Tactical Review: Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-5 West Bromwich Albion – Mick McCarthy’s last stand

A Black Country derby which would have seen Wolverhampton Wanderers go three points clear of the relegation zone, and to within two points of bitter rivals West Bromwich Albion. Instead the 5-1 destruction saw Wanderers plunged into the bottom three, Roy Hodgson’s Baggies put an eight-point gap between themselves and the relegation places, and saw the end of Mick McCarthy’s reign at Molineux after five-and-a-half years in charge.

Albion took charge of the game early on, imposing their short, passing style on their hosts and took the lead through Peter Odemwingie. Steven Fletcher equalised for Wolves on the stroke of half-time but it was scarcely deserved. The visitors ran out comfortable winners with four second half goals – two more from Odemwingie, one apiece for Jonas Olsson and Keith Andrews (against his former club) – as they outclassed their dismal opponents and secured their biggest victory on enemy territory since 1962.

Starting Line-ups

Starting Formations for Wolves (Yellow) and West Brom (Red)

Mick McCarthy set up his Wolves side in a straight-forward 4-4-2 formation, albeit encompassing three strikers – Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Steven Fletcher and Kevin Doyle – and an out-and-out winger in Matt Jarvis. Jarvis would begin the game in his customary position wide on the left, whilst Doyle started on the right-hand side, with Fletcher and Ebanks-Blake through the middle.

David Edwards and Jamie O’Hara were the designated central midfielders, with a back four (right-to-left) of Kevin Foley, Roger Johnson, Sebastian Bassong and Stephen Ward.

Roy Hodgson went with his sides usual formation away from home: 4-2-3-1. Liam Ridgewell made his debut at left-back, with Steven Reid on the right and the centre-back pairing of Gareth McAuley and Jonas Olsson.

Youssef Mulumbu and Paul Scharner were the designated sitting midfielders, with an attacking midfield trio of (right-to-left) Peter Odemwingie, James Morrison, Jerome Thomas and Marc-Antoine Fortune as the centre-forward.

First Half

A scrappy opening 10 minutes, in which Wolves appeared nervous and fearful of conceding an early goal – having been beaten on their last three home outings – soon developed into a period of consistent Albion pressure and Wolves dropping deeper towards their own goal. West Brom were dictating play through the centre of the park – outnumbering Wolves 3v2, with Morrison making intelligent runs either side of O’Hara/Edwards, and able to pick up the ball on the half-turn, in space – and were making use of their extra man in midfield, spreading play out to Thomas on the left wing, before swiftly working it across to the right-hand side, isolating Odemwingie 1v1 against Wolves left-back Stephen Ward. A mixture of last-ditch defending, good goalkeeping and wasteful finishing ensured that Wolves reached the 30 minute mark still on level terms.

First Goal and McCarthy’s tactical change

Albion eventually took the lead in the 34th minute, and it was no surprise that it came from down the right-hand side once again, but the effect that the off-ball running from Morrison and Reid can’t be underestimated.

A long diagonal ball from Olsson was controlled by Fortune. However, the run from midfield by Morrison, through the heart of the Wolves defence, dragged Sebastian Bassong from his position marking Fortune, which meant Steven Ward had to come round on the cover. Fortune set the ball back into midfield to Mulumbu, who quickly swept it wide to Odemwingie who was faced by Matt Jarvis, but the overlapping run from Reid, and Jarvis’ fear of him being played down the line, meant Odemwingie easily stepped inside. The Nigerian struck with his left-foot, and a wicked deflection left Hennessey wrong-footed.

Wolves had barely left any in-print on the match and were second best in all departments. West Brom’s quick rotation of the ball through midfield and out to either flank was bypassing Wolves attacking quartet and the midfield duo of O’Hara and Edwards were chasing shadows.

Therefore, a matter of minutes after Albion’s opener, Mick McCarthy made a tactical re-shuffle, in an attempt to match up with Roy Hodgson’s side. Fletcher remained as the central striker,  Ebanks-Blake came to the left, Doyle pushed further down the right, whilst Matt Jarvis came into a central, attacking midfield role –  similar to that of Morrison – in an attempt to even the numbers in the middle of midfield.

Wolves went to match up against their opposition but went into more of an attacking 4-2-1-3 shape and were unable to get Jarvis into the game, despite his now central position

However, the differing nuances in personnel between the two sets of players, meant that whilst Albion’s was a true 4-2-3-1 formation, Wolves variant was much more open and offensive, more a 4-2-1-3. The gaps it created would prove to play a big part in their downfall, with Albion able to move the ball through the spaces into different areas of the pitch, with all too much ease.

On the stroke of half-time, against the run of play, Fletcher levelled for Wolves, a moment of individual brilliance, linking with both Doyle and Ebanks-Blake, before driving at the Albion defence and drilling a left-footed shot past Ben Foster. It was perhaps the only time in the entire match that a Wolves forward ran directly at the centre of the Albion defence, who were well shielded throughout.

Second Half

Wolves began the second half in much more direct fashion, looking for long diagonal-balls out to Doyle on the right, or onto the head of Fletcher, as they looked to bypass midfield and create problems for the Albion backline. Fletcher almost got onto the end of an excellent right-wing cross from Doyle, whilst he also forced Foster into a brilliant finger-tip save with another header.

However, whilst Wolves were able to generate some early pressure and force a number of corners, Hodgson’s side remained resolute, and adhered to their own footballing principles. Keith Andrews had replaced Paul Scharner at half-time, and whilst the Irishman was less dynamic than the Austrian, his ability to not veer from his position and to keep possession had a calming influence on Albion as they frustrated their opponents, who failed to score during their early period of pressure.

Swedish international Olsson scored at a corner after shambolic defending from Wolves in the 64th minute to make the scoreline 2-1, following which Wolves became more ragged and, needlessly, gung-ho. The wide forwards, Doyle and Ebanks-Blake, effectively reneged on their defensive duties – which Steven Reid, the West Brom right-back made the most of as he took every available opportunity to offer support down his flank – leaving O’Hara and Edwards to be overworked in the middle, having to cover not only their own area of the pitch, but also that in front of the unprotected full-backs.

Albion were able to move the ball through midfield into the excellent Fortune – whose link-play and unselfish running created opportunities for others and pressured the Wolves backline into mistakes – at will, and a third goal arrived in the 77th minute again from a set-piece, Odemwingie forcing home after Olsson and Ridgewell kept alive Morrison’s deep corner.

Wolves situation became more desperate, and they resorted to long balls from just inside the West Brom half by O’Hara and Milijas, who had replaced Edwards, looking for the forwards either in the air or over the top. No one showed for feet except for the full-backs who were now pushed on down their respective touchlines. Albion had dropped onto the edge of their own penalty area and were happy to indulge in the aerial duel with Olsson and McAuley both dominant in the air, whilst Jarvis couldn’t find any space in between the lines, so condensed was the space. Therefore, whilst Wolves were allowed possession, it was only in areas that Albion allowed – Up to thirty yards from goal and down the flanks. Wolves were never able to pass the ball into feet on the edge of the box.

Albion retreating towards their own goal, defending deep and blocking the central areas, before looking to breakout on the counter-attack

Albion secured the most disastrous of days for Mick McCarthy with two late goals, both against a hapless and unprotected home defence. The fourth came when Odemwingie nicked possession from Ward, before finding Morrison, whose cut back was lashed home from 20 yards by Keith Andrews, whilst the fifth came as a result of an incisive counter-attack.

A Wolves corner was cleared, as was the resulting cross back into the middle by Andrews, straight to Fortune who raced down the left-side. He drew across a Wolves defender before playing in Morrison, who had surged on the overlap and the former Middlesbrough man found Odemwingie free in the penalty area to tuck home.


The match was a great example of a side who knew exactly what they were doing tactically and putting it into practice, and having faith in their manager’s strategy, against a team who had been thrown together thanks to a 45 minute performance against QPR – who it must be said were down to ten men – rather than thanks to any long-term planning.

Tactically Roy Hodgson didn’t do anything he hasn’t done before, but Mick McCarthy had no answer with the players at his disposal, to either break down the Baggies backline, or to stop them dictating the tempo of the game. Not for the first time this season, Wolves were far too open at home and were easily picked off by their opponents, who were in no way flattered by their five-goal victory.

Update: 11am Monday morning: The resultant humiliation has seen Mick McCarthy sacked from his post as Wolves manager following a run of just one win in 13 matches, and 14 points from the last 22 league games. The second-half capitulation was enough for chairman Steve Morgan, who now has two weeks before the trip to Newcastle United to find a new manager, but with a lack of truly outstanding candidates available, whether the decision to sack McCarthy (now) was a wise one, is as yet, unknown..

About AA_Richards

Football writer & all-round pen for hire. Can tiki-taka or counter-attack at pace. Differentiates Athletic from Atletico. Follow me on twitter: http://twitter.com/AA_Richards
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