There is still is hope for Wolves.
There is still is hope for Wolves.
Despite another despairing defeat, despite another game without victory for a struggling manager, despite a second week in the bottom three, there is still hope.
Wolves were beaten again to extend to 12 their sequence of winless Championship matches and leave a thinning Molineux public more anxious than ever for their prospects of avoiding a second successive and even more crippling relegation.
But it was a match Dean Saunders’s team could have retrieved, even allowing for opposition rushing with gathering momentum towards the Premier League, and in a season of such relentlesss disappointment that at least is something to which they can cling.
It might have been different had Wolves not given themselves only one half to rescue the game. The first 45 minutes were written off in an unconvincing tactical shake-up by Saunders which was a victory for blind optimism over rational thinking.
He crow-barred into an unfamiliar 3-5-2 line-up a group of players who are struggling enough for confidence without being challenged to master an alien system against the Championship’s most consistently successful team of the season.
Matt Doherty was brought in from nowhere for a role at right wing-back, Tongo Doumbia returned from injury to match the bewilderment Bakary Sako displayed as he tried to make the most of a rare role as a support striker to Bjorn Sigurdarson.
It was an accident waiting to happen of which the only positive for Wolves was reaching the break just one goal in arrears.
But at that point it was Cardiff’s game, bottled up and ready for dispatch back to Wales, the Championship leaders having dominated possession, tempo and the flow of the contest.
Their lead, which arrived in the 20th minute, came from the simplest of routes and despite Wolves filling their defence with three 6ft central defenders in Danny Batth, Kaspars Gorkss and the recalled Roger Johnson.
But knowing about Aron Gunnarson’s long throw and dealing with it are two different things – and when Ben Turner completed a flick-on at the near post Fraizer Campbell stole in to head coolly past Carl Ikeme.
One pinprick of light in an otherwise featureless first half from Wolves was the rampaging form of Sigurdarson, whose energy and elusive running created the two half-chances to come his team’s way, both of which fell to the weaker elements in Sako’s armoury – his head and right foot.
But Saunders returned to a more orthodox 4-4-2 at the interval and Wolves visibly improved. A bench flush with the McCarthy stalwarts who were once able to keep the club in the Premier League was raided for Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Kevin Doyle to try one more time at the head of the attack while Sigurdarson moved out wide.
Wolves instantly looked more at ease with themselves but the sense of a team which just cannot buy a break prevailed. From their first corner in the 56th minute, a passage of pressure saw Sigurdarson again turn sharply to clip over a cross which Doyle met on the full only for his header to find the unsuspecting chest of Peter Whittingham.
Worse followed with a 67th-minute free-kick curved wickedly from deep by Craig Bellamy into the area. Whether the ball held up in the wind to deceive Ikeme is unsure but the keeper was guilty of rare hesitancy – and his delay was filled by the alert Campbell sprinting through to head a second.
Molineux was now at the point of surrender, wondering just how much more of this misery it could take. Which is where the hope comes in.
Wolves rallied and when Doyle immediately won a free-kick with a determined dribble across the face of Cardiff’s defence, Sako took the opportunity to unleash the strongest part of his weaponry, that feared left foot. The fierce free-kick from 20 yards took a deflection to beat David Marshall.
And a point at least would have been rescued but for an extraordinary miss by Ebanks-Blake 10 minutes from the end.
A burst from Sako finished with a pinpoint cross which Ebanks-Blake met on the volley as he arrived at the far post.
But this once most assured of strikers mis-timed his finish and the shot bounced into the ground and up over the bar.
As he kicked the netting in fury, the anguish of Wolves was revealed to the world; there was their season in one huge moment of frustration and failure by a previously trusted performer.
It is one not yet played out, though. There have been enough fragments of hope in the last two defeats for Wolves to still believe they can turn this wretched decline.
But they are leaving it very late.
By Martin Swain