After Kevin McDonald’s return to form, Richard Hobbs looks at the Scots time at Wolves.
I find Kevin McDonald is a bit of a contradiction of a player. The Scot stands tall in the centre of the park, standing over most of his opponents like that 6 ft player in a under 14’s Sunday League game.
Yet he is never one to truly assert physical dominance on the game, letting his feet do the talking. He plays like a diminutive midfield maestro, spreading the ball around the pitch and identifying space that the opposition don’t see until it’s too late.
He dictates the game like few others have done down Molineux in the past 15 years. It’s no coincidence that Wolves best performances in the last two years have been when McDonald has been on song. Always looking for the ball and the space to exploit, linking up with his team mates through his web of passes.
The problem for McDonald however is that during Wolves time in the Championship, McDonald hasn’t shined the way he did during his first season in League 1.
In the third tier, the Scot was irresistible. No player could get near him on the pitch. Even in the first few games in the Championship last year, he controlled the midfield and out-passing anyone else in the league.
Yet when the going got tough for Wolves and the Scot was getting marked out of games, the team collapsed. His passing went wayward and without someone with some bite alongside him, McDonald looked a shadow of his former self.
McDonald form did pick up thanks mainly to the help of two team mates, Jack Price and Benik Afobe.
Price gave him the defensive support he needed and also a colleague to share a hive mind with to help connect with the other nine players in gold. When they are in their own half, the pair are always within passing distance of each other. The duo complements each other to the point where either would struggle to be as effective without the other.
In Afobe, the quarterback McDonald had a wide receiver to release through on goal. Afobe’s movement enabled him to exploit space and Mcdonald’s eye for a passes glistened at the opportunity.
The Scot has a slow start to the season. With his contract up in the summer, the midfielder gave a frank interview about how he felt about the negotiations. It has been known for him to act rashly, like when he walked out of a game at Burnley after being substituted.
With clubs eying him up and his employers not bending over backwards to give him a better deal, it’s not hard to empathise with him. And although he earn far more than most of the population, he was still facing the prospect of being out of work next summer.
With the emergence of Jack Price back into the first team and agreeing a new deal, McDonald looks like a man reborn.
Playing just in front of half way line rather behind it, this much needed tactical switch seems to have added goals and creative freedom to his play. With Wolves not seeming to replace Bakary Sako, the midfield is going to have to set up to contribute the Malian’s goals. James Henry looks like he has stepped up his game this year and considering how technically proficient McDonald is, he needs to be on the score sheet more often.
McDonald, on form, has the ability to command matches and get Wolves playing and with the absence of Sako and Dicko, now more than ever he needs to take the game by the horns and take responsibility.
He seems to be playing with a smile on his face right now and the team seem to be reaping the benefits of it.