LONDON: It was only intended as a throwaway remark but a joke by Wolves boss Dave Jones this week about his efforts to sign new players provided the perfect illustration of the gulf between the top and bottom in the English Premier League.
Jones, whose relegation-haunted side entertain Manchester United at Molineux today, revealed that he regularly asked United boss Alex Ferguson about the availability of players currently outside the first team at Old Trafford.
“I say ‘'if I don’t ask Sir Alex, I’ll never get to know’,” Jones said. “And what he says are two words, which start with F and O.”
Wolves fans would be delighted to see their side send Ferguson and his team back to Manchester today having delivered an equally robust message on the pitch.
But most of them will find it hard to share the optimism of defender Jody Craddock as Wolves prepare to run a potentially fatal gauntlet of matches in which their next three opponents at home will be United, Liverpool and Arsenal.
Craddock believes Wolves can take heart from their performance at Old Trafford back in August, when the Premier League newcomers were, by common consent, unfortunate to lose 1-0.
“We went there with everyone saying we were in for a hammering but I think we showed how Wolves can play,” Craddock said.
“When you look at the next three home league fixtures it’s a daunting task but at the same time games like these are why we are all fighting to stay in this division.”
Wolves will also have been encouraged by the sight of United coming off the boil in Sunday’s 0-0 draw at home to Newcastle, a result which ended a run of eight straight wins for Ferguson’s side.
Newcastle successfully knocked United out of their stride with a high-tempo pressing game which Wolves are sure to try and replicate, albeit with inferior playing resources.
Today’s trip to Molineux will be United defender Rio Ferdinand’s last professional outing for eight months if, as most pundits now expect, the club decide not to appeal against his ban for missing a doping test in September.
The appeal deadline expires on Monday and United must decide before then whether to risk a move which could lead to Ferdinand’s ban being increased.
Monday is also the deadline for debt-ridden Leeds to reach a new agreement with their creditors to avoid being put into administration.
With a hoped-for takeover yet to materialise, discussions on a deferral of players’ wages under way and the club mired in the relegation zone, the background to today’s trip to Southampton could hardly be worse.
Eddie Gray’s squad are expected to be without key striker Mark Viduka, who flew home to Australia last weekend to be with his seriously ill father.
In today’s other matches, England number one goalkeeper David James will make his debut for Manchester City at home to Blackburn with Kevin Keegan’s side looking to build on their midweek Cup victory over Leicester, which ended a 14-match winless streak.
Tottenham and Liverpool, both of whom have hit some form in recent weeks, clash at White Hart Lane while fourth-placed Charlton travel to Everton without influential midfielder Scott Parker.
The England international has been left out because manager Alan Curbishley feels he has been unsettled by the club’s rejection of a bid from Chelsea earlier in the week.
Victory for United at Wolves would allow them to open up a four-point gap at the top with title rivals Arsenal and Chelsea not in action until tomorrow.
The Gunners travel to Aston Villa while Chelsea entertain Birmingham. Newcastle are at home to Fulham on Monday night. – AFP