Most recently Chelsea were put to the sword, and Tottenham and Manchester United are the next targets. There was a time not so long ago when Wolves had to pull off shock results just to stay in the league.
Next Tuesday marks the tenth anniversary of a famous win against Liverpool at Anfield, Wolves’ first for 27 years and still, most recent in the Premier League. The man who masterminded that triumph, and three of the night’s key players, have taken a trip down Memory Lane.
“Pick up Jocky….who’s got Jocky….make sure you’re on Jocky.”
The final whistle is within reach at Anfield, and Wolves, a Stephen Ward goal to the good, are agonisingly close to a famous win.
They are bottom of the Premier League, and Liverpool, even at the time struggling under Roy Hodgson, are still one of English football’s most revered names.
Their team contains Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres for goodness sake, while Wolves have a young Danny Batth, still to make the first of his ultimately 195 club league appearances, Marcus Bent – who played five times for Wolves in total - and the legendary Geoffrey Mujangi Bia among their substitutes.
“Make sure we’re marking Jocky, boys.” The call goes up again.
Gerrard whips in an inswinging free kick. An entire line of Wolves shirts move forward with unerring and metronomic accuracy. Like the military on parade.
Martin Skrtel heads home. Anfield roars. But he is offside. Pretty much every outfield Liverpool player is offside. And the flag goes up.
Two minutes from time, and that was Liverpool’s final chance of the game. Wolves win 1-0.
“Ah, the famous Jocky call,” skipper for the night Kevin Foley recalled this week.
“Yeh that was quite a thing.
“We used to do that quite a bit under Mick, where he would say if we were coming under the cosh just before half time or towards the end of the match, we would play offside from a free kick.
“Someone, normally the skipper, would ask who is picking up Jocky, and usually everyone would know exactly what that meant.
“The worry though was always, and bear in mind here we are a goal up at Anfield with two minutes left, that maybe one or two of the lads might not have a clue what was going on!
“You are looking at them, and thinking ‘are they sure? Do they know what they are supposed to be doing’?
“Last thing you want is one person staying in and playing everyone onside but thank goodness it worked, the goal was disallowed and we won the game.”
Manager Mick McCarthy himself insists he was cool as a cucumber on the Anfield touchline. Almost.
“We often worked on everyone stepping up and pushing out to catch them offside, and it worked a treat,” he recalls.
“Just before the free kick was taken every single one of our lads was like, ‘whoosh, up the pitch’, and all the Liverpool lads were caught about ten yards offside and it was brilliant.
“I was never even concerned it was a goal, well maybe I was a little bit anxious because the ball had ended up in the back of our net.
“But the flag was up, and that moment probably gave me nearly – nearly – as much pleasure as Wardy’s goal!
“Let’s be honest, some footballers aren’t the most intelligent, and I say that having been a player myself!
“So you did often wonder if everyone had got the Jocky call.
“But we caught them all, and it was great, and helped give me one of the sweeter nights of my time at Wolves.”
Setting the scene for this special game, screened to a live audience on Sky television, Wolves had, on Boxing Day three days earlier, squandered a great opportunity to escape the Premier League’s bottom three by losing 2-1 at home to fellow strugglers Wigan Athletic.
“We committed hari-kari on two occasions,” McCarthy said at the time.
Next stop Anfield. Where Wolves hadn’t won since Steve Mardenborough ‘shouldered’ the only goal of his Molineux career in conquering the reigning European champions back in 1984.
“Do you know what though?” says Irish international Stephen Ward.
“It probably wasn’t the worst game we could have had.
“We had just lost a big six-pointer, but everyone was quite calm, and I have felt throughout my career that sometimes playing against one of the really big teams is better after such a disappointment.
“There was more pressure on them, and also maybe an acceptance from the outside that we wouldn’t be able to get a result.
“I remember reading that stat about Wolves not having won there for so long, but we were just focused on putting in a performance that we could build on moving forward.”
McCarthy, however, had a plan.
From time to time he would go 4-5-1 in a bid to stifle more fancied opposition, but as he recalls, it didn’t work too often.
“I remember changing it when we went to Man City and they had Tevez and Adebayor up top,” says the former boss.
“Micah Richards ended up running the show for them from the back, we were 1-0 down at half time and it could have been six.
“We went to 4-4-2 at half time and ended up almost getting something out of the game, and more often than not I did want us to try and press teams, match them up and get on the attack if we could.
“And that is what we went with against Liverpool that night.”
“Mick pulled me the day before the game and told me I would be playing up front,” adds Ward, who had arrived at Wolves as a striker/winger and been converted to the left back position where he went on to feature for the Republic of Ireland.
“He wanted me to play off Sylvan (Ebanks-Blake), get around the pitch and make it difficult for them and drop in as number 10 when we didn’t have the ball to get around their holding midfielder.
“I think it was more of a nuisance role, closing down from the front, trying to bring other people into play and causing as much carnage as I could.”
That carnage would follow.
Foley, meanwhile, was skipper for the night, during a run with the armband due to injury to normal incumbent Karl Henry.
Being named captain showed how football’s fortunes can fluctuate so quickly, as the decision came days after Foley was given the hook in the 29th minute of a defeat at Blackpool after finding it difficult to handle the aerial threat of Luke Varney.
“During the week after that game Mick spoke to me and apologised and said maybe he shouldn’t have taken me off so early,” Foley recalls.
“I just said that was how it was, I kind of felt it was coming as we had been working on their approach all week and they scored in the third minute!
“Mick then told me that I was definitely going to be playing in the next game, and that if Karl was injured I would be skipper.
“All of a sudden I have gone from a really ‘down’ situation to being skipper for the first time, in a Premier League game, and then I went and scored against Sunderland as well!
“I didn’t really know how to celebrate mind you, and just went with one arm in the air, the ‘Niall Quinn’ I think they called it.”
One of the duties of being captain, which saw Foley opposite Gerrard for this trip to Anfield, is to visit the referee’s room with a managerial representative and opposition equivalents to exchange teamsheets pre-match.
“Most clubs would send their assistants but Mick would always do it for Wolves, and for the games I was captain you could see how even top players like Gerrard and John Terry had a lot of respect for him,” says Foley.
“Mick always had that aura about him.”
Talking of an aura, Anfield also carried special significance for all those giving their Wolves memories, still “revered” as one of football’s iconic venues.
“I was so proud to be captain and to lead the team out although I didn’t tap the famous Anfield sign,” says Foley.
“I was playing for Wolves after all, as well as being a Manchester United fan, as most people are from the South East!”
“It’s one of those revered places in football,” says McCarthy, whose wife Fiona is a Liverpool fan.
“Just going there was special, although I never had much joy there, and remember as a player having to come up against the likes of Rush and Dalglish which was always a challenge.”
Ward, like Foley a boyhood Manchester United fan, still describes Anfield as: “one of the most special places I have ever played football.”
And Richard Stearman, a centre back that night which completes the ‘spine’ of the outfield players offering their recollections, concurs.
“I have been fortunate to play in so many games and sometimes you forget all the details but I don’t forget that trip to Anfield,” says the versatile defender.
“Anfield is a special place anyway, but a night game under the lights takes it up a notch.
“I remember being so inspired going into that game that it was incredible, and I was desperate to take the opportunity to play well on such a big stage.
“Another thing I always remember at Anfield is the stadium announcer as well!
“He has such a distinctive voice that I had heard on Match of the Day, and that was always something I remembered when playing at Liverpool.”
McCarthy’s plan, along with the 4-4-2 formation dropping into 4-5-1 out of possession, also centred around each player keeping a close eye on their opposition counterpart and aiming to come out on top of their personal battles.
For Foley, lining up in central midfield alongside Nenad Milijas, that opponent was Gerrard.
And for Stearman? Spanish scoring sensation Fernando Torres.
“I don’t know why it was but I always seem to play better against better opposition - maybe it just inspires me or I enjoy proving people wrong,” he says.
“I want to do well on the biggest stage and marking Fernando Torres at Anfield…it doesn’t get much bigger than that!
“Early on in the game, I went in for a crunching 50-50 with him and won the ball and left him lying on the floor so I think something hurt him – he did get up in the end.
“I always seemed to have a good tear-up with Torres, we had a good scuffle together to the point where I don’t think he particularly liked me!”
On then to the game itself, and the first half, after Torres had got up, went well for Wolves.
Away at one of the big clubs, keeping things tight and staying in the game is always paramount, and an early Wayne Hennessey save from Raul Meireles, and Christophe Berra block to deny David Ngog, maintained parity as Wolves went in at the break.
Wolves had enjoyed some half chances too, notably from Stephen Hunt and Ebanks-Blake.
“We started well in the game, and once you get through 15 minutes and feel you are right in it then confidence naturally grows,” says Ward.
“Against those big teams you don’t want to go and get embarrassed which can sometimes happen at a club like Liverpool, and after Wigan we were desperate to put on a performance and show we had the stomach for the fight.
“And I remember, it certainly wasn’t backs to the wall or a dominant Liverpool performance – we were right in the game and Sylvan had a couple of half chances in that first half.”
“We were so well prepared,” Foley explains.
“With the way Mick had set up, everyone knew exactly what they were doing and how to set about winning their personal battles.
“At that time Gerrard often went and picked the ball up really deep, often from the goalkeeper, before hitting some brilliant ‘diags’, and so Mick told me to stay right on his toes and not let him dictate.
“George (Elokobi) and Zubey (Ronald Zubar) at full backs needed to be aggressive, to stop them getting crosses in the box, and everyone was just right at it and not letting them play.
“We managed to stifle them, and we also had a fair bit of possession, and when you get that at the big teams you have to enjoy it.
“I loved that, playing against Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Man City, you go to play the top teams on great pitches at great stadiums – I mean what is the worst that can happen?!”
Plenty probably. But not on this occasion. Not this time.
And it was on 56 minutes that THE moment arrived. Ward’s redemption. Revenge served up cold on a freezing night at the end of 2010.
So this is where we need to remember a spot of context.
The previous season, on Boxing Day infact so just days over a calendar year before, Wolves had lost 2-0 at Liverpool.
But with the game goalless shortly after half time, Ward had been sent off for a second bookable offence.
Trouble is, referee Andre Marriner had initially booked Christophe Berra for the foul which Ward had committed, until the case of mistaken identity was raised by a number of Liverpool players, including goalkeeper Pepe Reina, who had run the length of the pitch.
Marriner would later tell Ward that he had planned to book Berra for persistent fouling, but with being unable to reverse the decision despite his mistake, had no choice but to brandish a second yellow and then, the red.
It was even very close to the precise minute, 12 months on, that a delightful first time pass from Ebanks-Blake sent Ward away on goal – and Reina was charging out. Funny old game.
“When you get a chance like that you don’t have much time to think and it’s often just on instinct,” Ward recalls.
“Reina was coming out quickly and I knew there wasn’t enough time to get a proper stance and plant my foot to get a strike on the ball.
“It was about getting there as quickly as I could when there was still enough space to slip it past him and I knew with the angle it had to be with the outside of my left foot.
“I got a touch, it went through his legs as he tried to save it, and that gave me a moment of my career I will never forget.”
So Wardy, did it feel even that little bit extra special? Given what had happened before? Scoring past that particular goalkeeper?
A moment’s pause.
“Well he did run about 60 yards to get me sent off,” comes the reply.
“And for someone to run that far to make sure I was off, especially for a team like Liverpool playing against Wolves, maybe it did make it that little bit sweeter…”
Ward’s voice tails off.
“Do you know what though? At the time revenge really wasn’t on my mind.
“Things happen on the pitch, and he is an unbelievable goalkeeper and I know some of the lads at Villa who say what a top professional he is.
“He wanted Liverpool to win the game, and was doing whatever he could towards that, so for me it doesn’t really matter.
“It was more about me enjoying a better game at Anfield than the previous year, staying on the pitch for 90 minutes for a start, but getting that goal made it such a perfect return.”
“Poetic justice,” is the ever concise McCarthy verdict.
“Wardy had been sent off the year before and he really shouldn’t have been.”
On the pitch the celebrations were underway.
Stearman flying over to get involved, Foley too, although not sure his description of what was said during the joyful melee is particularly accurate.
“It was probably something like, ‘blimey lads we’re 1-0 up here, at Anfield, what’s going on’?
“’And what were you doing up there Wardy?!”
What a moment. Fitting in particular for the main protagonist, even if he is still remaining typically diplomatic a decade on.
“Playing up front at Liverpool at a time when he had been converted to a left back, and scoring the winning goal, just sums Wardy up,” says Foley.
“We all knew at Wolves he had the potential to finish chances from his time as a striker, and I had played with him for the Republic of Ireland Under-21s when he played up top.
“He has the physical attributes to be able to run all day, and was always going to work hard, and it was fantastic for him to get that moment at Anfield.”
As the game continued, Foley was agonisingly close to adding his own name to the scoresheet as full time loomed into view.
Wolves were hardly being put under the cosh, and were still getting forward, and the skipper was denied only by a last ditch block from Glen Johnson.
“The ball just popped up out of a melee and fell to me about six to eight yards out,” Foley recalls.
“I got a nice connection on it and as soon as I hit it I thought, ‘this is gonna be good, scoring at Anfield to make it 2-0’.
“Then all of a sudden Glen Johnson came in from nowhere and blocked it and I was like, ‘you rascal’!
“It wasn’t to be, which was a shame, as I loved scoring goals.
“The readers might not believe this, but as a kid I used to play as a number nine in junior football back in Luton and would bang the goals in for fun.
“Then the older you get the more you start getting pushed back, into midfield, and then full back, ‘to a Gary Neville’ as Jamie Carragher would say.
“Even the very last goal I scored for Wolves, in League One against Swindon, I got such a buzz out of it.”
It wasn’t to be for Foley, although he still had one more decisive part to play, certainly as far as Stearman was concerned anyway!
“I remember towards the end of the game I was really cramping up and the ball came to me on the edge of our box,” says Foley.
“I half volleyed it as hard as I could and it went out of play close to their corner flag.
“If it was rugby union then the commentators would have gone wild as it was such an accurate kick for a lineout.
“And as I talk now, I can still hear Stears, just after I had done it.
“’Foles – THAT IS UNBELIEVABLE’!
“It bought us another 30 seconds, and was probably one of the best things I did all game!”
Not long afterwards the shrill of the full time whistle brought an end to a famous Wolves performance, and a precious three points.
Stearman isn’t a huge advocate of swapping shirts after games but when finding himself in the vicinity of Gerrard as they left the pitch he was delighted to make an exception.
“I have always been starstruck of a few players, and Steven Gerrard is one, and while it wasn’t planned I just thought I would ask him.
“Having lost the game and been really disappointed he could easily have dismissed this young guy from Wolverhampton but he handed it over which I thought was a touch of class from him.”
Even McCarthy, a stickler for never getting carried away, afforded his team the opportunity to savour this particular performance.
“Listen, I am sure we were back to work the next day, especially with all the games at Christmas, but you have to enjoy it,” he says.
“If you can’t enjoy winning away at Anfield then there is something very wrong with you!”
“We were buzzing,” Ward, the matchwinner, recalls.
“We were in the second year after being promoted, all still trying to make our way in Premier League football, and to go and win at Anfield was unbelievable.
“We enjoyed the moment, we enjoyed the bus journey home and we enjoyed how happy it had made the fans.
“For me, my phone never stopped with calls and text messages.
“To score against Liverpool, especially a winner at Anfield, is such a special moment and my Dad and Father-in-law were both at the game.
“My Mum’s side of the family are all Liverpool fans but I think they had their Wolves hats on watching back at home that night!
“The best thing about it was that the points actually went on to mean something given we stayed in the division on the final day due only to goal difference.
“Have I shown the goal to my children? Yes, especially my lad who is really into football, and his cousins, who support Liverpool.
“I have actually even shown a couple of the young lads where I am at Ipswich now who weren’t aware but had heard about it – telling them I was once a half decent player back in the day!
“It has to be right up there in my top three or four moments in football, even alongside some other big wins and playing for Ireland at major tournaments.
“When people ask me my best memory from Wolves, it would be that alongside the game against QPR when we got promoted to the Premier League.
“The elation in the dressing room that day was unbelievable.”
The victory against Liverpool was a giant-killing to be repeated on several other occasions that season, with Wolves, having already toppled Manchester City, also defeating reigning champions Chelsea and their successors that season – in doing so ending the season-long unbeaten run – of Manchester United.
“We were all so desperate to progress and achieve and go as far as we could in our careers and the team spirit we had helped us produce results like that,” adds Stearman.
“We kept a lot of the players from the Championship promotion, which helped with that togetherness and when we were struggling, we managed to pull out a result or a performance.
“I think it also showed how respected Mick was by the players and how much the lads believed in him and the staff for the trust and faith he had in us as a squad.”
Repeatedly beating the big boys whilst bottom of the table would indeed prove pivotal as Wolves’ just about survived in the Premier League that season, despite last day drama and defeat to Blackburn.
“We had some quality players, quality in terms of their football quality and quality people as well,” McCarthy recalls.
“It was such a good time, fabulous, managing to stay up, at least for two-and-a-half years or so in my case!
“I always look back and analyse what happened and in the first year we stayed up pretty much with the same players who had got us promoted, plus Doyler (Kevin Doyle).
“As things moved on, we signed some players who were good players and workaholics like everyone else, but others who weren’t.
“We were trying to progress, and bring in what we thought were better footballers, but we never did any better in doing that, and then in some strange way weakened that team spirit which had been such a strength.
“David Jones was one who moved on, and I have spoken to Jonah since and apologised because we never improved it after he left.
“We brought in players like Nenad (Milijas) who was used to Red Star Belgrade having 65 per cent of the ball – and he was wonderful in that – but at Wolves it was the other way around.
“Those decisions as we tried to progress ended up getting me the sack of course which is what happens – we just weren’t as good as we had been.
“But I loved my time at Wolves, and I was sad that it ended the way that it did.
“Those sort of results showed what we did have, even down to the last day when we were 3-0 down at Blackburn and it was completely improbable that we would stay up and we got a couple of goals and we did.
“And the memories of those sort of games are special now when I look back, winning at Liverpool, beating Manchester United after losing at Bolton in the 94th minute thanks to a mistake a few days before – games I will always remember.”
Remarkably of course, Wolves would go on and win again at Anfield back in 2017, this time in the FA Cup.
The 18 that day contained only three of the same names as in 2010 – Stearman, Batth and Dave Edwards.
And Stearman, memorably, headed home the first goal in the 2-1 victory with just 53 seconds on the clock.
“I seem to have a good time at Anfield don’t I?” says the man himself.
“That was such a big goal for me not just in the game, but because it was in my second spell at Wolves and felt so important to score again in the shirt.
“The season hadn’t been going brilliantly for me, so to rubber-stamp my return with a goal, and to share it with the Wolves fans and my family in the stand, was a career highlight I will never forget.
“Those two games at Anfield will also live with me forever in terms of what they meant for me, and for the club – good times and great memories.”
Good times and great memories indeed of the time when Wolves were “coupon busters”, in Stearman’s words, particularly a decade ago next week.
All thanks to a glorious moment of retribution at one end of the pitch, and a shout of ‘Jocky’ at the other.