Second Half Syndrome

22 10 2010

This is a post of ours that appeared on WolvesBlog this week.
If you are not a Wolves fan this is probably a post you’ll want to skip (lots of ‘we’ and ‘our’ etc!)

It is often said that the real quality of a manager is shown in his ability to change a game. Through substitutions, tactical changes and inspiring half time team talks. 

This season’s half-time league table shows Wolves in an unlikely 3rd place. We have a goal difference of +4 in the first half, compared to -9 in the second half. A closer examination of the results shows that the team would be in a similar position had the league shown results up to 75 minutes. With the season only 8 games old, this is not a particularly large sample. However, the discrepancy is stark enough to hold a degree of significance and does perhaps reveal a few problems within the Wolves squad … Time for a degree of wild speculation …

With the ‘young and hungry’ ethos put in place on McCarthy’s arrival at the club, added to the supposed brilliant work of Tony Daley and the oft lauded state of the art medical and training equipment, it is hard to imagine that the fitness of the players is an issue. But anyone who witnessed Saturday’s draw with West Ham will tell you that the players visibly tired early in the second half. Obviously, the pace we played in the first half, constantly pressing and harrying the opposition, could not be sustained for the entire game. Early on, any pass slid in to Scott Parker and co was pressed quickly by Jones and Edwards high up the field. After the break, the West Ham midfield was given plenty of time to pick out passes to the forwards, while Kieron Dyer was afforded acres of space between the lines:

Ultimately, the alarming chasm between the energy shown in the first 45 minutes compared to the second half does raise a few question marks over the strength and fitness of the players. 

It also asks questions of McCarthy’s management. West Ham came out in the second half clearly energised, whilst Wolves were lethargic at best. Although McCarthy’s tactical nous has always been in doubt, he is very much seen as someone who gets the best of out his players and demands, above all else, work rate. This has been evident throughout his time as manager – opposition teams very rarely ‘out work’ Wolves. But, there is a difference between working hard and working effectively. It could be argued that whilst Wolves undoubtedly work hard, a lot of this is when we haven’t got the ball. When we do have the ball, we seem reluctant to get numbers into the box. An old favourite, Andy Keogh, demonstrates this point perfectly. As all of his fans point out, he does work incredibly hard, chasing down defenders and closing down the goalkeeper. Yet, when we actually have the ball he often goes missing, almost scared to get involved and get into the box – which is why he scores so few goals. Whilst McCarthy gets his players to work hard, does he instil enough belief in them to actually demand the ball and do something with it? Something that becomes more apparent in the second half of games as they become more stretched.

The game against West Ham provides another case in point, regarding substitutions. At 1-1, Steven Fletcher was replaced by Jelle Van Damme. Although Van Damme went on to occupy a similar position to Fletcher, it was very much a substitution to preserve a point rather than go for all three. We could have switched to 4-4-2, as West Ham had done in bringing on Carlton Cole for Kieron Dyer. After all, our first half goal had come about by having 6 players in and around the Hammers’ box in open play:

 

How often did this happen in the second half?

Similarly, at Fulham, with the score 1-1, two midfielders (Guedioura and Jones) replaced two strikers (Ebanks-Blake and Doyle). Although Fletcher had come on at half time for Van Damme, the trend of reducing our attacking options when the game was level is clear. When 1-0 up at Spurs, Fletcher and Jarvis were replaced by Van Damme and Edwards. In isolation, a totally understandable and probably correct decision, but another game in which we threw away the game late on. I don’t think McCarthy’s substitutions are overly negative, but it does perhaps reveal a slight lack of belief in his players ability to go on and win a game. More importantly, they are not working. We are conceding so many late goals by inviting pressure and not being good enough to repel it.

Wolves second half fortunes contrast wildly with Stoke and West Brom. Stoke are yet to be leading going into half time, yet are still enjoying relative mid table security. Is it going too far to conclude that these teams are fitter and more shrewdly managed during a game? The drab analysis is that it is probably too early to read into the discrepancies in the table and as the league takes shape the relative positions will become more similar. However, it does illustrate some issues McCarthy needs to address if Wolves are to surivive this season. We have thrown away too many leads already for it to be coincidence.

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