An heffing dream was turned in to reality last night as Town returned from their traditionally happy hunting ground of Molineux with 3 play off confirming points and an achievement which will live long in the memory.
The game itself was of poor quality – Wolves’ desire on and off the pitch was intermittent to say the least, while Town’s nervousness in a seemingly endless second half created nail chewing anxiety throughout their (rather disappointingly small) support.
With Smith and Kachunga missing, Cranie and Scannell were drafted in to the right side with Wells restored in place of Quaner. More significantly, Brown took his place in the starting line up for the first time since his injury – arguably the difference between a post season competition and automatic promotion.
The home side line up was missing Costa and Cavaleiro and the lack of creativity and pace was evident from the start as Town quickly took control of the game. The lack of atmosphere in a half empty stadium – Wolves fans’ apathy was only interrupted when Van La Parra was on the ball – favoured the more energised visitors, and without threatening to reach the heights seen at other grounds this season, a competent first half display was to prove decisive.
With Ward barely troubled – Wolves should probably have done better with one headed chance straight at him – Town created very presentable chances, particularly for Wells who curled a great opportunity over the bar.
Solid at the back, with Schindler and Hefele putting their Fulham nightmares behind them throughout, Town’s overall superiority was confirmed when Brown, who added considerable skill and zest to the thankfully restored Hogg/Mooy partnership, took a pot shot from outside the area which was well hit but rather surprisingly eluded the Wolves keeper.
Taking a fully deserved lead over lacklustre opponents in to the break, Town simply had to hang on to secure a deserved play off berth.
A slow start to the second half began to jangle the nerves as they allowed Wolves too much time and space and passing became sloppy. Conceding the effortless control of the first half, the game became more of a contest and as Cranie picked up a knock and Scannell tired, Wolves threw on Graham to capitalise on the weakness.
The substitute, clearly welcomed by the hitherto snoozing home crowd, gave Wolves a lift with his exploitation of space and for ten minutes, Town wobbled. Ward came to the rescue with a fine save from Weimann but could only breathe a sigh of relief when Edwards struck the post with the follow up.
Graham caused more consternation to the increasingly anxious visiting fans but, in truth, his delivery rarely matched the perceived threat and, with Hogg patrolling in front of the comfortable pair of Germans behind him, the likelihood of a home equaliser receded in to the eerie silence from the stands.
Town were boosted by the arrival of Bunn in place of Scannell as he not only provided better cover for Cranie but instigated forward momentum which should have resulted in a tension relieving second goal, with fellow substitute Quaner (on for the hard working Wells) spurning good opportunities. Hefele could also have ensured a much more comfortable final 10 minutes but fired wide from a perfect position.
Watching between fraught fingers, the time slipped by very slowly but the sight of Wolves fans leaving well before the end was, at least, some small comfort – they knew that, barring something extraordinary, their team was toothless and increasingly inelegant in their attempts to rescue a pretty meaningless point.
A mundane yet historic victory was sealed when Town comfortably saw off 3 minutes injury time and the celebrations for an extraordinary season could begin.
It has been a patchy and occasionally worrying crawl to the line, but the return of Brown – utterly pivotal to this win – and the recalibration of the team’s shape augurs well for the trials to come. The win was also achieved without the Smith/Kachunga collaboration – their deputies did well (until injury and tiredness affected them) but deputies they will remain.
There were fewer Town fans there to witness it than there should have been – the £30 price tag cannot have helped – which slightly detracted from the evening, but the scale of the club’s achievements cannot be understated given the budget, the competition and the base from where they started.
With 2 games to go, Wagner has more planning time than his competition – an advantage which should not be underestimated given his towering achievements to date.
The job is not done, and the future in the hands of fate but, by God, there can’t be a better story in the English leagues this season.