Wolves approach the final game of a truly miserable year seemingly as far away as ever from finding a new way forward for 2013.
No-one expected Stale Solbakken to transform Mick McCarthy’s broken team with the click of his fingers but this dispiriting Boxing Day defeat against Peterborough was an unacceptable lurch backwards which had Molineux seething.
This is a Christmas season of homecomings and McCarthy will be back at Molineux on Saturday to find his old club uncertain about its future progress.
Another Wolves old boy, Darren Ferguson, watched his Posh team clinch a third successive win in the Championship for only the second time in its history with surprising authority.
Naturally, in keeping with this season’s theme of former employees returning to inflict damage, Posh’s third goal was set up by Mark Little.
But it's the return of McCarthy, with an Ipswich side he has already substantially revived, which now dominates the Molineux agenda.
Whether that inspires or intimidates so many of his old players still in service at Wolves we shall discover, but the sense of distance between his successor, Solbakken, and the squad he left behind permeated through this dismal performance.
There have been moments this season when Solbakken’s Wolves have at least given the impression that they were making progress – but there have also been many more indications of unease.
This performance was possibly the most worrying so far coming halfway through the season when the manager might have expected some cohesion and common purpose to have taken root in his numbers.
Wolves were ineffectual, lethargic and befuddled. Any performance which finishes with career-long right-winger Jermaine Pennant having to cover left-back duties clearly hasn’t gone too smoothly.
“You’re not fit to wear the shirt,” sang the South Bank after Peterborough had clinched their win with a third goal before Pennant, a player who simply hasn’t been able to win the affection of the Molineux public, was given some blunt derision.
One of Solbakken’s three substitutes was Jamie O’Hara, a pin-prick of light on a dreary afternoon.
But his cameo over the final quarter hour was merely the start of a lengthy period of re-acclimatisation to first-team football.
O’Hara could not be expected to raise this performance from the dead. Neither was it the sort of game Karl Henry wanted to mark his 250th appearance for Wolves.
Every cut and sting of 2012’s many adversities were visible in both the team and the captain’s performance and Solbakken will spend some long hours wondering how the recent encouragement evapourated so suddenly.
One reason has been looming for some time. No way could Bakary Sako continue to drag Wolves around the Championship on the back of his goals and assists.
For the first time, the game is looking hard for Sako and Wolves are labouring as a result. Their attacking threat was effectively crammed into two or three minutes which preceded Posh extending their lead to 2-0 just before half-time.
Wolves have blown hot and cold enough this season to imagine that, had one of a flurry of efforts from Stephen Ward, Sako and Christophe Berra been successful, they may have changed the course of this game. But it wasn’t to be.
Ward and Sako were denied by kgoalkeeper Robert Olejnik while, typical of the day, Berra’s header struck Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and was lost amid the scramble of bodies.
Peterborough, it must be admitted, had constantly warned the tempo-free zone that was Wolves’ forward movement of what they could achieve, Carl Ikeme producing a wonderful 10th-minute save to deny Dwight Gayle.
Ikeme almost repeated the trick with his reflex response to Lee Tomlin’s volley-height finish from Joe Newell’s cross which followed seven minutes later, but the shot somehow bounced off the underside of the bar and in.
Kevin Foley, having been outflanked by Newell in the build-up to that goal, redeemed himself with some notable defending to prevent Tommy Rowe extending the lead.
Roger Johnson cthen ame up with some fairly desperate and perhaps fortuitous methods to defy further threatening counter-attacks.
But, having survived that one phase of menace, Posh broke out to claim a second from Rowe when he eluded Pennant’s unconvincing tracking before Solbakken opted to remove Ward and change to a 3-4-3.
That, at least, injected Bjorn Sigurdarson’s pacey enthusiasm into proceedings. Wolves brightened, briefly, but were barely hammering at the door.
But Little took advantage of their stretched defence to set up a killer third from Dwight Gayle on 69 minutes. Roll on Saturday.
By Martin Swain