Three games in and it has not got any better. Wolves fans don’t even want to think about the consequences of it getting any worse.
But the ‘new manager’ bounce owner Steve Morgan was, at the very least, hoping the arrival of Dean Saunders would provide simply hasn’t materialised.
Two draws and now this defeat, from the very match all around Molineux had imagined would provide Saunders with his first victory, have reinforced and not eased the pressures around the club.
If the performance level has improved a touch, the quality remains elusive unlike the team’s ability to find trouble where none existed.
The calamitous first Blackpool goal, engineered out of thin air by a moment of rabbit-in-the-headlights defending from Roger Johnson and Carl Ikeme, punctured Wolves’ fragile confidence and gave the visitors the platform from which they would go on to win the game.
Johnson’s late red card was aggravating on the day but will save its real impact for the games Wolves must play without him now.
In short, the decline and fall of what looks increasingly like a bogus empire shows no sign of letting up and carries the genuine menace of a double relegation.
In the dying days of Stale Solbakken’s regime, it was possible to hear rationalists point out that Wolves were equidistant from the play-offs and the bottom three – nine points. Now the maths tell a different story; Saunders’s team is double the distance from the play-offs (14) as it sits seven points clear of the relegation zone. That is a form curve arcing steadily in one direction and, without a major up-turn in performance, due to bottom out sometime around April in a jeopardy which does not bear thinking about.
More and more, Wolves fans find themselves looking at the remnants of the Premier League squad and wondering what on earth happened to them.
Mick McCarthy’s core figures never claimed to be the greatest players in the world – but surely they are better than 18th in the Championship with one win in eight or three wins from the last 17 games?
Against Blackpool, the Wolves squad included Henry, Doyle, Ebanks-Blake, Berra, Zubar, O’Hara, Hunt and, before a neck injury forced his late withdrawal, Ward. These are all players who figured in those second-season victories over Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United.
Yes, they were games Wolves pilfered largely on the retreat towards their own area but, nevertheless, the club remains staffed by some battle-hardened heavyweights in Championship terms. To see another manager – the third since McCarthy – struggling to coax any kind of improvement from the group is to wonder what on earth can be done now to arrest a chronic decline.
With each passing failure, the conclusion screams ever more loudly that a group of players brought together on a ‘young and hungry’ ticket are neither young nor hungry any more. And without the furious energy and commitment which stifled the Premier League’s most powerful teams in those epic victories, they are hugely diminished.
As it is, Saunders has a bigger mountain to climb than he probably envisaged and has yet to reach the base camp of a first win.
He must have fancied his chances of breaking the duck for all but the final minutes of a first half his team controlled having struck a fine 16th-minute goal when the galloping Ronald Zubar delivered a precision cross expertly steered into the bottom corner by Sylvan Ebaks-Blake’s sideways header. Zubar and Slawomir Peszko were a threat down the right flank, Bakary Sako less so on the other side but nevertheless, Wolves were a team sensing an end to their miseries.
Oh dear. From a moment of frozen indecision, Johnson and Ikeme turned a routine clearance into an opportunistic equaliser from the best player on the pitch, Thomas Ince, which shattered the home side’s well-being.
And like Solbakken before him, Saunders is discovering that whatever team comes into the home dressing room for a half-time cuppa, a different and weaker version comes out the other side.
Ebanks-Blake missed Wolves’ one chance to regain the lead on 53 minutes, shooting straight at Matthew Gilks from 12 yards, and Ince would clinch victory against increasingly uncertain opponents with a 25-yard screamer, 12 minutes from time.
Whether fair or not, no figure symbolises the team’s collapse more than Johnson, who has tried to mend his first-year failings but thrust towards Saunders still more problems to resolve when a desperate tangle with Angel Martinez led to a red card in added time.
By Martin Swain