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Wolves 1-3 Middlesbrough

By Tom Bason
October 24 2015

Wolves today slipped up at home again, losing the third game in six days as Middlesbrough came back from a goal down. David Edwards gave Wolves a half time lead, before goals from Diego Fabbrini, Grant Leadbitter and Stewart Downing secured the three points for Middlesbrough.


- For reasons that I guess are unknown to most Wolves fans around the world, the changes made to the starting line-up did not include Jack Price's reintroduction to the first team. Instead, after not being fit enough for the bench three days previously, David Edwards was back in the first team, playing alongside Connor Coady in the centre of midfield, with Kevin McDonald anchoring. Elsewhere, there were wholesale changes on the right flank as Dominic Iorfa missed out due to a mixture of suspension and injury, and Nathan Byrne came in for James Henry. On the opposite flank, Rajiv van La Parra was rewarded for his energetic cameo on Wednesday with a start at the expense of Sheyi Ojo.


- We lined up in a similar way to how we finished the League One season. Then, we seemed to rotate between 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-4-1. Today, Jackett deployed the latter, with McDonald the deepest of the midfield three, always looking to take the ball off the defence and bring it forward. Further ahead, David Edwards and Connor Coady played more as box to box midfielders, looking to influence the game at both ends. I don't Coady has particularly impressed as a defensive midfielder, he needs the additional protection of the third midfielder behind him. Alongside Coady, Edwards played a similar role to which he played in that League One season, when he and Lee Evans played ahead of McDonald. This formation matched our midfield up 1v1 with Middlesbrough's 4-2-3-1 lineup.


- If the first bullet point seemed like I was having a pop at Edwards, let me redress the balance. I have said on many occasions that David Edwards does not work as a number 10. When he plays there, he acts more as a striker than a midfielder and doesn't influence the game enough. He doesn't have the ability, awareness or nous to play as a creative player, and his goalscoring record is very poor for a player of his reputation. However, and this is a big however, when he's played in a position that suits him, he can be effective. And against Middlesbrough, he played there. As a central midfielder, with the protection of Kevin McDonald behind him, he can play with the game in front of him, and time his runs into the box. Very few Wolves fans have many good memories of Stale Solbakken, but Edwards improved immeasurably in this position under the Norwegian.


- And today, playing that little bit deeper, so he's facing the goal rather than having his back towards it highlighted that ability to make those late runs. He watched as McDonald slipped Scott Golbourne in down the left wing, and made his run to meet the left back's cross first time, heading past Dimitrios Konstantopoulos in the Middlesbrough goal. It was the perfect goal for a midfielder who has the ability to make those late runs into the box.


- Perhaps, though, in fixing one issue, we created another. Whereas we looked better in midfield, and Edwards looked better, it did mean that Benik Afobe was hopelessly isolated at times. If you are playing 4-1-4-1, then you need to make sure that you can get players to support the forward, ideally the wingers. But I felt that both van La Parra and Byrne were too wide, with neither managing to get in to give Afobe any support whatsoever. On the occasions Afobe wasn't being kicked to bits by Fernando Amorebieta and he managed to get hold of the ball, he inevitably had little support around him. There was far too big a gap from. Afobe to the rest of the team. I highlighted this issue on Wednesday, but at least then Afobe was alongside Adam Le Fondre.


- The isolation of Afobe was in stark contrast to that of David Nugent. Nugent is a very intelligent and experienced player at this level, and was ably supported by Diego Fabbrini. For the opening half hour, Fabbrini ran the game, constantly finding those pockets of space around our midfield. We did start to close those spaces off, but that didn't stop Fabbrini from finding the space 25 yards from goal, to turn and fire past Emiliano Martinez. The ball didn't finish right in the corner, but it did go through the legs of Coady, so I'm not 100% sure what sort of view Martinez would have had.


- Coady was back there, trying to block the shot due to an injury to Kortney Hause, which saw the Scouse midfielder fill in at centre back. The defence has been a definite point of contention this season, most notably the sale of Richard Stearman. I've said many times that I thought Stearman's performances last season were massively overrated (let's not forget that this time last season he was out the team, with both Ethan Ebanks-Landell and Sam Ricketts being preferred, such was Stearman's form), and I think that Kortney Hause has generally done ok this season. I certainly don't think that Hause is a particularly big step down from Stearman. The lack of cover in defence has been mentioned, with the sale of Stearman effectively leaving us with a back-4, substitutes in Matt Doherty and Ebanks-Landell, and a couple of midfielders in Byrne and Coady who could fill in as needed. But how many defenders does a club like Wolves need? Are six enough, and we've been slightly unfortunate to see Ebanks-Landell pick up an injury, with the potential to bring someone in on loan? Or should we have more cover?


- This was a far better performance than Wednesday's, and I feel a draw would probably have been a fair result. It wasn't  a particularly good game, and I was very surprised at the physicality of the Middlesbrough side, with substitute referee losing control of the game in the second half with some very strange decisions. Saying that, I thought the penalty for the second goal was definite, as was Batth's foul for Stewart Downing's free kick (the very fact that Middlesbrough were able to bring on a player who this time last year was in the England squad says a lot about the two teams). But there were a number of strange decisions, not least Daniel Ayala virtually catching the ball in the middle of the park, which went unpunished.


- Finally,  I came across this today: http://theafobefoundation.org/. In a world where negativity surrounds footballers, and every mistake is isolated and watched over and over again, the good things that they do should be highlighted. This was set up in 2007, when Benik Afobe was 14. What were you doing when you were 14?

 

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Wolves 1-3 Middlesbrough
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