After a testosterone-fuelled lunch at Anfield, the real world gate-crashed at Molineux this afternoon. At the quickest, faintest of glances, one could have been mistaken this for a normal Sunday afternoon match in the Black Country. The ground was full and, as the teams emerged onto the pitch, “Fanfare For The Common Man” blared at full volume over the public address system, as it always does when the teams take to the pitch at Molineux. Yet today was no ordinary day at this most famous of old grounds. Today was the day that Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur came together to mark the passing of their former defender Dean Richards, who was taken away from us at the unspeakably young age of thirty-six last week.
His widow and two young children were there, as were representatives from Richards’ two other former clubs, Bradford City and Southampton. An appropriately handsome and lavish tribute to Richards was read out, and this was followed by a thunderous round of applause from the Molineux crowd. It was a perfectly adjudged tribute to a player that was clearly highly regarded at each of the clubs that he played for and the management, players and supporters of Wolverhampton Wanderers deserve warm applause themselves for not covering the day in mawkishness, instead opting for an understated yet notably and obviously heartfelt tribute to a player that left a clear mark on the players that he played alongside. It would have taken a heart of stone not to be touched by it.
If the entire afternoon was to be viewed through the prism of being a tribute to watch, then the match itself could not have been finer. This was one of the most entertaining Premier League matches of the season. There have been two Tottenham Hotspurs this season. The Doctor Jekyll that beat both Milan sides and came from two goals behind to beat Arsenal at The Emirates Stadium has been counterbalanced at points this season by the Mister Hyde that turned out at Fulham in the FA Cup or at Bloomfield Road in the Premier League a couple of weeks ago. We saw both this afternoon, a sluggish opening twenty minutes which ended in Wolves taking the lead with a Kevin Doyle header after the Spurs defence had failed to properly clear a succession of balls played into their penalty area.
At this point, Spurs were out of the game, but the goal itself seemed to shake themselves out of their torpor and within fifteen minutes they were in the lead. Jermain Defoe has been, relatively speaking, a bit-part player Spurs’ season thus far, but he proved the extra dimension that he can bring to their attack with two goals in five minutes of sparkling quality to haul them into a lead that they scarcely deserved. It wasn’t a lead that they hung onto for long and, with five minutes left to play of the half Wolves won a penalty when Alan Hutton pulled back Nenad Milijaš six yards from goal. Hutton was very lucky indeed not to be sent off, but the home side at least had the consolation of Doyle converting the penalty to put Wolves level again.
The second half continued the drama of the first. Three minutes after the restart, Roman Pavlyuchenko, another Spurs player that could be described as having a split personality on the pitch according to the changing of the tides, put Spurs back in front with a tidy turn and shot past Wayne Hennessey. All of this seemed harsh on Wolves, who huffed and puffed to the point of near exhaustion but took until the closing stages of the match before they clawed their way back into it. With ten minutes left to play, they thought they had earned their salvation when a horrendous misjudgement by Heurelho Gomes allowed Richard Stearman in front of him to head Wolves level again. Or so they thought. Referee Mark Halsey disallowed the goal for a non-existent foul on Gomes.
It was another harsh decision, but Wolves finally got their reward with an equaliser with three minutes of the ninety left to play. Sylvan Ebanks-Blake fed the ball to Matt Jarvis on the left-hand side. Jarvis’ cross into the centre was good but perfect, but Steven Fletcher’s header was perfect – it floated and hung in the air, agonisingly out of the reach of Gomes before dropping, almost gently, over the line and into the back of the net to draw the score level at 3-3. There was still time for a couple of half-chances to fall to Spurs, but three points to them today would have been very unfair on Wolves, who play a full part in the match and might have snatched all three points themselves had it not been for a couple of bad calls from the referee.
So perhaps Wolves deserved a win, and perhaps a draw was a fair result. If we are going to take issue with concepts of fairness, though, the biggest miscarriage of justic was the loss of a father and a son eight days ago. Perhaps the best way to look upon the result of this match is that it was an appropriate result. Honours even. For those of us that spend too much of our time under the fingernails at the rotten end of the game, it can be easy to lose faith in it. Today, everybody connected with Wolverhampton Wanderers, players, management, supporters and those that visited the club from Spurs, Southampton, Bradford City and beyond under these most unwelcome of circumstances did the memory of Dean Richards proud with a tribute which demonstrated that there is still the hint of a beat at the heart of Premier League football, followed by a match which reminded everybody that was privileged enough to watch it why we love this crazy, infuriating, bewitching game in the first place. Dean himself would surely have been proud.
Follow Twohundredpercent on Twitter here.