After a fine first half display, Wolves collapsed after the break as Stoke fought back to win for the 4th successive time in the Premier League.
Wolves made two changes from the side that lost at Manchester United, with Nenad Milijas and Stephen Hunt replacing the injured Jamie O’Hara and Dave Edwards respectively, while Stoke were unchanged from their 2-1 win over Tottenham.
Wolves (4-4-2) Hennessey; Zubar, Johnson, Berra, Ward; Hunt, Henry, Milijas, Jarvis; Doyle, Fletcher
Stoke (4-4-2) Sorensen; Woodgate, Huth, Shawcross, Wilson; Shotton, Whelan, Whitehead, Etherington; Walters, Crouch
Wolves began the game brightly, and Ronald Zubar was just wide with a shot early doors. Matt Jarvis was making a few threatening advances and Jonathan Woodgate, playing at right back, was booked for a poor foul on the flying winger after 9 minutes, a decision which was to have big implications soon after. Nenad Milijas fired just over following a short free kick from Stephen Hunt, but on 16 minutes, after another darting run, Jarvis was brought down in the penalty area by Woodgate, though referee Anthony Taylor decided against giving the defender a second yellow card few would argue he deserved. Hunt stepped up to convert the penalty past Thomas Sorensen as Wolves made their early pressure count with the breakthrough.
Woodgate, who had been taken apart by Jarvis, was subbed by Stoke manager Tony Pulis just three minutes after the penalty, Jermaine Pennant coming on to replace him. The Potters were struggling to keep pace with Wolves as Jarvis and Milijas continued to link up well, if not overly threatening Sorensen‘s goal. Just after the half hour mark, Hunt had a great chance to double the lead after getting behind Stoke’s defence, though his shot and subsequent cross were well denied by the Danish keeper.
Home goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was largely untroubled, though was looking his commanding self as Stoke sent crosses into the penalty area. Matt Etherington had a good opportunity to level the scores on 40 minutes after a fine cross by Ryan Shotton, though shot weakly at Hennessey. Defender Ryan Shawcross also sent a bullet header wide from 18 yards as the visitors ended the half strongly.
Stoke started the second half in the same vein, and Jonathan Walters saw his shot fly over the bar on 50. Just 7 minutes later, though, the visitors drew level in controversial circumstances. Roger Johnson was adjudged to have fouled Walters 30 yards out, though it was clear to everyone inside the ground, bar one man, that Johnson had won the ball. Robert Huth’s rocket free kick was going wide, but took an unfortunate deflection off Kevin Doyle and beat Hennessey into the bottom corner of the net.
The home side, who had started the half in lifeless fashion, looked for a quick response, though Milijas’ speculative shot just a few minutes later was wildly over. Later on, Zubar was again wide with a shot, but Stoke were the team now in the ascendancy following their lucky break. On 70 minutes, they completed the turnaround with a second goal. Etherington was given too much time and freedom to send a fine ball towards the back post, where Peter Crouch was waiting to nod home into the net.
The tiring Milijas and ineffective Doyle were replaced by Adlene Guedioura and Sylvan Ebanks Blake respectively as Mick McCarthy looked to freshen things up. Guedioura was typically busy upon his introduction but, like his team-mates, were struggling to create real opportunities. Adam Hammill came on to replace Hunt with 10 to go, but Stoke were easing their way to the final whistle. Ebanks-Blake headed over following a corner, and Karl Henry and Guedioura had efforts towards goal, though it was Stoke who could have added a third following a quick break, Walters firing straight at Hennessey. The 5 added minutes of stoppage time lifted the atmosphere towards the end, but Stoke saw them through to pick up the three points.
I really want to write about how the referee won the game for Stoke, and how failing to send off Woodgate and giving the non free kick for the equalizer changed the game. I do believe these decisions played a part (and it’s hard to see us throwing the game away if we’re up against 10 men) but I don’t want to sound bitter. The reality is that, in the second half, we saw a completely different performance. We allowed Stoke to impose their game on us and, after making it 1-1, they were by far the better team. After a superb first half, Matt Jarvis was totally anonymous in the second. Many people had commented that switching him to the right wing, after causing so much havoc on the left, disrupted his rhythm. Maybe that was a poor decision by McCarthy, but you would have hoped he’d still have made more of an impact.
It was also another poor showing from Kevin Doyle. He really is struggling for form at the moment and nothing seems to be coming off for him. I seem to be saying this a lot about a few of our players recently, but I feel he should be taken out of the team for a while. Stephen Hunt had a decent first half, and scored the penalty, but I don’t feel he has enough quality. He’s a battler with a great work ethic, but his end product needs to be much better. I would like Adam Hammill to start against Norwich; he and Jarvis would give us a lot of pace from the flanks.
It’s hard to take positives from the game after the way it concluded, but the form of Wayne Hennessey and the returning Ronald Zubar are real plus points for us. And if Jarvis can replicate his first half showing on a regular basis, that would be great. At full throttle, he is now starting to look a real danger with both his left and right foot, and it was great to see the way he destroyed Woodgate in the opening exchanges. His final ball is looking a lot better as well, though he needs to find that consistency.
On another day, if refereeing decisions had not gone against us, then we may have got a result. We did play some good football in the first period, and maybe we should have made more of our chances to deny Stoke a way back into the game. There is no excuse for the non-entity of the second half though. It simply wasn’t good enough. The result now heaps the pressure on our next game against Norwich at Molineux, which is now the must win of all must win games! With the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea coming up, we have to take maximum points on Tuesday. Winning this game would lift the doom and gloom from today’s defeat, and 10 points from 15 at home would represent sound progress.
If we lose or draw then, make no mistake, we are in trouble. Big trouble.
Attendance – 24,684
Man of the match – Matt Etherington – Stoke – Did well on the flank for Stoke and set up the winner for Crouch.