Columnist Graham Large recalls Mick McCarthy’s first home game in charge of Wolves where their opponents were, ironically, Ipswich Town.
Cast your mind back to July 2006.
It had been a turbulent summer at Molineux. Failure to reach the play-offs in the previous campaign combined with the departure of much-maligned manager Glenn Hoddle and a mass exodus of players had led Wolverhampton Wanderers supporters to believe that the best they could hope for that season was avoiding relegation to League One.
Enter Mick McCarthy, who endeared himself to the people of Wolverhampton right from the very beginning with this memorable line.
“At the moment we’ve got 16 players. The MM on my tracksuit stands for Mick McCarthy…not Merlin the Magician”
Yet despite the circumstances of his arrival, and his insistence to the contrary, Mick would soon be weaving his magic at the Molineux helm.
He quickly assembled a side on a shoestring budget by using the loan and free transfer market cleverly and fielding several players from the club’s academy. There was a huge emphasis on hard work, determination and team spirit – three factors synonymous with every team McCarthy has managed.
His first league game in charge was against Plymouth. Wolves were outplayed but somehow managed to leave Home Park with a 1–1 draw thanks to an own goal by Mathias Kouo-Doumbé. Many predicted that the turbulence would continue for a while longer.
But then, three days later, everything started to click.
Go back and look at that first team-sheet Mick put out for his first home game in charge against Ipswich – it didn’t feature a single player who played in Glenn Hoddle’s final home game the previous season.
(For the record, the starting line-up was as follows: Murray; Clyde, Craddock, Breen, Naylor; Ricketts, Henry, O’Connor, Clapham; Cort, Bothroyd.)
It became abundantly clear that this was the dawn of a new and exciting era at Molineux.
Wolves took the lead in the 27th minute when Rohan Ricketts played the ball inside to find Jay Bothroyd 30 yards out and the striker opened his account with a left footed low drive which could barely have been struck sweeter.
But just as Wolves were finding their feet, they found themselves down to ten men. Carl Cort was given his marching orders following a tangle with Ipswich midfielder Gavin Williams, who fell to the ground after the Wolves forward appeared to push him in the face.
Almost immediately the hosts’ luck went from bad to worse when Ipswich were awarded a penalty on the stroke of half-time after Jody Craddock appeared to trip Nick Forster. But Matt Murray, in his first home game since January 2005, guessed correctly and dived to his right to parry Matt Richards’s spot kick.
As expected, Ipswich were determined to make their numerical advantage count in the second-half but they only produced one genuine moment of worry when Murray palmed Williams’ deflected shot onto the post and Dean Bowditch swept home the rebound. However, Bowditch was adjudged offside and Wolves were let off the hook.
Ipswich tried desperately to make a comeback but could not break through a resolute defence, superbly marshalled by Craddock and Gary Breen, and Wolves hung on for all three points.
It was a tremendous team performance and the home fans lapped it up.
Ipswich, now of course managed by the very same Mick McCarthy, have avoided defeat in their last three trips to Molineux, securing a 2-0 victory in their previous visit back in December 2012.
The Tractor Boys also secured a 2-1 win in the reverse fixture at Portman Road in November thanks to a double from the league’s leading marksman Daryl Murphy.
However, those losses were rare disappointments for Wolves, who have lost only 4 of the last 16 meetings between the two sides.
Both teams have the Championship play-offs in their sight and the match is only intensified by McCarthy returning to Molineux. He is still very popular with a number of Wolves fans, many of whom feel was harshly sacked.
But there is no room for sentiment as Wolves desperately need to get back to winning ways.
Just remember, sentiment doesn’t win you football matches.