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Dirty Wolves?: The Stats Agree, Their Manager Doesn’t… A Look at the Evidence

October 4, 2010

Wolverhampton Wanderers keep on insisting that they are not a dirty side. Manager Mick McCarthy expressly refuted such accusations recently, claiming ‘we’re not a dirty team,’ before rubbishing the unwanted tag: ‘it’s wrong, a whole pile of nonsense actually’. But when you look at the mounting evidence, it’s getting increasingly hard to agree with such claims. Their protestations might just be starting to wear thin.

Let us consider the facts. They are bottom of the Premier League’s Official Disciplinary Table and the Fair Play League, having received the joint most red cards and having garnered a clear lead in the yellow card count. The club was issued with £75,000 worth of fines following seven cautions whilst hosting Newcastle and six yellows (and a red) on their trip to Craven Cottage the following week. In matches played thus far, they have committed more fouls (totalling 107) than their opponents (93) in five of their seven games, and received more yellow cards on four occasions, with one match split at three cards each.

We should also consider the nature of a couple of these incidents. Against Newcastle, McCarthy’s side were widely criticised for their bruising approach to dealing with Joey Barton (youtube link). As the Beeb’s Dan Walker aptly summarised, Barton was ‘thoroughly crunched by Mick McCarthy’s men, especially Karl Henry’. Many pundits felt their approach was on the borders of acceptability.

There was also the unfortunate incident at the Cottage which resulted in a broken leg for Fulham’s Bobby Zamora. Now whilst many have excused Karl Henry for this challenge, citing his reputation as a gentleman and an honest – if competitive – footballer, we should note that although he commendably won the ball, it came in a scything tackle which involved taking the man as well, ultimately resulting in the break for Zamora (youtube link). This also came in a performance that saw Wolves commit almost twice as many fouls as their opponents (17-9).

And then we witnessed last weekend’s shocking and entirely reprehensible challenge from Henry on Wigan’s Jordi Gomez (youtube link). As manager McCarthy admitted, a red card was the right and only decision the referee could have made: ‘I have no arguments with the sending-off, it was reckless’. Maybe it is a coincidence that Henry has committed the fifth most fouls in the league this season, maybe not, but you wouldn’t have to be the sharpest tool in the box to draw a link between the two. It is perhaps rather telling that there was a [since removed for copyright violation] youtube compilation video of his endeavours thus far.

Most notably however, for many fans and pundits alike, the challenge has come to epitomise the way Wolves appear to be approaching games this season, which is obviously much to their dismay. The club has been voicing concerns over what they believe to be an undeserved reputation; however on-field incidents and consequential statistics do not give much credence to their position.

One such mitigating claim, pointing to an impressive disciplinary record last season, fails to hold up – Wolves were fourteenth in the Disciplinary Table, with only Birmingham, Stoke, Bolton, and Sunderland lower than them amongst all non-relegated sides. Loose defences of their on-field actions appear as misguided and feeble as Henry’s apparent surprise and dismay at being dismissed last weekend.

Mick McCarthy has every right to claim that his side are not dirty and do not commence games with the intention of committing fouls, or imposing themselves on their opponents in a reckless manner. I hope that as this season unfolds McCarthy is proved correct, and the club’s ever-mounting number of detractors are proved wrong. I, for one, would be reluctant to label a side as intentionally dirty, but when the dangerous challenges keep on occurring, and the foul and card counts keep on rising, it becomes increasingly difficult to defend the club, not least to give their protestations regarding such accusations the benefit of the doubt.

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