Angry scenes as Wolves face second successive relegation
One of Wolves manager Dean Saunders' recurring phrases both before and after Saturday's decisive home game against Burnley was that the club's supporters had had "not many good Sundays" in recent years.
That may be so but none will have been quite so awful as yesterday when they had to digest almost certain relegation to League One for a team in the Premier League 12 months ago.
Their 2-1 defeat by Burnley meant the Molineux club dropped to 23rd in the Championship, three points behind relegation rivals Barnsley and Peterborough, who both won. Wolves now need a small miracle next Saturday to survive. Not only must they win at Brighton but Barnsley and Peterborough must lose respectively at Huddersfield and Crystal Palace – and, in Posh's case, heavily with their goal difference currently four better.
"We've put ourselves in a terrible position now but we're not dead, we're still alive," was Saunders' attempt to stress a glimmer of hope remained, but without conviction in his voice after an afternoon that started badly, with Danny Ings scoring Burnley's eighth-minute opener, continued with some dreadful defending for the visitors' second goal and ended in ugly scenes as supporters invaded the pitch at the end, leading to one arrest. One fan confronted defender Roger Johnson while another punched a hole in the perspex roof of the home dugout.
The focus of their ire was Steve Morgan, the club's owner. In this newspaper on Saturday, ex-Wolves striker Mel Eves had questioned the "football nous" behind the club's decision-making and Morgan's managerial appointments since sacking Mick McCarthy in February 2012, with the club 18th in the Premier League, have backfired.
After relegation under McCarthy's assistant Terry Connor, Wolves turned to Stale Solbakken, whose methods – including no tackling in training – could not have been more different but who was given only five months to instil a brand-new philosophy. Even then Wolves were still six points above the relegation zone, but Saunders, Morgan's choice as replacement, took 10 matches to register a victory, and his win ratio has been worse.
Fans also criticise Morgan's £20m redevelopment of the Stan Cullis Stand – a new two-tier edifice featuring an impressive club museum inside – at a time when on-field fortunes have deteriorated, hence Saturday's chant of "F**k the team, we'll build a stand."
In Morgan's defence, Wolves did have a budget rivalled only by Cardiff, Blackburn and Bolton and, as Saunders has kept pointing out, have a points total that would have secured safety in 15 of the past 16 Championship seasons. The loss of their two leading scorers, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Bakary Sako, to injury did not help either. "Things seem to have contrived against us," said Saunders, who is on a rolling contract and stressed he wanted to stay on.
When Wolves suffered an identical fate in 1985, their second successive demotion was sealed by a defeat at Brighton on Saturday 4 May – the same date, ironically, as this weekend's fixture – and things got even worse subsequently. Two sides of Molineux were closed and Wolves found themselves bankrupt and relegated once more in 1986. Bill McGarry, manager for part of that campaign, declared: "Wolves are in such a state it is frightening."
The future does not look quite so bleak now. Over 9,000 season tickets have already been sold for next term and Wolves will receive a £16m parachute payment from the Premier League, though there are worries they will be burdened by the contracts of big earners like Johnson, Kevin Doyle and Jamie O'Hara. Although most players had pay-cut clauses in their deals after relegation from the Premier League it is understood there is no such contingency in place now.
Wolves on the wane since big Mick left
13 Feb 2012 Mick McCarthy sacked as Wolves manager following a 5-1 home defeat to neighbours West Bromwich Albion, with the club third bottom in the Premier League.
22 Apr With Terry Connor placed in charge, Wolves are unable to stay in top flight, with relegation confirmed after a 2-0 loss against Manchester City. Wolves finish bottom.
1 July Norwegian Stale Solbakken succeeds Connor after relegation.
5 Jan 2013 Solbakken sacked by Wolves after six months following FA Cup defeat to Luton, with Wolves 18th in the Championship.
5 Mar 2013 New manager Dean Saunders records first win in 10th game in charge, start of a run of five wins in eight, but Wolves remain in trouble with one game remaining. Meanwhile, McCarthy has guided new club Ipswich to safety.
Belfast Telegraph Digital