Wolves finally ran out of luck and, as a result, the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy last night.
A team which has continually picked off results while rarely convincing produced another fitful display in front of a paltry Molineux crowd and this time paid the price.
It took another penalty shoot-out to decide the contest, as it had in the previous round against Walsall. But against Notts County, not even Wolves best player on the night, Carl Ikeme, could rescue them.
After a goalless draw which was drab for Wolves and hugely frustrating for County, the visitors only needed their first three spot-kicks to progress and they were confidently dispatched by Danny Haynes, Joss Labadie and Mark Fotheringham.
Leigh Griffiths had opened the shoot-out with a precise score beyond keeper Fabia Speiss’s left hand, but after that the Wolves penalties reflected their overall performance.
First Bjorn Sigurdarson and then Kevin Foley blasted high over before new-boy James Henry steered his shot at a nice height for Speiss to save and reward for sheer devotion a visiting County contingent you could literally count.
Those penalties were borne of the faulty technique of players whose confidence had been jangled by an uneasy night in which County had left much the better impression.
Chris Kiwomya’s team were much smoother and more fluent in possession, adding a riddle to the enigma of Wolves that is already puzzling head coach Kenny Jackett.
In a clear display of his enthusiasm to go all the way in a tournament his team had been favourites to win, Jackett fielded a strong XI complete with the midfield quartet which had established such commanding control at Colchester.
If Jackett expected a repeat he was sorely disappointed. Wolves raised their tempo after a truly awful first half to threaten an improvement after the break – one which never quite materialised – and hinted at a winning goal over the last 20 minutes.
But by then, they had long been grateful to Carl Ikeme for a string of saves that kept out the visitors’ front pairing of Adam Coombes and Yoann Arquin – the best two were probably at the start of the second half which saw Ikeme defy them in one-on-one confrontations.
Fortunately, like Swindon, Crawley and Walsall before them, County do not possess the finishing power to match the approach. Jackett’s team have now gone 13 games without conceding a goal in the first half but this has had as much to do with the wastefulness of opponents as a display of Wolves’ superiority.
Their exit from this competition, without raising a shot in normal time to trouble Spiess, was possibly greeted by as much relief as disappointment from supporters now spared the test of endurance of these low-key fixtures.
But, Wembley dreams aside, it does remove the opportunity to give vital game time to under-used support staff for which the contrasting fortunes of defenders George Elokobi and Ethan Ebanks-Landell provided a pointed reminder.
Young Ebanks-Landell has something of the ‘crazy horse’ in his raw game at the moment which only time on the first-team pitch can refine – he grew into this fixture and closed it out looking strong, pacey and powerful.
In contrast, poor Elokobi endured a wretched night and looks a long way distant from the bustling, bristling player who came bouncing into Mick McCarthy’s promotion plans. Injuries and lack of football have reduced a once barnstorming footballer to an uncertain figure with a wooden touch. He was withdrawn at half-time.
The cost of Wolves’ exit may have been the shutting down of their most likely route to silverware this season – it should, after all, have been easier to win the JPT than claim promotion.
But losing fixtures which could provide such valuable opportunities for the fringe staff is a secondary handicap for a head coach eager for as much information as possible about all these players. Based on the game itself, however, I doubt many Wolves fans will be too upset.