Can Terry Connor save Wolves?

Yesterday, Wolves ended their farcical search for a new manager by appointing Terry Connor to be their manager until the end of the season, following the sacking of Mick McCarthy. On the whole McCarthy did a good job at Wolves, he brought them back into the Premier League and kept them there for two seasons, but Wolves have been in a tailspin for months now, picking up just 14 points out of the last 66 available. It’s hard to see just how Connor, or anyone for that matter, will be able to keep Wolves in the Premier League for another season.

But the Wolves board felt like they had to do something in order to preserve a Premier League place, and all of the money that comes with it. I imagine the mentality of the Wolves hierarchy would have been that they would rather go down having at least tried to rectify the situation by making a managerial change rather than wondering ‘what if?’ if they had kept faith with McCarthy.

It’s fair to say that Wolves’ search for a new manager has ended up being somewhat of a disaster. Wolves Chairman Steve Morgan stands accused of leaping before he looked. There seemed to be no particular plan in place, or replacement in mind when McCarthy was sacked; and Wolves’ search for a manager descended into chaos. Reports have it that Wolves were not offering a great deal of money, not enough to even tempt out-of-work managers to take the job. Wolves were rejected by Alan Curbishley, who hasn’t had a job for three-and-a-half years, and the possibility of Steve Bruce becoming manager was met with an underwhelming response by fans.

The search became increasingly desperate when, despite Chief Executive Jez Moxey’s proclamation that the Wolves job is not for a novice, Wolves made attempts to poach Reading’s Brian McDermott and Brighton’s Gus Poyet, both of which have never managed in the Premier League before and have relatively little managerial experience.

Then the search turned ridiculous when it looked as though there would be an approach for former Rangers manager Walter Smith, a man in semi-retirement. It’s been ten years since Smith had last managed in the Premier League, when he was fired by Everton, and he would have been on no Wolves fan’s list of ideal candidates.

So it seems as though Connor, who was Mick McCarthy’s assistant and was the caretaker manager during the search for a permanent replacement, has taken the job that seemingly nobody wanted. Connor has been on the coaching staff at Wolves since 1999, but has never been a manager before. Despite Wolves’ early insistence that the job wasn’t for a novice, that’s exactly what they’ve ended up with.

The obvious obstacle facing Connor is that the transfer window has closed, so it’s too late to strengthen the squad. Also, the squad Connor has got isn’t particularly strong at present. At this stage in the season, the league table is a true reflection of the ability of a team; it’s very rare that a team will find themselves down in the lower reaches of the table at this point in the season as a result of bad luck. The blunt truth is that Wolves are currently in the relegation zone because they deserve to be there, and Connor faces a battle to turn things around.

Connor faces the problem that all assistants face when they come into the role of manager. There’s a big difference in the way players perceive a manager and an assistant. Some assistants can be more like ‘one of the boys’ or a buffer between the players and the manager, than an authority figure, so it’s difficult for them to change the way they are perceived by the players and can struggle to command respect. The history of the Premier League is littered with assistants promoted to the manager’s job who have subsequently failed.

There are potential upsides however; it’s a truism of football that a new manager generally brings a short-term bump in results, and for a team fighting relegation even a short-term points gain could be the difference between survival and relegation. There is also the advantage that Connor already knows the strengths and weaknesses of his squad, so he’ll be able to hit the groung running rather than having to take time to assess his players.

At this point in the season it is difficult to make any radical changes to the way Wolves play, so Connor is restricted to making small changes in the hope that they’ll lead to big rewards for Wolves. Wolves do have some talented players, more so than some of their rivals, but I still am finding it hard to see any way that Wolves can stay up. If you compare Wolves to Wigan for example, then on paper, Wigan are definitely a weaker team than Wolves, but, in my opinion, Wigan show far more fight, resilience and togetherness, which are all vital qualities in a relegation fight, than Wolves do. QPR, Blackburn and Bolton all show far more resilience than Wolves as well.

It’s one of the old clichés in football that teams live or die by their home form; and if that is the case then Wolves are in trouble. They have six home games left, but three of those are against Man United, Man City and Arsenal. Wolves’ away form is no better. So far this season they’ve only taken 10 points away, scoring a mere 11 goals.

Wolves are really lightweight in attack; they only really have Steven Fletcher as a consistent goalscorer. Kevin Doyle, for all of his hard work, hasn’t looked like a consistent goal threat for a long time. Doyle’s definitely capable of scoring plenty of goals, but has only managed two this season so far. Sylvain Ebanks-Blake has never looked good enough for the Premier League.

Defensively, Wolves have been shambolic and have not kept a clean sheet in the league since August, a spell of 23 games. Roger Johnson hasn’t shown the form or organisational skills he showed at Birmingham, Christophe Berra is still making the same mistakes he made when he first came to the Premier League, he’s prone to lapses of concentration, is clumsy in the tackle, and gets caught in bad positions too often. Wolves signed Sebastien Bassong on loan until the end of the season, but while he is an excellent defender at his best, he’s only played sparingly in the past few seasons for Spurs, so it will probably take him a few games to shake off any rustiness and get back to his best.

The Wolves midfield is somewhat of a reflection of Mick McCarthy, hard-working, tenacious, and effective to a point, but, with a few exceptions, lacking in any creativity, so there isn’t much supply to Fletcher and Doyle. Losing Emmanuel Frimpong was a huge blow, as he was exactly the kind of player they needed, especially as Jamie O’Hara has been struggling with injuries all season and Karl Henry has not been in good form.

On the creative side, Matt Jarvis has been struggling to recreate his good form this season, Stephen Hunt seems to have been in decline as a player for years now and Nenad Milijas and Adam Hammil look too lightweight to play anything other than bit-part roles. It seems puzzling that Wolves would send out a genuinely creative player in Adlene Guedioura on loan, especially as they have so few players capable of changing a game from the bench.

Terry Connor is a highly-regarded coach, but that doesn’t always translate into being a good manager. He’s been tasked with the seemingly impossible, keeping a side that have been in a terrible run of form, and desperately low on confidence, in the Premier League for another season. Wolves do have some winnable games left, but most of them come away from home. Sadly, it’s hard to see just what Connor can do to arrest Wolves’ slide down the table and what is looking increasingly like an inevitable relegation.