(Image via skysports.com)
As Wolves suffer another early exit out of a cup competition, Tom Tracey looks at why Wolves seems to fail at progression in knockout tournaments.
Following this week’s defeat in the FA Cup Third Round Replay to Fulham on penalties, Wolves will now have not won an FA Cup game since 2011, making it five years since we last took our place in the FA Cup Fourth Round Draw. When it comes to knockout competition for Wolves, we have largely struggled to have any impact in recent years save that day in Cardiff in 2003.
There is debate amongst fans as to whether any focus should be placed on the cups or whether we should save our best players for the league matches. But when these matches come around you want Wolves to win regardless of whether we are playing Manchester United at home or Grimsby Town away. But nonetheless, we just can’t seem to cut it.
To be fair to Wolves, the 3-3 game against Fulham was a proper FA Cup game with goals, snow, a penalty shootout but which was rightly overcast by the death of the legend, Sir Jack Hayward. Playing Sunday afternoon and then Tuesday evening using a fair number of the same players must surely have some impact on fatigue but they ground out 120 minutes, surviving for all but the additional minutes at the end of extra time.
Since 2000, we have played in ten penalty shootouts and won three of them. A rate that is better than England’s but still certainly nothing to shout about. This proves that when the final whistle blows at the end of extra time with scores level, Wolves fans are largely doubtful that they will come away with a win. Whilst we have improved in recent years, winning the last three before the last two defeats (including this week’s), I like many Wolves fans expected Fulham to progress.
So why don’t Wolves succeed in the cups? Starting this year and going back, we have gone out in the FA Cup Third Round (2015), First Round (2014), Third Round (2013), Third Round (2012), Fourth Round (2011), Fourth Round (2010), Fourth Round (2009). You have to go back to 2008 where we went out in the Fifth Round where we made any decent progress. 1998, where we lost 1-0 to Arsenal at Villa Park was the last time we came anywhere near as we reached the Semi-Final. Similarly, we have made little ground in the League Cup save the Fourth Round (2003, 2010, 2011).
Whether form plays a part in these games is always questioned by fans as it often seems like it goes out the window when it comes to cup matches. Look at Wigan in 2013, becoming the first team to win the FA Cup and experience relegation in the same season.
The penalty loss to Fulham comes at a time when we are unbeaten for over a month, whilst last season’s First Round defeat came at a time when we were unbeaten in eleven league matches. The year before that, a loss at Luton which led to the unseating of Solbakken came on a poor run of league form. The 2008/09 Championship winning season saw us lose to Middlesbrough when we were on our bad patch of form. Form has no bearing – we can’t seem to win whatever we are doing in the league.
Wolves are long overdue a good cup run, the silver lining to last season’s League One campaign was that there was a good chance of going to Wembley in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy (again, never materialising).
A slice of luck and feeling the magic of the cup must surely be just around the corner for Wolves. In a year’s time anyway!