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Wolves 3-0 Sheffield Wednesday


By Tom Bason
March 18 2015

Wolves last night beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 to stay in touch with the promotion pack. After Nouha Dicko went down in the Sheffield Wednesday area, Bakary Sako stepped up to give Wolves the lead from the penalty spot, before Benik Afobe and James Henry secured the three points with second half goals.

- Kenny Jackett signalled his intent for this game with his starting XI. With Bakary Sako and Rajiv van La Parra on the wings, and Nouha Dicko playing ahead of Benik Afobe, it was very much a case of our forwards will outscore your forwards. And so, the game started like a basketball match, with neither team troubling too much with midfield play early on and instead providing an entertaining end-to-end start to the match. We created a couple of early chances; Afobe stabbed a low corner from Sako high and wide (surely these types of corners work better if the ball is slightly out swinging, with the ball moving slightly out towards the striker of the ball?), before a good diagonal ball from Jack Price found van La Parra on the right hand side of the area. Van La Parra beat the defender, but neither shot nor crossed, and the goalkeeper gathered reasonably easily. 

- I don't think it was a coincidence that three times in the opening fifteen minutes Kevin McDonald was caught late. Sheffield Wednesday appeared to have identified him early on as our key player and targeted him for some rough treatment. Aside from the three challenges in the first half, I counted at least three other times he ended up lying prone on the deck, and he eventually hobbled off. But, if Sheffield Wednesday's tactics were to take him out of the game then it failed miserably; I thought he was majestic, driving the team on from midfield. I don't think the opposing midfielders had any idea how to stop him aside from kicking him, with Sam Hutchinson in particular diving in wildly on a couple of occasions. McDonald played slightly further forward than he often does, with Jack Price sweeping up behind him. He even burst forward at one point to run onto a van La Parra through ball, trying to nutmeg Kieren Westwood, but seeing table goalkeeper save with his legs. Some of McDonald's touches were sublime, and one pass to van La Parra was absolutely inch perfect, and had van La Parra had more awareness of what was around him, he could easily have ended up through on goal. 

- Alongside McDonald, Jack Price was typically effective. I didn't understand his ostracism from the first team in the first half of the season, and every time I see him, I wonder if we'd have suffered that terrible pre-Christmas run of form had he been in the side. Certainly, I don't think we'd have conceded as many goals; when Price is on the pitch, we concede a league goal every 135 minutes, compared to a goal every 61 minutes without him. Price and McDonald together bring a nice balance to the midfield - I wrote a couple of pieces on the midfield's stats earlier in the season, and what struck me was how similar the statistics of McDonald and Lee Evans were, whereas Price adds something different. For anyone who thought he'd lose his effectiveness as he lost his beard, fear not. He was typically tenacious, while he seems to have added another string to his bow with two nice long passes to van La Parra and Afobe respectively. I'm not trying to overrate Price - he may not ever play at a higher standard than he is now, but at the moment I think he's absolutely necessary for our team. 

- Each of our goals came down the right hand flank. For the opener, Dicko latched onto a through ball on the right wing, did brilliantly to evade a defender before bursting into the penalty area. As a defender came across, Dicko went down and the penalty was awarded. I moved my seat to sit by my dad, so was directly behind Dicko's run, and at no point did I think a penalty was the right decision but I'm not 100% sure why. I don't think Dicko particularly dived and I don't think the defender got the ball. If anything, I think Dicko stumbled and went down. I don't think there was ever a question of that being deemed a clear goal scoring opportunity (and a red card in addition to a penalty there would have been incredibly harsh) but Sako stepped up and rolled the penalty home. 

- Soon after, McDonald saw his effort saved by Westwood, who got injured in the process. Moments later, Dicko received the ball with his back to goal on the left hand side of the area, turned his defender and saw a good effort well saved by Westwood. But Westwood would be outdone by Tomasz Kuszczack, who made a full length save to tip a header wide. This was about as close as Sheffield Wednesday ever got to equalising, despite a large amount of pressure and possession at the end of the first half. Sheffield Wednesday started the second half brightly as well, but despite their pressure did not create anything of note. Richard Stearman was as good as he's been in recent weeks (more on him later); while Danny Batth had a real old tumble with Atdhe Nuhiu, whose height caused all sorts of problems. But Sheffield Wednesday didn't really have any great support flooring forward - Stevie Mays ran around a lot, but was eventually substituted, while wingers Chris Maguire and Jacques Maghoma had a couple of flashes without really doing anything. 

- As usual (in my eyes anyway), van La Parra flattered to deceive. He played a nice ball through for the McDonald chance in the first half, but too often wasted possession. Barely five minutes had gone in the second half when van La Parra conceded a cheap free kick on the edge of the area, and with that, James Henry was off to warm up. A couple of minutes later, and van La Parra was taken off, meandering to the touchline from the far side of the pitch as if trying to avoid all of the well-meaning support of his teammates. Immediately, Henry had a hand in the second goal, before scoring the third himself. Firstly, Henry had the ball on the right wing, before he slipped in the overlapping Matt Doherty. It seems like ages ago that I wrote that Doherty could learn to pass the ball into the penalty, and he picked out Afobe superbly. Afobe met the ball with a sweet left foot volley, which hit both posts before dropping just over the line. If that was a fine strike, then Henry's was arguably better. Again he received the ball on the right, with Doherty making the overlapping run. This time, Henry let Doherty take the defender away, and cut inside onto his left foot, placing a beautiful finish into Westwood's goal from the corner of the penalty area.

- We had a couple of opportunities to get a fourth goal - Sako whipped in a cross *just* ahead of both Henry and Dicko, before trying a Maynor Figueroa when shooting from a free kick in his own half, while Afobe maybe should have done better, shooting straight at Westwood. But, the big talking point came as Richard Stearman picked up what looked to be a nasty injury. I didn't particularly notice what caused it, but Stearman's frustration when punching the turf told a lot. I don't think Stearman is the sort of player to exaggerate an injury, so to see him being so palpably upset by the injury is worrying. Stearman has arguably been our player of the season so far, and he will have been gutted to end his 200th game for the club by being stretchered off. Ethan Ebanks-Landell replaced Stearman, and hopefully he can deputise for as long as necessary, but I'd far rather have Stearman in the side. Here's hoping he can recover as quickly as possible. 

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