Wolves' plight exposes 'patchwork' Connor choice
The silence was so deafening you could hear Wolves drop. No real dissent from the Molineux stands, simply the ominous echo of resignation and now surely relegation.
Wolves caretaker manager Terry Connor was conceding nothing after the morale-crushing 3-2 loss to fellow strugglers Bolton that left them six points adrift at the bottom of the Premier League.
Connor, with one point from 18 since succeeding sacked Mick McCarthy, would be foolish to say anything else but an eighth successive home defeat in league and cup suggests the search for hope of survival would be a fruitless one.
Even McCarthy himself, using the Wolves "we" and free from the demands for defiance and denial that comes with management, admitted before kick-off: "If we don't beat Bolton I'd be very surprised if we can stay up. It's a 'must win' game for me."
Since succeeding Mick McCarthy, Terry Connor has one point from a possible 18, but insists Wolves can still stay up. Photo: Press Association
And the "must win" game was lost while QPR and Wigan were also winning. Wolves may be able to tell a genuine hard luck story about this game - but it is a story they will tell walking towards the Championship.
Michael Kightly's goal gave Wolves the lead their vibrant performance, lacking only cutting edge, deserved. But the defining moment of this game came just after the hour when referee Jon Moss ruled that Mark Davies had been fouled by Wolves captain Roger Johnson in the area.
Wolves and Molineux argued the point of this borderline decision long and loud although Bolton insisted it was correct - but the grim evidence of a side heading down came after Martin Petrov equalised from the spot.
Wafer-thin confidence crumbled and a lack of resilience was brutally exposed as Bolton added further goals from Marcos Alonso and Kevin Davies. It would be an insult to Wolves to describe Matt Jarvis's late strike as a consolation goal.
There was no consolation here, not after an excellent first hour was turned into the stuff of nightmares once Petrov - who sported a "Be Strong Stan" T-shirt supporting Stiliyan Petrov after his fellow Bulgarian was diagnosed with leukaemia - gave Bolton a leveller they did not deserve.
Wolves visibly wilted and the journey towards the drop that has accelerated since the sacking of McCarthy, a decision by chairman Steve Morgan that was supposed to increase their chances of survival, gathered greater momentum.
It would be a hard heart that did not feel sympathy for Connor as he looked genuinely shattered by the result in his post-match briefing, but his very presence was a symptom of the flaw in the Wolves hierarchy's plan once they sacked McCarthy.
Whether McCarthy deserved his dismissal or not - and many Wolves fans felt his final 5-1 humiliation at home to West Bromwich Albion was a result that had sacking stamped straight through it - there was a fatal failing in Morgan's strategy.
McCarthy left without a successor in place, without a fresh face with fresh ideas who could have breathed fresh life into Wolves' squad and their season waiting in the wings. The patchwork appointment of his right-hand-man, part of the management team deemed not good enough by Morgan, has not worked.
So, despite the best efforts of a man renowned as a fine coach, it now appears supporters who will gather in the new stand rising at one end of Molineux will be taking their seats in English football's second tier next season.
Such are the margins of football that if Steven Fletcher had not hit the bar with a header or seen another effort cleared off the line, or if referee Moss had ruled differently, then Wolves may have been in a difficult but not impossible position with seven games left.
But the quiet that swept around Molineux as the final whistle sounded suggested the inevitable had been accepted. It would be a work of miraculous proportions for Connor to get Wolves out of this.
His players gave him so much, but their fragility betrayed them once Bolton were on terms and Owen Coyle's side sensed it just as much as the rest of Molineux.
Connor also had to explain away a first half spat between captain Johnson and goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey which saw the pair lock foreheads, point fingers and exchange words before the smaller figure of Kightly intervened and referee Moss eventually restored order.
The confrontation was painted as a show of passion and commitment by Connor as he brought out the party line. What may have been more telling was the reaction of the Molineux crowd, instantly and vociferously chanting their support for Hennessey.
Johnson has been a failure since his £7m arrival from Birmingham City in the summer, a showpiece signing by McCarthy on the back of his fine efforts further down the M6 who has singularly failed to capture the imagination of the fans.
The captain looks frayed at the edges, both in his approach and his game, going to ground too easily too often and giving off an agitated rather than calming air. Not the body language of the leader Wolves require in this situation.
Connor may be right and Wolves may somehow get out of this situation. Reality will surely dictate otherwise and Molineux's silence at the conclusion of this game suggests Wolves fans know it too - and maybe they just did not have the heart to tell him.