The response to going a goal down would have pleased Mick. (©PAphotos)
by Rory Hall
, read by 215 people.
Mick McCarthy will have spent Saturday evening's bus ride home to Molineux with a mixture of emotions running through his head. The feeling of defeat is never a good one, yet the way his team battled and frustrated a near full strength Chelsea side was admirable and has received deserved plaudits from some of the country's top pundits.
The 2-0 defeat should not deceive; rarely were the home side comfortable and in control as we so often see in front of their home fans. But what they did do was score at two crucial times in the game; times when it looked as if Wolves could snatch a shock goal.
McCarthy was without the suspended Karl Henry and the injured Jody Craddock going into the match, but this represented opportunity for their understudies; this time in the form of Richard Stearman and Nenad Milijas. Better news was that Stephen Hunt made the bench again and would have been hoping to make his Wolves debut before the end of the day.
Wolves will have been well aware that surviving the first 20 minutes was paramount to their ability to keep a foothold in the game - something they achieved well, closing down quickly, tackling well and even producing some excellent football themselves.
There were clear chances for Christophe Berra, who headed straight into John Terry, Dave Edwards, Milijas and Kevin Foley; but the finishing touch not quite up to scratch and they had to rely on an instinctive stop from Marcus Hahnemann to keep Jose Bosingwa's low drive from finding the bottom corner and a poor finish from Anelka as he found the side-netting after being fed into the box by the ever-dangerous Drogba.
Unfortunately, having found themselves still level after the opening exchanges, they were carved open on 23 minutes by an incisive Chelsea move that really summed up why they sit five points clear at the top of the table. Yuri Zhirkov and Nicolas Anelka played a lovely one-two into the box, the latter sliding a sublime reverse pass to the Russian who duly cut the ball back across goal for Florent Malouda to finish.
Many teams have capitulated at Stamford Bridge after such a setback, and not just so-called 'weaker' sides; Aston Villa received a 7-1 lesson here last season. But Wolves were no pushovers - some say Chelsea never found their next gear, but that has to be, in part at least, to the excellent work of the away side's five-man midfield, stern defensive work from the back four and a wonderful tackle from 'keeper Hahnemann when Drogba was clean through.
Still at only 1-0 down going into the second half, Wolves again had their chances to equal the scores. The two biggest chances fell to Kevin Doyle; on the second occasion he may have been better off leaving his free header for the much better placed Jelle Van Damme as they both came in at the back post.
As has happened so often for Wolves this season, their inability to take at least one of these chances was made to pay in the 81st minute as another excellent exchange of passes on the edge of the area ended with Salomon Kalou slotting through Hahnemann's legs to seal victory.
This was never going to be a game that McCarthy will have looked at as a defining game of his season; but he knew a heavy defeat would have cost more than just points - confidence was at stake too.
As it was, a tiring Chelsea side struggled to break his side down effectively and for long periods of the game, it looked as if they might grab a draw. It wasn't to be, but his players can hold their heads high as they prepare to do battle with Manchester United at Old Trafford in the League Cup.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.