Terry Connor was prepared for how bad it could get at Wolverhampton Wanderers. As assistant to Mick McCarthy, he has witnessed the team’s slide towards the Championship before he was then ludicrously appointed as interim manager.
Wolves are getting what they deserve. Queens Park Rangers have had Neil Warnock and Mark Hughes manage them this season, but even they are afforded more sympathy than the Black Country club.
Owner Steve Morgan and chief executive Jez Moxey fired McCarthy after the 5-1 home defeat to West Brom and then failed to appoint a successor with a two-week window. The day before their next game – 12 days on – Connor was paraded in front of the media.
Softly spoken and with no managerial experience, his promotion is an embarrassment irrespective of what Morgan may say. That an available manager and proven Premier League survivor Steve Bruce, despite his final abject year at Sunderland, wasn’t hired will remain baffling.
They entertain table-toppers Manchester United on Sunday, and ironically the standard of the opposition may be a welcome tonic for the Molineux side. Thrice they have hosted the champions in the league since their return to top fight football in 2003, and twice they have won.
Last season they exposed United via two set-pieces for a 2-1 win. That United side had the colossal Nemanja Vidic starting, which is cause for consternation since he continues to recover from an anterior cruciate ligament injury, and their defending from dead-ball kicks has exacerbated this campaign.
But with Manchester City’s home fixture with Chelsea postponed due to the latter’s FA Cup participation this weekend, United can open up a four-point gap between them and their challengers. Their stint on top of the league earlier in the season was mostly via goal difference, until a two-point deficit emerged after City drew 2-2 at Fulham in September.
It is certainly United’s biggest game of the season. As nonplussed as the club may be at Europa League elimination, they returned to the summit after five months in second place last week, although the pressure is all piled on to them to yield a 20th English title. But will Wolves dig their claws into the Red Devils again?
Roger Johnson v Wayne Rooney
Rooney’s form has been exceptional since the turn of the year. Braces against City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Athletic Club Bilbao and West Brom – as well as the vital opener against Tottenham – stress how much United would struggle without him. Roger Johnson, excellent at previous club Birmingham City, has looked forlorn without his St Andrews defensive partner Scott Dann this season. He arrived for training drunk last week the day after the 5-0 loss at Fulham, but has retained the captaincy despite his behaviour. He has not played since the 5-1 loss to the Baggies, and leading by example against one of the league’s best players would be an ideal start on the road to redemption. And possible survival.
Jamie O’Hara v Paul Scholes
O'Hara was involved in a verbal confrontation with supporters after their 2-0 defeat by Blackburn last week and "told them to go away", according to a source. That led to a further exchange of words, which places him under greater scrutiny along with the howling Johnson. Offering silk to the Wolves midfield, O’Hara nevertheless is a victim of the stereotype, what with the glamour model girlfriend and ineffectual displays. Playing against Scholes may offer him a moment of clarity however. He has been excellent since United humiliatingly reappointed him to guide a desperately dismal midfield in the right direction. Scholes does however have his limitations. Pace is the Ginger Prince’s Kryptonite – Tottenham highlighted that two weeks ago in a rip-roaring first half at White Hart Lane – and if Wolves press half as intensely as Athletic did then United will be relying solely on Rooney to create the magic.
Matt Jarvis v Phil Jones
Wolves’ 4-1 surrender at Old Trafford in December wasn’t without one positive. Jarvis gave Chris Smalling a torrid time on the left-hand side, and provided the assist for Steven Fletcher to briefly halve the deficit. United have not settled on a right-back this season, with ambivalence permanent over Smalling, Rafael da Silva and Phil Jones’ expertise. Jones and Smalling didn’t travel to Bilbao due to illness and injury, but the former is expected to be fit on Sunday and will likely be preferred ahead of the unpredictable Brazilian Da Silva. Jones however endured a torrid time against Aaron Lennon two weeks ago and almost handed West Brom the lead last week. Jarvis, who has performed well outside of the limelight (his slump in form coincided with international recognition), should relish the task whoever his opponent is. Stoke City’s Jonathan Woodgate was substituted inside 20 minutes at Molineux in December after two reckless fouls on him. So the threat’s been identified, but United may struggle to neutralise it.