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Honest Wolves pay penalty

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Phil McNulty | 18:51 UK time, Saturday, 24 October 2009

Mick McCarthy wore the expression of a man who had just been robbed - or to be more precise a man who had just seen Kevin Doyle robbed.

Just 24 hours after coach Fabio Capello revealed he would never like to see England win a match courtesy of a dive, Wolves manager McCarthy found himself navigating his way through the minefield of football's morals.

As Wolves fans filed away from Molineux past the Billy Wright statue, satisfied with a point against Aston Villa, McCarthy was perched high above them struggling to get to grips with the concept of being penalised for honesty.

The ethical dilemma was the result of Doyle's "refusal" to hit the deck while being manhandled - "he had his wallet, shirt and everything off him didn't he?" complained Mick - by Villa defender Richard Dunne.

Doyle stayed on his feet despite Dunne's close attention, perhaps persuading referee Peter Walton not to point to the spot. It all happened in the opening minutes and may have put a different shape on a game that too often matched the dreary Molineux weather.

Sylvan Ebanks-Blake
Sylvan Ebanks-Blake smashed home Wolves' equaliser from the penalty spot

McCarthy had a point when he insisted a player should not have to be grounded to win a penalty. A penalty is a penalty is a penalty goes the argument - whenever it happens and irrespective of whether the offended party makes contact with the turf.

Wolves gained a measure of justice later when Walton did point to the spot (he had no alternative) after Steve Sidwell crashed into Michael Kightly, allowing Sylvan Ebanks-Blake to apply heavyweight frustration to a spot-kick that might still be on its way up the M6 had the net not intervened.

It gave Wolves a deserved point after Gabriel Agbonlahor threatened to earn Villa a win their lifeless display did not merit, but it was easy to understand McCarthy's frustration which was, it should be stressed, conveyed in respectful terms.

Wolves' season, and perhaps their Premier League survival, may be fashioned by fine details, so marginal decisions such as this - and indeed the ludicrous sending off of Stefan Maierhofer at Everton - could have ominous long-term consequences.

A visit to Molineux is to take a trip into a football heartland, a club with a crowd, stadium and history that is a natural fit for the Premier League. And on the evidence of this draw against a Villa side with pretensions at a more elevated level, there is every chance there will be three teams lower than Wolves when the season finishes.

This was no classic, in fact it was anything but, but the warm reception afforded to Wolves at the final whistle was a reflection of the satisfaction felt inside Molineux about the way McCarthy's side acquitted themselves.

The honesty shown by Doyle in declining to take a tumble is mirrored by the entire Wolves team - but they must uncover a cutting edge if the survival which would represent success this season is to be achieved.

Wolves have already paid the price of missed chances at Molineux this season, and it took a penalty to earn their just reward here after more generosity in front of goal threatened to end in a damaging defeat.

Ebanks-Blake's penalty was his first Premier League goal after recovering from injury, and he will be a key figure in the months ahead. McCarthy is convinced this burly figure can carry his goal threat from the Championship to the Premier League - and he may need to if the endeavour and spirit shown in other areas is not to falter on a lack of end product.

McCarthy believes Wolves are growing into the Premier League on a weekly basis but honesty will only take them so far. They will need more, and men like Ebanks-Blake and Doyle must provide it.

For Villa, this was the sort of display that adds conviction to the feeling that a more realistic target for Martin O'Neill's side may be top five or six as opposed to the riches offered in the top four.

Mick McCarthy and Martin O'Neill
Mick McCarthy and Martin O'Neill have very different hopes for their teams this season

Villa have made an excellent start to the season, but O'Neill's constant references to consistency hit the mark when trying to take an accurate measure of their ambitions.

They have beaten Liverpool and Chelsea and drawn with Manchester City - but lost to Wigan and Blackburn and drawn with Wolves. Erratic behaviour for a team with Champions League aspirations.

O'Neill was spot on when he declared his disappointment: "We just didn't get to grips with the game early enough."

It was a charge that could still be levelled at Villa even when Wolves ran out of ideas. There was a lack of wit from the visitors that would have made them undeserved winners.

What O'Neill has done is assemble a no-frills framework in defence, based on his new and unashamedly no-nonsense central pairing of Dunne and James Collins, while having the pace, width and power of Agbonlahor, Ashley Young and John Carew as an attacking weapon.

It is the classic O'Neill template. He has wisely strengthened his squad to guard against the fade-out that characterised last season, but you suspect he may just need a little bit more craft in midfield to make the leap into the elite pack.

For Wolves, the sights are set at a lower level and honesty is a quality they will need to ensure they stay in the Premier League.

McCarthy will just hope they are not too honest for their own good.

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  • Comment number 1.

    I disagree with the fact that Wolves need a cutting edge. Having seen them against Sunderland and Villa it is my belief that it is the approach play which is letting Wolves down, particularly at home. Last season their approach was very wing based and so far I have yet to see evidence of that being replicated.

    Doyle and Ebanks-Blake are both fine players and their movement during parts of the Villa match was first rate. In addition, both can finish a move off. If the ball is out wide there is the real chance of, providing the delivery is good, them finding space and taking the chance.

    As for Villa, they did not play well and too many simple passes and balls in the box went astray (first decent cross came after 62 mins). Milner had another good game but Young went another game without impressing. Although, of all the Villa players this season the one who continues to impress beyond all expectation is James Collins. He is having a blinder beside Dunne.

  • Comment number 2.

    We're adjusting to a new way of playing right now, I think most of us know we can't play 4-4-2 with 2 out and out wingers, the likelihood is we'd get battered. Too many times we get into good positions and run ourselves into a corner due to lacking that final bit of class.

    Kites is capable of it, but he's nowhere near his top form yet, he's very much a confidence player. Same with SEB, he started slowly last season but then exploded onto the scene. He's a fine player.

    Milijas was bought as our creative midfield player (he captains Serbia and scored 25 goals last season) but he's taken time to settle. He showed touches of glass that others in our team lack and he has a wand of a left foot.

    We should have enough to stay up, presuming we can keep our top players fit.

  • Comment number 3.

    I also disagree with the fact that you say Wolves need a cutting edge, Kightly,Jarvis provide width they have a proven striker in Doyle and SEB will be able to cut it at this level, they also have the creativity of Miljas in the centre of the park now if you said Birmingham lack the cutting edge id completely agree but not Wolves, they lack depth at the back however Zubar and Mancienne are good players as is Foley if these get injured they struggle however but they are newly promoted and there will be flaws

    i think Wolves will stay up and easily too

  • Comment number 4.


    " Phil McNulty sees Wolves' endeavour fail to overcome high-flying Aston Villa at Molineux "

    sorry Phil had to have a big laugh at the " high-flying Aston Villa "

    6th in the table going erm no where i feel apart from perhaps 8th

    the only thing flying about Aston Villa is the manager MON doing his riverdance interpretations aided and abeted by none other than Anelka last week.

    oh well its all good fun

    shine on.

  • Comment number 5.

    Hi Phil. I'm a regular reader of your blogs, but haven't yet felt the urge to post...until tonight. This article gives the impression that the premier league is the place where the players generally cheat (which they are more than prone to do) and that professional football from the second tier down is played by decent, honest footballers who would never take a tumble to earn themselves a free-kick or penalty. Wolves are incredibly hard done because one of their players didn't go down after some fairly hefty (understatement) defending. You surely know that gamesmanship, sportsmanship or whatever other name cheating uses as a cover is a regular occurance, whether the match is at the top level or a sunday morning punch up on Wansted Flats.

  • Comment number 6.

    Come on Phil, you dont think your assessment is a little one sided here? What saves did Brad Friedel have to make? For a side that got a "deserved point" they threatened the goal maybe twice all game. Villa didnt threaten much either, but on three or four occasions just a touch from a Villa player in the Wolves box would have turned the ball in. Agbonlahor was guilty of two shocking misses before he scored a far more difficult chance.

    And then theres the fact that John Carew himself was grapped down the area. Here you have the other side of the coin. Carew is fouled, but doesnt do his upmost to stay on his feet and he is not awarded with a penalty. Andy Gray i believe said, "if thats outside the box he's going to win a free kick." I personally think we (Villa) played poorly today, but the jist of your article is that we were on the backfoot all game and we fortunate to get a 1-1 draw. Now when our opposition has a single serious shot on goal, and its from the penalty spot, this seems quite a harsh analysis.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.


    Top six consecutive seasons, beat Arsenal away last year and Liverpool away this year, beat Chelsea at home this season, etc.

    I agree they're hardly title challengers, but to suggest that they're merely also-rans is ridiculous. They're improving year on year and just need consistency. If they get some, they'll easily make the top six again and the top four would be well within reach next season.

  • Comment number 9.


    Villa fan: I can see your thoughts, but I don't think either side deserved to win the game. Carew was holding on to Berra as much as Berra was on Carew.

    Was massively dissapointed with Ashley Young, final product was diabolical at times and Carew had a bit of a mare. Your defence is very solid and providing they stay so, you'll be top 6 in my opinion.

    Craddock and Berra have beem superb so far, Berra has proved his doubters wrong and Jody just seems to get better and better. Foley (our player of the season last year) is arguably our best player but will struggle to get back into the team as it stands once he returns from injury.

    Too many times we've come away from games with nothing btu a decent performance, it needs to change and as Kites/SEB/Doyle/Milijas etc settle in I think we'll be fine.

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    Your logic for Villa not breaking the top 4 is that they are somewhat eratic. Chelsea are probably title favourites but have lost to Wigan and Villa already and are yet to face any of their top 4 compatriots. Villa are turning into a team that gets results despite not playing particularly well, much like Chelsea and Utd. I agree that this season may be a step too far, but if Young starts hitting the heights again, then not many teams will live with us.

  • Comment number 12.

    And #4, your comments show nothing other than ignorance. To say we're going to finish 'perhaps 8th' is ludicrous. The teams that currently occupy the top 7 spots in the league are comfortably the best 7 teams in the Premiership, and barring a miracle will finish in some order in those 7 spots. Drawing 1-1 at Molineux isn't too bad; Man City only won 1-0 at home against them and were clinging on at the end and they drew 1-1 against Everton last week. And derbies are always more unpredictable because the lesser team is usually more up for it as it's one of their biggest games of the season. Villa have a solid defence which they never had last year, so now all we need is more creative guile in the middle of the park. Adel Tarrabt anyone?

  • Comment number 13.

    Can't help but think that this blog is making it look like Wolves were the good guys in a "Good v. Evil" match, as if Villa used underhanded tactics to scrape the draw. Neither team looked fantastic, of Wolves, you'd say they'll stay up because they've got enough about them, but they never once looked like scoring from open play (more a credit to Villa's excellent defence than anything else.)
    I do think however, that games like these should be points in the bag for Villa if we have aspirations of anything more than the top 6 finish which is almost nailed on. It's as if teams have "worked us out" that by not giving Young and Milner any room on the flanks, we're fairly ordinary going forward. Petrov seems to be able to find amazing, creative passes out to the flanks, but if Carew's having a stinker (like today) we really struggle. It was Heskey, after all, that set up the winning goal.

  • Comment number 14.

    I just feel the problem with Villa is lacking a bit of bite in the midfield. I think with that sort of presence they could be a great team, but obviously the resources probably aren't quite there yet.

  • Comment number 15.

    To poster no point did I suggest Villa were "underhanded". Nothing could be further from the truth. It is not their problem the referee missed a penalty, and it is probably at times like this we whistle up the old saying about things evening themselves out over a course of a season.

    Agree with a previous poster about Ebanks-Blake and Doyle showing plenty of promise, but they must deliver on that promise and Ebanks-Blake's finishing in particular looked a little rusty yesterday as he returns from injury.

    Very early days though and lots of people I spoke to at Molineux have big hopes for him this season and he will be delighted to have got his goal on the board. It doesn't matter if it was a penalty.

    I would love to hear from as many Wolves fans as possible about what they think of their prospects this season. Can they survive? Can Ebanks-Blake be as successful in the Premier League as he was in the Championship?

    Interesting assessment of Villa in the second part of bilsim's post (13). Do Villa fans agree with that?

  • Comment number 16.

    I think Kevin Doyle is to be applauded for trying to stay on his feet. Obviously this puts more pressure on the referee to spot these incidents but even after watching it several times I don't think we can apportion huge amounts of blame on to the referee. That level of contact occurs every time a corner or set piece takes place, and for the most part is expected and accepted. It was not a rugby tackle but there again I have seen penalties given for less.
    I guess for a player the rule of thumb should be that if the contact is sufficient to be a foul then go down. Thats not diving or cheating. If the contact is minimal then try and stay on your feet. However I doubt we will ever see this utopian approach.

    On the subject of Wolves, I like them but that may be the Mick mcCarthy factor (ex City). He talks sense and I hope they stay up even though they are a bit of a bogey team for us. SEB only needs to add goals and they should have enough. Pompey and Hull looking most likely for the drop at this early stage.

    As for Villa. can you please tell me where the real Richard Dunne is? I think he is proof of alien existence. They are impersonating him while the real Dunney is aboard some craft somewhere. 9 years at city, 1 goal - 2 goals in two weeks at Villa. You make your own mind up. Villa will be there or there about at the end. Only squad size will go against them.

  • Comment number 17.


    thanks for your blog good to see some debate about Wolves. Firstly, yes we can stay up but as you rightly point out we need to take our chances. As season ticket holders we have left the ground too many times already saying 'if only'. The Vokes chance in the last few seconds against Hull and Ebanks-Blake firing high and wide at a similar time Vs Portsmouth stand out.

    I enjoyed the match yesterday, especially after the deflating game against Portsmouth. There was a 10 minute spell toward the end of the first half where we really took hold of the match with Castillo, Henry and Edwards keeping the ball on the ground and looking for the right final ball. We need the combative approach of Castillo and Henry but that leaves us without the creativity of Milijas. I don't understand why Kightly played on the left, his one real surge into the box won us the penalty. Jarvis has done well on the left, only the final ball has let him down and playing him would free Kightly to play on the right. I'm yet to be convinced by Elokobi at this level, he looks lost when he crosses the halfway line! A left sided and footed midfielder/winger in the January transfer window please Mick.

    From high up in the Billy Wright stand the Villa defence looked superbly organised, something we can learn from, and in the second half we did run out of ideas and got way too narrow. Craddock, Berra and Zubar all deserve a mention for a determined display.

    Our great hope lies with Kevin Doyle his energy, intelligent runs and finishing are different class. If we can get Kightly surging forward and Ebanks-Blake firing we will keep our place in the Promised Land.

  • Comment number 18.

    I still don't think that the Doyle incident was a clear cut penalty as people are saying. There was contact no doubt and if it had been called a penalty your blog, Phil, would probably be about a harsh decision and "dive".

    As far as Villa are concerned. Milner, in his first full season with Villa, I think has solidified his spot in the World Cup squad for next summer. I don't really think they need any more "bite" in the midfield. Fabian Delph on the bench seems like a player who is more than capable of putting his foot in and with a little maturity will develop into a future star. I also think Sidwell and Petrov make a could combination.

    16 - I'm really happy for Richard Dunne. After being shipped out of Man City because they "needed to raise money" he's shown his quality this season with great performances at both ends of the pitch. Good on ya Dunney!

  • Comment number 19.

    Good morning everyone,

    Have to say i find this artical a tad strange. Yes it looked like a penalty on Doyle but equally last week against Chelsea Agbonlahor was hauled down and no spot kick was given. These sorts of incidents are common so i'm not inclined to go along with the 'poor old Wolves' sentiments this article is trying to evoke. Truth is neither team did enough to win. Wolves fans will be pleased that their team did not collapse and the forward line looks like it could be useful. Villa fans can be content that despite the worst performance of the season they walked away from a local derby away from home with a point. Defence looking streets ahead of last years shambles. Agree with the points about Young and Carew looking off form but let's not go overboard. Young has been consistently brilliant for about two years and despite not reaching his potential so far this season he's weighed in with plenty of assists. Carew has only just returned to the side and will need a few more games to find his feet but nobody can deny this guy is quality. One goal to boost his confidence and he'll be back.

  • Comment number 20.


    You seemed to only make a 1/2 point about Wolves honesty, yes it should have been a penalty not matter if he didn't hit the deck, but you fail to take this to it's obvious conclusion, which is that because you are less likely to get a penalty if you don't hit the deck, that is why so many people do hit the deck, because they feel the have to to get a penalty, and that is not the fault of "foreign" players (as is often blamed), or a win-at all costs culture, it is because English refs don't know the rules of the game -witness last weeks beach-ball incident!

    There is a world of difference between going down when fouled, and going down when no contact is made, yet the media say both are "diving", If there is contact and the player goes down and rolls around a bit to get attention, that doesn't mean it's not a foul! No more than if the player stays on his feet means it's not a foul. The media could actually go a long way towards fixing this problem by correctly spotting the difference between the two.

    Many players are accused on a weekly basis of "hiting the deck" too easily on programs such as MOTD, but the moment someone stays on their feet they are "too honest for their own good"

    A dive is where a player goes down when no contact was made
    A foul is when contact (however slight is made) - Football is a non-contact sport.

    The rest is just media hype and their usual tendancy to try and drag players down.

    Maybe the media shoul stop moaning about our players, and start moaning about our refs, because the standards in England are poor, I don't expect them to get every decision right(they are only human), but on a weekly basis they demonstrate a lack of understanding of the rules of the game that is shocking, yet all the FA does is brings in rules to stop managers and players critising them, which is difficult with the pressure they are under from Fans and Media to perform when the ref just cost you the game!

  • Comment number 21.

    Hi Phil,

    Good Blog, I would have to agree, as a Wolves fan, that Villa were the better side in the second half and on the balance of chances, notably two poor misses from England striker Agbonlahor, were probably more deserving of three points if either team were. This is only reflected by another game changing moment where the officials have had a huge impact on the game, something as a football purist I don't like to see/read about.

    Mr Walton was having to work very hard to get into position to make a decision and I feel this meant he could not award the penalty, however the referee's assistant was in position to see the hold Dunne had on Doyle's arm as this would have been in plain view from his side of the pitch. If we once again have the situation was that his view was "blocked by another player," as was the case when Portsmouth got away with it at Molineux, it really will be time to assess how these very lucrative fixtures are officialled.

    Once our first choice team are all match fit I believe we will be a challenge for any team outside the top 6/7 and on our day can push the very top teams. To qualify this of course we must start taking the chances we create. So far this season we have seen much to encourage us in the way of endeavour and performance without the free-scoring results of last year's play. I know we are now playing in the most competitive league in the world, which brings with it a higher standard of competition, but I feel Mick McCarthy has added genuine quality to our eager young squad.

    As we face a tough run of fixtures, starting last weekend against Everton away, I hope we can continue to average around a point per game and then perhaps start winning a few more points with the home wins some of our play has warranted.

    Here's hoping

    Gew on me babbies

  • Comment number 22.

    disgraceful that doyle didnt get a penalty, absolutely disgraceful referreeing. want players to stop diving and cheating? give them a reason not to. why would anyone want to show integrity and honesty when they get sweet f.a. for it, when they can go to ground easily and possibly earn their team a valuable 3 points?

    anywhere else on the pitch and advantage would have been played and play brought back for a free kick, why cant the ref play advantage from the foul and then bring it back for a penalty following wolves' failure to gain anything?

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 24.

    I've seen two players dive tonight after being touched/hold lightly by a defender. First it was Kuyt when Vidic took a light hold of his arm. Vidic got a second yellow and was sent off. Then it was Carlton Cole who fell like a redwood tree being felled with a chainsaw when he felt a hand on his arm. The performance didn't get him an Oscar but a penalty.

    And then we have honest Keven Doyle who really was fouled and held so hard in his arm by Dunne that he lost his balance and couldn't get a shot at goal. It makes me very angry. But I also have to acknowledge the difficulties the referee is facing trying to decide in seconds if it was a dive or a real foul. But my advice to Kevin Doyle and everybody else in Wolves is. If you feel that you are fouled - go down!

    I think Wolves did a rather good match against Villa, but I would have wanted to see Jarvis in for half of the match and Kightly in the other half. Villa had to change from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1 to stop us dominating the midfield and the game. We should probably have done the same. But if the referee had made the right decision in the 3rd minute we would have won the match.

  • Comment number 25.

    Whatever a Wolves player does, it wont matter. The refs are the problem.

    When Keogh went down in the penalty area earlier in the season when he beautifully turned with the ball, he was genuinely tripped, and he got booked!

    Until the standard of officals improve or they have technological help, it will stay the same.

  • Comment number 26.

    the penalty claims by both sides were equally valid. if doyle had gone to ground more dramatically it might not have made any difference to the refs mind anyway.

    as for the villa we are clearly missing one thing - goals. just look at the stats. despite his defending, work rate & corner delivery i would seriously consider dropping ashley young or at least subbing him -his season has been awful so far. his bad form seems to be catching -in recent games millner has gone of the boil. & as for carew well he seems to be just strolling - no commiitment.
    i would also put reo coker in ahead of sidwell.

    mon must see the problem & hopefully in january he will buy a forward who can add to the goals for column.

    as for wolves & mccarthy they seem to be coping with the premiership so far but be wary of late season colapse.

  • Comment number 27.

    Sorry guys but I can't believe that I am the only one who saw the 'penalty' incident with Berra and Carew as a free kick to Wolves.

    If anyone looks at the angle from behind the goal that Sky showed it is quite clear that Carew has a great chunk of Berra's shirt and there is no way Berra could keep his feet if he wanted to.

    We all know on here, no matter who your team is, that shirt pulling etc. decisions in the box go to the defenders in the Prem so even if Berra made any contact with Carew, the shirt pulling by Carew is a free kick to Wolves.


  • Comment number 28.

    Great article here Phil.

    It seems that in the modern game, honesty doesnt seem to get you anywhere. It was a definite penalty, and sadly, the referee bottled the decision so early in the game. And if the official hadnt got a clear view of the incident, surely the linesman should have been able to see.

    When you are at the bottom of the table, the big decisions do seem to go against you most of the time. And when Wolves are playing at home, you tend to find a hell of a lot of decisions go against Wolves. Im 21 years old and have been a season ticket holder at Wolves for 13 years, and this is by far the best squad that Wolves have had. In our last Premier League season, we didnt compete until the last 10 games. This season, with the exception of the Portsmouth game, Wolves have competed.

    Two excellent results at Everton and at home against Villa should give us more confidence. If we are being picky, by being slightly more clinical, Wolves could have won both games, which would have been a fantastic achievement. As long as we continue to give a good account of ourselves and keep picking up valuable points, im sure Wolves will be fine this season.

    The next home game sees Arsenal come to Molineux. Bring it on!

  • Comment number 29.

    Too much money for honesty, and Doyle isn't bright enough I think to make use of his guile.

  • Comment number 30.

    "A dive is where a player goes down when no contact was made
    A foul is when contact (however slight is made) - Football is a non-contact sport.

    The rest is just media hype and their usual tendancy to try and drag players down."

    I agree with some of points made in laughing devil's post but not the above.

    The attitude that any contact equates to a foul is just nonsense and would make the game unplayable. The further idea that any contact, regardless of how slight, should be justification for a player to fall down in order to get a foul awarded is both annoying and laughable at the same time.

    It is about time people with responsibility in the game actually took some responsibility for how it is played and refereed. Too many managers turn a blind eye and even praise referees who have made a bad decision in their favour. If we really want competitions decided by who can fall down in the most realistic way to fool a referee then we're going the right way, particularly when authorities do nothing about it and high profile managers continually condone it. The technology is there to both catch the cheats and assist referees in making key decisions, it should be used.

    Personally, I'm not hugely fond of the press, but in the absence of any other sanction against cheats who continually blight the game, I'm all in favour of them continuing to ridicule and highlight these prima donnas regardless of who they play for.

    As for Wolves, we have been hard done by in a number of games by the crassness of some weak minded referees, regardless of the same old excuses that are rolled out. That's not whinging, that's fact.

  • Comment number 31.

    the ref was in the wrong position on the pitch to see the incident clearly, he should have been further over to the left hand side of the pitch away from his linesman, but that doesn't mean that the linesman shouldn't have given it. he had a clear view and it would have meant that richard dunne would have been sent off as last man. i think that wolves should send a video to the referee's association similar to that west brom did a few seasons ago highlighting the amount of definate penalty decisions they are being refused


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