problems, we’ll take the points and keep the play-off fantasy alive. I’ve never bemoaned a win and am not about to start now. Neither am I going to suggest that we truly deserved to win, other than that their lack of ambition and some praiseworthy defending on our part (one effort on target from them – admittedly one outrageous effort from distance in the first half came back off the bar - tells its own story) perhaps saw us edge it on points.
The team was unchanged again, as were the subs. Perhaps the real question was whether, with safety already all but assured (it is now), we would relax and play well or whether we’d look quite frankly knackered and ready for the summer hols. In fairness it was something between the two. After inconclusive early exchanges the first incident of note was Hughes pulling up and leaving the scene, to be replaced by Gower. That did provide an opportunity for him to show what he could do and to provide a comparison with Hughes. It’s a bit unfair to do so since as a team we didn’t play as well as we have been. He did well enough, but we missed Hughes’ drive and effort, especially as the game was passing Jackson by (I’d just voted for him as player of the season and I don’t think he touched the ball more than a few times before being subbed in the second half).
Harriott was a menace down the left and good work by him fashioned an opening for Fuller, who turned on the pass just inside the box and hit a shot that was fierce enough but straight at the keeper. But with Wolves seemingly content to rely on balls to Doyle to do something with and generally sitting back, the game was generally about two defences thumping the ball out and neither midfield able to provide any control, while a series of injury stoppages worked against flowing football. The only other first-half moment of note was their effort from distance. With Hamer off his line all he could do was watch it come back off the underside of the bar and, like the rest of us, give thanks for the fact it didn’t dip enough.
No sweat, attack the Covered End in the second half and let’s see if we could pick it up. We did, to an extent, but with Kermorgant and Fuller pretty well shackled and Harriott by now getting crowded out (and us not supporting him well enough by getting players closer) it was hardly pulsating stuff. The comfort came from the fact that Wolves seemed to carry little threat, with all of the back four working well. With the game in a stalemate, after the hour Sir Chris made a bold change, but one which on the day could hardly be argued with. Jackson went off to be replaced by Green, with Pritchard moving into the centre. The impact was immediate, not least as the first thing they did was to play a sloppy pass across the pitch straight to Green, who forced a corner.
That one – and a few other decent deliveries – came to nothing, but when another corner came our way the deadlock was broken. Let’s face it there was luck involved. Green slipped as he took it and the ball ended up around the near post. A first effort was saved by the keeper but Devitte managed to get enough on the rebound for it to go over the line. Like the rebound against Bolton, he was in the right place.
Any thoughts that a goal might open up the game were quickly dashed as, after their first substitution, they equalised. If you like route one this was a classic. Long throw into the box flicked on and Doyle making contact to send it looping over Hamer, who had no chance. That perhaps should have been the cue for Wolves to go for the win, as they should have had the momentum. Instead the game settled back into its previous pattern. A few efforts from us came and went without troubling their keeper, while Hunt drove through for them and opted to continue when the ball was clearly Hamer’s, resulting in a poor challenge and a yellow.
All that was left was for us to bring on Obika to produce his customary stoppage-time winner. Powell waited until around five minutes were left on the clock, with Fuller making way. And when it was around the ninetieth minute Green put in another good delivery and Obika cropped up at the far post to convert the chance. Six minutes of stoppage time followed, but Wolves failed to make Hamer work, aside from catching/punching the obligatory long throws. Cue final whistle and, if the mood was less celebratory than for the Leeds game, it is good enough for me.
There’s no point in looking at the table and thinking about what might have been. We’re ending the season in some style and can use that as the basis for preparations for next season. But two more wins and it only needs Palace to lose three, plus Bolton, Leicester and Forest losing their last two. I’m happy enough to still be looking at the possibility.
Hamer – 8/10. Dealt well with what he had to, which wasn’t much (apart from Hunt’s studs). No chance with the goal and would have been unfair to mark him down if their one off the bar had gone in.
Solly – 8/10. Outstanding defensively, not in evidence much going forward but that’s picking holes.
Wiggins – 8/10. Same as for Solly.
Morrison – 8/10. The defence today was individually and collectively excellent and deserved a first home clean sheet since November.
Dervite – 9/10. My man of the match. We’ve all focused on the difference that Hughes has made and have perhaps overlooked the fact that he’s come in and, after a poor first 20 minutes against Bolton, contributed to the tightening up of the defence. He’s also notched two goals.
Pritchard – 6/10. The midfield didn’t function well today, but he put in his usual good shift and switched into the centre well enough.
Jackson – 5/10. His efforts this season have sometimes been immense and today it looked as though there wasn’t much left in the tank. Fair enough.
Hughes – 7/10. Only on the pitch for 15 minutes.
Harriott – 7/10. The main threat in the first half but less in evidence in the second as they teamed up on him.
Kermorgant – 6/10. Found it tough today against decent defenders and he too looked a bit knackered. As with Jackson, no complaints.
Fuller – 6/10. Sometimes effective but generally kept under wraps by their defenders.
Subs – Gower (6/10 – Passed the ball well enough but in a scrappy game wasn’t too influential); Green (8/10 – Undoubtedly made a difference when introduced and involved in both goals, his crossing is still the best we have); Obika (9/10 – What can you say? His goals-per-minutes ratio must be the best in the league).