Wolves deserve fair treatment
Some are labelling Wolves as the Premier League's new bad boys, and Karl Henry the new devil incarnate - but TEAMtalk's Mark Holmes disagrees. On Saturday, Wolves played their 42nd game back in the top-flight after successfully avoiding the drop last season. Going into the 41st against Newcastle, there was no negative perception of them or their style of play - yet now, 180 minutes of football later, Wolves find themselves under heavy criticism, with their captain Karl Henry no longer labelled a footballer but a thug. I was at Wolves' first game of the season, at home to Stoke, and saw Kenwyne Jones stretchered off after a hefty challenge from Jody Craddock. I was initially upset about the tackle, but Craddock did win the ball and was absolved of blame by Tony Pulis. The next weekend, Wolves went to Everton and drew 1-1 thanks to an equaliser which saw Adlene Guedioura poleaxe John Heitinga in the build-up to Sylvan Ebanks-Blake's strike. David Moyes refused to criticise Guedioura for his challenge but there were some murmurs of discontent from the Everton fans, who felt Wolves adopted spoiling tactics at Goodison. Still, there was no overall negative perception of Mick McCarthy's side going into their third game, at home to Newcastle. Wolves were outmuscled and outplayed in the early stages of that game but eventually they began to match the Magpies in the tackle and played their part in what was an old-fashioned 'blood-and-thunder' affair. Neither side shirked the battle but one player that came in for particular heavy treatment was Joey Barton, who was clearly targeted by Wolves as a player they needed to stop. Newcastle boss Chris Hughton described the treatment of Barton as "part and parcel of the game", but the turning point in how Wolves are viewed came later that evening when Match of the Day decided to show a montage of Henry's challenges on Barton. And from that moment on, thousands of football fans that saw only those highlights and not the full game were quick to flood the TEAMtalk Your Say pages in apoplectic rage. They claimed that Wolves were now a bona fide team of cloggers, with Henry - harshly sent off against Arsenal last season - the leader of their snarling pack. Henry made a staunch defence of his style in the build-up to the fourth game of the season at Fulham but disaster struck at Craven Cottage as Bobby Zamora broke his leg following a tackle from the Wolves skipper. I was watching the game live at TEAMtalk Towers and realised instantly that Henry was not to blame, but we were soon receiving Your Say messages claiming it was 'no surprise' Henry and Wolves were involved in this sort of incident. I doubt there would have been the same reaction had an Arsenal, West Ham or in fact Fulham player caused such an injury, but Wolves fans will have quickly realised in the last week that it is hard to shift a tag once you have been handed it. It was not all that long ago that Wimbledon were revered by the press for the way they went about beating the big boys, but Bolton, Blackburn, Stoke and now Wolves are football's equivalent of a mouthy Northerner turning up at a Kensington party, baring their backside and vomiting in the corner. The Black Country outfit will soon find themselves as popular as haemorrhoids in Fleet Street and unfortunately that small group of journalists are able to influence the opinions of millions. I just hope for Wolves and Henry's sake they are given a fair crack of the whip. Mark Hughes certainly helped matters, by following Hughton's lead in labelling Wolves' approach "part and parcel" of the game, but there are actually very few managers or players that have a problem with the way Wolves and the other 'naughty Northerners' play. That is why supporters of other clubs must listen to the words of Pulis, Moyes, Hughton and Hughes and ignore the ramblings of those with an agenda or wanting to sensationalise. In fairness, Wolves were pretty cynical at Craven Cottage and there was certainly an evidence of 'anti-football' in that they were happy to give away fouls in midfield to stop Fulham in their tracks. That clearly frustrated the home supporters and understandably so but, like it or not, it has always been a part of the game and something that all the top clubs do. Darren Fletcher was accused of it last season and in Nemanja Vidic and John Terry, you have two of the league's most cynical defenders. I sincerely hope nobody with a spoiler in their team would be hypocritical enough to lambast Wolves for what they did at Fulham. The Black Country outfit are physical and fully committed and their manager is clearly canny enough to know when to bring out the less glamorous tactics. However, rather than criticise McCarthy, we should applaud him for the fine job he did last season and welcome another side in the Premier League that will bring competiveness and not roll over against the big sides. As for Henry, I urge you to ignore the nonsense about him being a 'thug'. He is a player that typifies the attitude of Wolves but is certainly not malicious. He is in no way deserving of the criticism that has come his way in the last few weeks. Neither he nor Wolves will change their style, and I fear for the day their commitment and physicality is outlawed in the Premier League.
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