O’Hara IS the Messiah (for Wolves at least…)
Relegation: every football fans’ worst nightmare. And in the Premier League this season, there will be plenty of supporters having sleepless nights up and down the country. Just three points separate the bottom eight clubs as it stands. Bite those nails and pray to your Gods – it’s a proverbial lottery as to who might go down.
Of late however, two sides embroiled in this scrap have done their best to abate their weary fans’ worst fears. Wolves and West Ham currently lie fourth and fifth in the form table [click image to englarge] having started to pick up points at just the right time. For the Hammers, Scott Parker’s attempt to single-handedly keep his side in the English top flight has been aided by the return to fitness of Thomas Hitzlsperger and four goals in four starts from Demba Ba, whilst up in Wolverhampton it has been the January acquisition of Jamie O’Hara that has caught the eye most prominently, as the Spurs loanee seeks to help give Wolves a third consecutive season in the Premier League.
Wolves were propping up the league table prior to O’Hara’s first start for the club, having garnered just 21 points from the opening 24 games, with fans and pundits alike getting itchy feet over their survival prospects. However, since that first start, results for Mick McCarthy’s side have improved considerably.
His arrival was to pay an immediate dividend, his first start coming in the unexpected 2-1 triumph over then league-leaders Manchester United. Since then, they have recorded victories over Blackpool and Aston Villa, and draws against West Brom and Spurs, with the only defeat being a 0-2 loss away to Arsenal. With three wins and a draw from the five games O’Hara has featured from the beginning in, Wolves have picked up two points-per-game compared to just 0.88/ppg prior to his arrival – a positive impact if ever there was one.
As for why Wolves have earned such improving results, it is a simple matter of scoring more goals and conceding fewer. In the five games O’Hara has started, Wolves have scored 1.6 goals-per-game and conceded a meagre 0.8/gpg, compared to scoring just 1.0/gpg and leaking 1.75/gpg as they had done prior to his arrival. However, by virtue of his great engine and natural talents, it has been O’Hara’s presence in the Wolves midfield that has enabled this upturn in goal output and improvement in defensive solidity.
No longer stifled by the lack of opportunity at parent club Spurs, his natural talents have come to the fore at Wolves (just as they did at Portsmouth last season) over the last couple of months. His willingness to get on the ball and quality and composure once in possession has given Wolves a controlling presence in the middle of the park, and consequently started to bring the best out of more attack-minded team-mates such as Nenad Milijaš, Matt Jarvis and Adam Hammill. Furthermore, his ground-covering ability and hunger for the ball means he complements the less defensively-inclined members of his side and is able to seamlessly link attack and defence (and flank-to-flank) for Wolves.
Whilst he was modestly described as ‘impressive in midfield’ whilst defeating United, it was against West Brom where his benefit to Wolves began to shine through. O’Hara controlled the game and ‘helped tilt the balance of power in favour of visitors’ as he scored a goal and earned the man of the match award, allowing Wolves to out-pass hosts West Brom (a side known for their passing game) in what looked like being a win but for a late Carlos Vela equaliser.
Six days later and he was at it again, this time to devastating effect. McCarthy’s charges comfortable saw off Blackpool 4-0 at Molineux, O’Hara’s presence helping Wolves to four goals and to astonishingly attempting over six hundred passes throughout the game. O’Hara dictated terms against a Charlie Adam-less Seasiders outfit, bagging a goal and completing 69 of 87 attempted passes, numbers comparable to the weekly output of instrumental midfielders such as the afore-mentioned Adam, Fulham’s Danny Murphy and Arsenal’s Cesc Fàbregas. It was O’Hara’s seamless linking of attack and defence mixed with control and composure when on the ball that allowed the Guardian’s Joe Lovejoy to call O’Hara ‘the classiest player on view.’ An apt description if ever there was one.
Wolves took their new-found optimism into the clash with Spurs and, despite being without the ineligible O’Hara, resolutely bagged a late equaliser in a 3-3 draw. This weekend just past, with O’Hara returned to the midfield, Wolves chalked up another impressive win, this time against Aston Villa. O’Hara was once again the game’s controlling presence, the Spurs loanee undoubtedly influential in the positive result Wolves earned.
As manager Mick McCarthy remarked after O’Hara’s sterling performance against Blackpool in February: ‘his attitude and his quality have been terrific for us.’ It is a fine combination O’Hara offers, bringing an enthusiasm to play as well as much-needed quality to the Wolves side – both vital in the midst of an otherwise-depressing relegation battle. The good news for Wolves fans is that he ‘still think[s] there is more to come.’
For a player that has so often struggled to get a game at Spurs, O’Hara has performed wonders for both Wolves (over the last two months) and Portsmouth (last season), where he was Pompey’s ‘star performer despite their relegation.’ At least with Wolves this season he appears to be amongst a better calibre of teammate: ‘We’ve got a better squad here than at Portsmouth. The team is better. We play better football. We create a lot more chances.’ As a consequence he is considerably more optimistic of securing survival: ‘I think we have a good chance of staying up […] If we stick together as a team and squad there’s no reason why we should stay down there.’
Whether Wolves can keep hold of O’Hara beyond this season is unknown, but with talented Spurs loanee in the side for the run-in there is a mighty fine chance that they will at least be able to offer him Premier League football next season. After all, that’s exactly what he looks like offering them…