HUDDERSFIELD TOWN 1-0 WOLVES: SIX KNEEJERKS

Visit to West Yorkshire sees first defeat of Zenga era

First up, the usual disclaimer for this section of the blog. At present, away games aren’t an option for me for a variety of reasons that aren’t worth going into here. So what you get here is my initial reaction to a game, based on whatever reports, commentary and feedback I’ve been able to get. At no stage am I trying to suggest I know better than anyone who went to the match, clearly I can’t guarantee 100% accuracy either. For all the home league games and any televised away ones, you get a proper verdict from me as I’ll be there for all of them. For other away games, you get these. That’s the deal. Right, now that’s out of the way, here we go:

Dave Edwards’ time is well and truly up

It’s customary to comment on Dave Edwards by stressing his supposedly loyal service to the club over approaching nine years and what a great chap he seems. The second point isn’t in doubt. The reason he’s been “loyal” to the club is because we keep handing him contracts and no-one else wants to sign him. That’s less loyalty, more staying at a club by default and the player not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth. Mine isn’t an impartial opinion by any means as I’ve wanted us to move him on for many, many years (since at least 2010) but it’s apparent now that we have multiple superior options to him and yet he is still somehow nabbing a starting berth. This despite him boasting a record of 1 goal in his last 27 Wolves appearances stretching back to last November, when goal threat is allegedly one of his key attributes. He’s never had the ability to influence the game in possession, his customary athleticism is rapidly becoming diminished as he moves into his 30s and he offers little but honest yet ineffective endeavour defensively, so it’s puzzling that yet another Wolves manager has perplexingly become wedded to the idea of inking him into the XI whenever possible. Even more so when Walter Zenga saw fit to haul Edwards off at half time at home to Ipswich after 45 incomprehensibly anonymous minutes, and then saw him plod through two thirds of the victory at Birmingham while having virtually no influence on the game. It’s very old ground to debate his worthiness but it’s a debate that definitively needs putting to bed. He should have no place whatsoever in our thinking. We cannot carry a footballer who offers so little.

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Exactly my reaction when I see your name on the teamsheet, Dave.

Zenga’s selections have yet to settle down

The starting line ups sent out to date by the Italian have been characterised by frequent changes of personnel within his favoured 4-3-3 shape, we have yet to send out an unchanged team and the new signings made have generally been eased in gently with only Jon Dadi Bodvarsson being an automatic choice thus far. Indeed, today he was the only summer signing to start the game. While it’s fine to have a philosophy of frequently rotating players, at some point we do need some consistency of selection to enable key partnerships to develop within the team. We have also signed these players for good reason, to improve on what was an incredibly mundane squad that was set for nothing more than a trundle towards mid-table at best before we were taken over. The international break must be used to get the new arrivals fully integrated and we must be using them properly when we return to action. Having such a turnover of players is worthless if they aren’t being used regularly, and the incumbents don’t have anything like the bank of goodwill you would deem appropriate for them to retain favour.

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The role of likeable Italian tinkerman has already been taken.

Poor starts away from home will eventually prove costly

Each of Zenga’s three away games have followed a similar pattern thus far; a below par first half leading to us trailing at half time, before a second half revival sees us take the ascendancy and create the lion’s share of chances. This worked out well enough for us at Rotherham and Birmingham but today we couldn’t force an equaliser despite periods of sustained pressure and wound up losing the game. There are no teams in this league, or indeed at any level of English football, who are good enough to concede entire first halves and only make a concerted effort to win after the break. It’s all very well to finish games strongly and it’s encouraging that Zenga seems to have the knack of inspiring the players at half time, but we can’t keep chasing games. With increasing regularity that state of affairs will lead to us coming unstuck. This is of course in part related to picking the right team in the first place, as detailed in the first two points. It’s a learning experience for Zenga, he has to quickly learn that if you start slowly in the Championship then invariably you’ll be fighting from a goal or more down as a consequence.

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“Games start at 3pm over here?!”

Helder Costa is starting to make his mark

The very first arrival of the Fosun era has taken his time to make an impact on the team – he has, of course, yet to start a league game – but a League Cup goal in midweek and a bright substitute appearance today augur well for the near future. While Jed Wallace and Joe Mason bring qualities of their own to the wide positions in the front three, the Portuguese youngster’s raw pace and direct running offers a different option which may prove invaluable should we continue to target a style of quick transition from defence to attack. Competition for wide spots will be fierce as the season progresses, even more so when Jordan Graham returns from injury, but he is beginning to show enough to suggest that he will have a major role to play.

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More of this, please.

Our effort and spirit cannot be questioned

Although today has ended in defeat, we subjected the home team to sustained pressure throughout much of the second half and kept pushing for a way back into the match. While this should be a given with all teams, there have been many instances over the last year or so of Wolves meekly subsiding to defeats after falling behind. Zenga is also always keen to influence the game through proactive substitutions and while one can argue that he should be making the right choices in the first places, he is certainly not one to let a game drift or leave a change too long in the making. Having to fight back against adversity is an inevitability in a long season; we are at least showing signs that in such battles it won’t be possible to query the desire of the players and management along the way.

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Plenty more of this.

A decent start, plenty of work ahead

Broadly speaking a haul of eight points from five games with two ostensibly winnable home fixtures to come directly after the international break represents a reasonable start, somewhere between par and slightly above. However, it’s clear that tougher tests will lie ahead, for all that Huddersfield have started the season in incredible fashion it would seem unlikely that they’ll be troubling the very top end of the division come the end of the campaign, and none of the other four teams faced are big hitters. The league is made up of at least 10, possibly more, teams who would realistically suggest that they have serious designs on promotion this year and we are yet to face any of them. There are challenges ahead in how we react to sustained heavy pressure on our defence – not an issue in any of the games played so far – how much we are able to control possession, whether we can break down a stubborn team (as we failed to do against Ipswich), as well as the ability of the new players to adapt to the league and the management to get them into the XI regularly. While enough early concerns have been assuaged already, there remain numerous questions for this squad and Zenga himself to answer.

MATCH PREVIEW: HUDDERSFIELD TOWN VS WOLVES

Looking to continue excellent early start to season

Preamble

Even allowing for the uneven and unrepresentative nature of early season league tables, you’d have got long odds on Huddersfield vs Wolves being a top three clash at the end of August. It would still seem unlikely that both teams will be competing at this end of the table for the remainder of the season but Brighton showed last year that a swift turnaround from a poor campaign is possible. Morale is high in both camps as each look to round off an impressive start as we head into the first international break of the season. Although the kind of thrills and spills to be found in a Steve Bruce “Leddersford Town” novel are unlikely, this is an intriguing encounter which gives Wolves a further chance to put a marker down in demonstrating how far along we are in making a genuine top six push this season.

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The 30 foot tall striker is an established literary device, I’ll have you know.

The team

Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Ola John are the new arrivals into our squad this week, each signed on a season loan from Manchester United and Benfica respectively. The depth of our squad continues to grow as Walter Zenga seeks to have options all over the park. Lee Evans has been the only ever present in midfield in Zenga’s first four league games but will be missing here due to a minor knee injury. There was a further 65 minute run out for Nouha Dicko in the U23s fixture on Monday but this would still seem to be too early for him to return even to sit on the bench; caution has to be the watchword after a lay off of almost exactly a year.

With new arrivals coming into a squad that’s already winning games and playing well, this leaves the manager with some interesting decisions to make. I’ve said it before and said it again, ‘never change a winning team’ is one of the biggest fallacies in sport so that should be going out of the window; picking the team best equipped to get you a result really is the be all and end all. Dominic Iorfa’s best performance so far this season came at centre half against Reading, Matt Doherty has played better in the last three games than I’ve ever seen him in a Wolves shirt (his form really wasn’t that impressive last season, farcical Player of the Season award or not) and Borthwick-Jackson is far too good to be leaving out of the team; Jose Mourinho has sent him here to get regular football and we don’t have the luxury of benching players who would be likely to find their way into several Premier League teams. Elsewhere, we have the familiar issue of many of our central midfielders being more or less interchangeable in terms of quality which will hopefully be addressed by the end of the transfer window, and we continue to lack depth up front in the absence of Dicko, though Helder Costa did his longer term prospects no harm with a goal and a lively display in an unfamiliar striking role in the midweek League Cup victory over Cambridge.

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The more early 90s hi-fades in the starting XI, the better.

Carl Ikeme

Matt Doherty – Dominic Iorfa – Danny Batth – Cameron Borthwick-Jackson

Prince Oniangue – Jack Price – Conor Coady

Jed Wallace – Jon Dadi Bodvarsson – Joe Mason

Subs: Andy Lonergan, Kortney Hause, Sylvain Deslandes, George Saville, Joao Teixeira, Helder Costa, Ola John.

The opposition

2015/16 was a fairly grim one for Huddersfield; following Chris Powell’s sacking and David Wagner’s installation in early November, they never rose above 15th place and finished the season with 4-0 and 5-1 defeats to Bristol City and Brentford. Another season of bottom third struggle seemed to be on the cards yet their start has confounded all expectations, the obvious highlight being a 2-1 win – an apparently deserved one – at St James’ Park a fortnight ago. Last time out they mirrored Wolves’ derby success at Birmingham with a victory of their own over Barnsley, Jonathan Hogg scoring in the dying seconds of injury time to force a 2-1 win.

The likes of Christopher Schindler, Jon Gorenc-Stankovic, Elias Kachunga, Michael Hefele and Chris Löwe are far from household names in Germany but Wagner has used his knowledge of the German league system to pick them up at fairly low cost in an attempt to revamp the squad he inherited. Nahki Wells remains a forward coveted by many at this level with a very respectable haul of 17 goals in a struggling team last season (fact of the day: Benik Afobe, Adam Le Fondre, Björn Sigurdarson, Nouha Dicko, Grant Holt, Bright Enobakhare and Michal Zyro managed 18 league goals between them for Wolves last year) while Manchester City loanee Aaron Mooy impressed for Australia in a friendly against England prior to Euro 2016 and has made an excellent start for the Terriers. One can only wonder how he failed to make the grade at St Mirren earlier in his career.

Interest will inevitably be focused on Rajiv van La Parra who has started all four of Town’s games so far and makes his first reunion with Wolves. It’s hard to think of many more frustrating players than the Dutchman; the ability to succeed at this level was clearly there and from time to time we got glimpses of what he could offer us. Unfortunately this was never shown consistently enough and his attitude was continually questionable, with it being fair to say that he had around the same stomach for a fight as an Italian soldier circa 1944. As with so many fans, Wolves supporters have a pathological obsession with former players scoring against us; in reality, this doesn’t actually happen particularly often, with there being at least as many Jay Bothroyd/Michael McIndoe/Leon Clarke no shows as there are Steve Claridge matchwinning displays. We need to hope that the law of averages favours us and Raj’s trademark one good game in 10 doesn’t happen at the weekend.

Football - Skybet Championship - Wolverhampton Wanderers v Millwall
Some of the top notch finishing we grew to love.

Last line up (vs Barnsley, 20.8.16, W 2-1): Ward; Smith, Hudson, Schindler, Löwe; van La Parra, Whitehead, Mooy, Scannell; Kachunga, Wells.

Last meeting

Saturday 20 February 2016: Huddersfield 1-0 Wolves

Hurrah! Not a 0-0 for me to recount in this section! But this wasn’t really any more fun. Another drab winter game where chances at both ends were a premium, this left us on a run of six games without a win and with little sign of anything improving any time soon. A disallowed Joe Mason goal was about as much threat as we could muster while some ultra-ropey defending allowed Nahki Wells to pinch the winner with 12 minutes to go. That midfield is one of the worst I’ve seen us send out since Mark McGhee decided that Robin van der Laan, Jens Dowe and Steve Corica would be a winning combination in the autumn of 1996. Note Kenny Jackett’s revolutionary use of one sub again when we needed a goal.

Team: Ikeme; Iorfa, Batth, Ebanks-Landell, Doherty; Coady, Saville, Rowe (Byrne 78); Mason, Sigurdarson, van La Parra. Unused subs: Martinez, Deslandes, Hause, McDonald, Price, Le Fondre.

Past meetings

1995/6: D 0-0 (H), L 1-2 (A)

1996/7: D 0-0 (H), W 2-0 (A)

1997/8: D 1-1 (H), L 0-1 (A)

1998/9: D 2-2 (H), L 1-2 (A)

1999/0: L 0-1 (H), L 0-2 (A)

2000/1: L 0-1 (H), L 0-3 (A)

2012/13: L 1-3 (H), L 1-2 (A)

2014/15: L 1-3 (H), W 4-1 (A)

2015/16: W 3-0 (H), L 0-1 (A)

Prediction

Huddersfield 1-1 Wolves (Bodvarsson)

It should be a reasonably open and entertaining game, but given the form of both sides and the points already on the board I suspect both teams would take a draw at this stage to take into the break.

BIRMINGHAM CITY 1-3 WOLVES: THE VERDICT

Highly impressive performance from Zenga’s men

Local derbies are never an attractive prospect; the kind of games where an inability to show up for the occasion can wipe out any differences in inherent quality, where the football can be captivating yet lacking in genuine class, where strange results contrary to the normal run of things tend to pop up. Wolves answered questions of whether they could pass this particular test with a dominant performance, brushing aside an early setback and running out more than comfortable winners. We’ve now seen a Walter Zenga team fight back from two goals down and with 10 men on the opening day, completely dominate an inferior team at home and now take apart a local rival in their own backyard. As early portfolios go, it’s a fairly compelling one.

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Stylish, too.

Zenga once again shuffled his midfield pack – we’ve now had different combinations in the central three in all of his games in charge – with Jack Price coming into the team for Dave Edwards, while Jed Wallace was preferred to Joao Teixeira on the left hand side, the Portuguese youngster perhaps needing a breather after a high octane and busy start to his career in England. Surprisingly, Prince Oniangue was made to wait for his debut and had to settle for a place on the bench.

Wolves started on the front foot and it was Conor Coady who had the first two opportunies, one free header at the back post from a Matt Doherty cross where he may have done more than merely force a corner, and a long range effort which Tomasz Kuszczak made look a little more difficult to handle than seemed to be the case. As is their normal mode, Birmingham sat deep and allowed the visitors to have plenty of possession, content to contain as best they can and try to play on the break.

We should have taken the lead on 19 minutes, a break from a corner leaving us with four attackers against only one defender. Unfortunately Coady didn’t play the best of passes to Joe Mason who in what is becoming familiar fashion wanted far too much time in the area and squandered the chance. It’s becoming a trend with him which ultimately makes the difference between a 12-15 goals a season and a truly lethal striker at this level. Shortly afterwards Lee Evans was forced off through injury to be replaced by Edwards, with Blues taking the lead a couple of minutes later. A ball from the right hand side was allowed to drift all the way across the penalty area, Dominic Iorfa had been sucked in and attracted to the ball which allowed Che Adams the space to hit a fine finish across Carl Ikeme and into the bottom corner. Against the run of play, but as noted this is the way Gary Rowett’s teams set up.

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“Do you wanna get sucked in? Cause I’ll suck you in. I’ll suck you in so far you come aht the other side”

The remainder of the first half saw Wolves continuing to make most of the running but a lack of composure in the final third led to opportunities being wasted and moves breaking down. Jon Dadi Bodvarsson forced a very decent save from Kuszczak but other efforts from range from the likes of Coady and Doherty were wild, while Mason had a further two decent chances which came to nothing.

Clearly fired up by the manager, we came out after the break with an obvious intent to get at Blues who had offered little in the first period. As Jed Wallace lost the ball on a break towards the Blues’ final third, Price picked up the pieces and found Mason on the left side of the penalty box. This time his move of chopping inside paid dividends as Ryan Shotton was unable to get near him and he unleashed a perfect curling right foot shot past Kuszczak. Deservedly back on terms and we continued to batter away at the hosts who had no answer to our purposeful breaking from midfield.

It was little surprise when we took the lead just after the hour mark; indeed the only concern at that stage was whether we could take advantage of our clear superiority. A Doherty header was excellently saved by Kuszczak but he could only parry it to the edge of the six yard box where Danny Batth was on hand to slam the ball home. Excellent reactions from the skipper and a fully merited lead.

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Yep, we all enjoyed that one.

We did then have a 10-15 minute period of beginning to sit deeper and giving possession back a little too easily to Birmingham, although the threat was largely limited to set pieces. Price was replaced by Oniangue who managed to ping his first pass wildly out of play and fears began to grow that we’d look to hold on to a slender lead despite clearly having the measure of our opponents. However this spell passed and we once again came into the ascendancy as the game entered the final 15 minutes.

With frustration growing amongst the home support and seemingly the players, Blues sub Jack Storer was sent off for a senseless headbutt on Kortney Hause after winning a free kick. The chance was there to seal the game and we duly took it, Wallace slipping a pass into the right channel for Bodvarsson who buried his chance into the far corner and give a realistic look to the scoreline; two goal superiority was the very least we deserved. There was the chance for Wallace to add further gloss with a late effort which whistled inches past the post.

Going to St Andrews is rarely a comfortable assignment and yet Zenga had his team completely rampant at times. There was a real purpose to our passing, especially in the second half and as with the Reading game last week, the speed with which we switch from defence to attack is very encouraging. There is of course work still to be done; in the longer term we will need to take a much higher proportion of our chances, our options beyond the first XI remain limited (while we can swap players in and out relatively easily, they’re all of roughly the same standard) and the goal conceded was another preventable one. But this has been a very positive start indeed, much more so than we could have anticipated given that the major surgery on the first team which would seem inevitable at some stage hasn’t materialised as yet, and our manager – derided on appointment in some places – has the mark of quickly grasping what’s required in this league.

Player ratings:

Carl Ikeme: Had very little to do, no chance at all on Adams’ goal. Held a Cotterill free kick well late on.

Dominic Iorfa: At fault for the goal where he’ll wonder why he allowed his man to get away from him, but otherwise had a fine game. One lung busting run near the end carried him a good 70 yards up the pitch.

Danny Batth: Immense at the back today; Clayton Donaldson has caused him problems in the past but today stood up to everything thrown at him. Won plenty in the air, swept up well after some uncertain moments from his partner in the first half, reacted well for his goal. Coming back to form nicely after an uncertain campaign last time out.

Kortney Hause: A little shaky in the first half with some loose touches and a couple of balls missed aerially. Improved after the break.

Matt Doherty: Had an excellent game, key to much of our attacking play in the first period and rarely troubled by David Cotterill. Looks keener to take his man on down the outside of late. Man of the Match.

Lee Evans: A couple of overhit passes early on and forced off injured midway through the first half.

Jack Price: Took a while to get into the game but started to take control of the midfield after half an hour or so and delivered some superb set pieces as we pushed for the lead. Booked for dissent.

Conor Coady: Full of effort, with him pushed further forward in the midfield three we do need him to improve his output as frequently moves break down with a poor touch. Has done well to force his way back into Zenga’s thoughts after starting the season out of the team. Useful from defensive set pieces in Blues’ few moments of attacking threat.

Jed Wallace: Like Price, quiet early on but grew into the battle and was perhaps our best player in the second half. Showed a good touch and a willingness to carry the ball. Unlucky not to open his goalscoring account late on.

Joe Mason: His ponderous nature in the penalty area is a real issue for him because it does detract from his decent movement and ability to work space. Can’t keep wanting so much time in the final third because it won’t materialise at this level and increased efficiency in front of goal is vital for us. That said, took his goal superbly and there is something to work with if he’s willing to play more instinctively.

Jon Dadi Bodvarsson: The workrate that we all expect from him now and gave Shotton and Morrison a tough afternoon. Worked Kuszczak in the first half and gave him no chance to seal the victory. Looks an absolute snip for the price paid.

Subs: Dave Edwards (for Evans, 22); barely touched the ball in the first half after coming on. Some decent work intercepting loose balls after the break but generally a low impact game. Prince Oniangue (for Price, 65); shades of Neil Emblen with a disastrous first touch in a Wolves shirt. Recovered from that though and looked energetic. George Saville (for Bodvarsson, 90); injury time sub.

MATCH PREVIEW: BIRMINGHAM CITY VS WOLVES

First taste of an English derby for Zenga

Preamble

After starting his reign in fairly traumatic fashion – going two goals down to a bookie’s relegation favourite inside 25 minutes on the opening day is hardly the stuff of dreams – it’s been reasonable and steady progress for Walter Zenga’s Wolves so far, as we have yet to concede any further goals in the league and have managed to produce enough coherent football to suggest that at very least, we won’t be looking over our shoulders at the bottom six this season. Saturday brings a new test for him in the form of a local derby, though Zenga should be well versed in them from his many years of playing in the Inter vs AC Milan encounters as well as his itinerant managerial career. The Championship has started in a typically chaotic early season shape with no teams managing to pick up maximum points from their opening three games; the opportunity is there for any number of clubs to steal an early march while more fancied outfits attempt to bed down before the transfer window closes.

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Somehow I don’t think a picture of Liam Daish and Steve Corica would be quite so iconic.

The team

It’s fair to say that above all else, the midfield we sent out on Tuesday against Ipswich was a key factor in our failure to reliably test the visitors’ backline. It’s apparent this is a key area where we need improvements if we’re to challenge this season and with that in mind it’s extremely welcome to hear that Prince Oniangue is available and ready to make his debut. Don’t be fooled by the 6’3” stature and imposing physique, he’s an attacking player rather than a destroyer and should be tasked with linking with and supporting our front three. It’s unclear at this stage whether bringing Kortney Hause back into the starting XI in midweek was a specific tactical ploy for that game or whether he’s merely back in favour; until we see a run of 8-10 games under Zenga we can’t tell whether he favours rotation at the back or what his default preferred combination is. As it is, it’ll be flip a coin time as to whether he stays in or Dominic Iorfa is shifted back into the centre of defence with Conor Coady at right back. The attacking positions look after themselves as options remain thin as it stands; Nouha Dicko may play some part in the League Cup game against Cambridge on Tuesday but realistically we have to be looking for him to be making an impact after the international break with only 45 minutes of U23 football under his belt at this stage. Idrissa Sylla of Anderlecht has once again been linked with an impending move to Molineux; it’s apparent that we do need additional depth in the striking department even when Dicko returns as we’re currently going into our league games without a dedicated striker on the bench, as Zenga appears to consider Bright Enobakhare and Niall Ennis unsuitable even for bench duties for the time being.

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Although sticking an untried striker in against this lot might not be the worst idea ever.

Carl Ikeme

Dominic Iorfa – Danny Batth – Kortney Hause – Matt Doherty

Prince Oniangue – Lee Evans – George Saville

Joe Mason – Jon Dadi Bodvarsson – Joao Teixeira

Subs: Andy Lonergan, Sylvain Deslandes, Conor Coady, Jack Price, Jed Wallace, Dave Edwards, Helder Costa.

The opposition

Blues have got off to an identical start to Wolves with a win and two draws from the opening three fixtures, although they did contrive to lose at home to Oxford in the League Cup. Ex-Wolf Craig Davies denied them an even better start to the season by bagging a late equaliser in their midweek encounter at Wigan. There’s little doubt that Gary Rowett has had City punching well above their weight in his time at St Andrews; picking up the detritus left by Lee Clark in the wake of an 8-0 home defeat, he dragged them to comfortable safety from a seemingly hopeless position in his first season in charge and then had them flirting with the playoffs for three quarters of the last campaign only for them to ultimately run out of steam and end the season with only one win in their final 12 fixtures. Despite the financial constraints still gripping Blues – the club remains nominally under the control of Carson Yeung’s BIH group despite him now entering his third year of incarceration in Hong Kong after money laundering convictions – Rowett has managed this impressive progress though low cost signings, a tight tactical philosophy and an approach to the game which is becoming more and more prevalent in recent times; possession is no longer king. Blues don’t look to actively control games, instead letting the opposition have the ball, trusting themselves to soak up pressure and hit teams on the break. For instance on Tuesday night, they mustered a mere 29% possession. The results have, relatively speaking, been exceptional but it was noticeable that in a rare moment of tactical triumph last season, Kenny Jackett played the situation in the corresponding fixture to his advantage by putting the onus on the home side having the ball – a state of affairs they appeared completely uncomfortable with, barely having an attack worthy of note and being deservedly beaten 2-0. Much of Rowett’s system depends on the availability and form of Clayton Donaldson who while not a prolific marksman at this level, plays an invaluable role for the side with his running and hold up play. Ex-Wolves Stephen Gleeson and David Davis remain regulars in midfield as does Tomasz Kuszczak in goal, while the ever popular Paul Robinson is still somehow carving out a living despite bearing a passing resemblance to 1990s agent Eric ‘Monster’ Hall these days.

Paul-Robinson
Monster twat.

Last line up (vs Wigan, 16.8.16, D 1-1): Kuszczak; Spector, Morrison, Shotton, Grounds; Kieftenbeld, Davis, Gleeson; Maghoma, Cotterill, Donaldson.

Last meeting

Sunday 13 March 2016: Wolves 0-0 Birmingham

What do you know, another glorious 0-0 for me to write about. Actually this one wasn’t too bad as far as the plethora of last season’s selection of goalless drudgery goes, we played reasonably well in the first half only to be pegged back after the break and ending up grateful for some poor Birmingham finishing. Jon Toral in particular produced a miss that belongs in the Sam Vokes vs Man Utd category. It wasn’t a game of any particular great quality on an increasingly rutted Molineux playing surface, but I’d choose to watch this game again over Ipswich at home from last season. Or Blackburn at home. Or MK Dons at home. Or…you get the idea.

Team: Ikeme; Iorfa, Batth, Hause, Doherty; Coady, Price, Saville; Byrne (Zyro 45), Sigurdarson, Helan (Mason 85). Unused subs: Martinez, Deslandes, Rowe, McDonald, Hunte.

Past meetings

2015/16: D 0-0 (H), W 2-0 (A)

2013/14: D 0-0 (H), L 1-2 (A)

2012/13: W 1-0 (H), W 3-2 (A)

2011/12: D 0-0 (A, FAC), L 0-1 (H, FAC)

2010/11: W 1-0 (H), D 1-1 (A)

2009/10: L 0-1 (H), L 1-2 (A)

2008/9: D 1-1 (H), L 0-2 (A), W 2-0 (A, FAC)

2006/7: L 2-3 (H), D 1-1 (A)

2003/4: D 1-1 (H), D 2-2 (A)

2001/2: W 2-1 (H), D 2-2 (A)

2000/1: L 0-1 (H), W 1-0 (A)

1999/0: W 2-1 (H), L 0-1 (A)

1998/9: W 3-1 (H), W 1-0 (A)

1997/8: L 1-3 (H), L 0-1 (A)

1996/7: L 1-2 (H), W 2-1 (A)

1995/6: W 3-2 (H), L 0-2 (A), D 1-1 (A, FAC), W 2-1 (H, FAC)

1993/4: W 3-0 (H), D 2-2 (A)

Prediction

Birmingham 1-1 Wolves (Saville)

We’re still settling down at this stage so particularly in away games it’s tough to confidently predict that we’re capable of picking up victories, there remain so many areas of the team which need significant work. We have, however, shown convincingly that we have the will to compete in this league so a hard fought draw it is.

WOLVES 0-0 IPSWICH: THE VERDICT

Stalemate at Molineux as Zenga remains unbeaten

I’d well and truly had my fill of home 0-0 draws last season. While this game won’t live long in the memory, it wasn’t as anaemic as last season’s goalless offerings, we did at least look to try to attack and we ended up lacking for quality rather it being any tactical failing on the part of the manager. Off the back of a League Cup exit and a defeat at Brentford, Ipswich looked happy from the outset to sit back and look for a point as their primary aim and it was one they fully merited by the end, even if their football won’t win any aesthetic plaudits.

There was a reshuffle at the back with Kortney Hause coming back into the team at the expense of George Saville and Conor Coady moving back into midfield. For the moment our resources are stretched so thinly that meaningful rotation, especially in the attacking areas, isn’t on the agenda at the moment and we looked noticeably leggy in comparison to Saturday. Our new signings all played very little pre-season football at their previous clubs and even our existing players didn’t have a huge amount of minutes under their belt as we set an oddly barren pre-season schedule. The intensity applied to our pressing against Reading coupled with this state of less than optimum match fitness meant we weren’t able to harry Ipswich in the same way; worth bearing in mind too that the visitors gave us nothing like the opportunities to play our own game that we had on Saturday. We aren’t always going to play teams as malleable as Reading were and we knew Ipswich – likely to be a solid mid-table outfit this season – would provide a much stiffer test.

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The Reading back four, yesterday.

With Lee Evans once again playing a deep role in front of the back four, it was left to Coady and Dave Edwards to press from midfield and link with the front three. Fairly predictably, this didn’t even begin to work. You might get away with one of them in a midfield three but not both. They just don’t possess the requisite technical ability to offer much more than aimless chasing around – Coady looks a much better right back than he does central midfielder at this stage – and this left both Joe Mason and Joao Teixeira out of the game for much of the first half, though the latter showed his customary silky touches whenever he did get the ball. Edwards was withdrawn at half time having offered virtually nothing positive and was replaced by George Saville who subsequently looked the brightest of our midfielders; he does at least look to get on the ball and attempt forward passes even if the quality isn’t always there.

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Dave Edwards’ new theme tune.

Not much blame should be attached to Jon Dadi Bodvarsson for his penalty miss; it was a decent enough strike, low down and produced a fine save from Bartosz Bialkowski. The award was as nailed on as you’ll see all season but sadly the Icelander couldn’t take the opportunity that he’d fashioned for himself; thereafter he faded, not for lack of effort and was replaced by Helder Costa midway through the second half. He, in turn, had a positive substitute appearance though it is noticeable that he is extremely slight at this stage and may need to be eased gently into Championship football. However, one piece of outrageous skill near the right touchline demonstrated the sheer skill that he has and there’s enough about him to suggest that he’ll have an impact at some stage. Mason was pushed into the central striker’s role but struggled against physical centre halves and the jury remains very much out on him.

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Get the lad down Mad O’Rourke’s for a feed.

At the back, we weren’t overly troubled; goalkeeping coach Pat Mountain helpfully pointed out after the game that we’ve now kept clean sheets in six of our last seven league games at Molineux (the sole goal being a late penalty by Lewis McGugan in the end of season dead rubber against Sheffield Wednesday). While questions can certainly be asked of the back four in terms of quality on the ball should we be looking to play a more possession-based game, we look a lot more solid in home games than the horrors of last autumn and early winter where opposition teams were walking through us at will. Ipswich’s first half disallowed goal looked harsh from the other end of the stadium although reports this morning have suggested that it was ruled out for a marginal offside in front of Carl Ikeme. We almost conceded a late winner after Ikeme fumbled a ball into the box, but Danny Batth was able to get back and clear off the line. From open play there weren’t many alarms to speak of and Ipswich showed little inclination to seriously push for the win in the final 25 minutes.

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Gorgeous George looks on admiringly at our recent record.

Overall, this was a performance which showcased the areas where we still need significant improvement in order to compete at the top end of the division. It’s encouraging that Zenga seems to recognise that work still needs to be done and given the hand he has been dealt in the short term, has got the side well organised for the most part and at least looking like we can dismiss any fears of a relegation battle. We shall have to see what the remainder of the transfer window brings in order to properly assess our prospects, but it’s fair to say that from 2-0 down inside 25 minutes at Rotherham on the opening day, I’d have been more than satisfied with five points from the opening three games with no further goals conceded. Last night was a hard earned point against a side who’ll make every team work for results against them; in the grand scheme of things, an acceptable result at this stage though as time goes on we will look to progress from this kind of display and outcome.

Player Ratings:

Carl Ikeme: Did drop a couple of late crosses but I’d rather he be coming for those kind of balls than be rooted to his line as he was for the bulk of last season. Generally he did well at cutting out the threat from out wide and hopefully his confidence is beginning to be restored.

Dominic Iorfa: Moved back to right back, he wasn’t tested defensively in any meaningful way and did try to get forward when possible. I suspect his longer term future is in the centre, but we all know that very few wingers are going to get the better of him at this level when he’s at full back. One of the positive (and overlooked) aspects of our takeover is that he’s still at the club whereas it’s a racing certainty that he’d be gone by now were we still limping along under absentee ownership.

Danny Batth: Dealt with the threat of Daryl Murphy without much fuss and did as well as he could to pass the ball out from the back. Much improved showing in these first two home games than anything he offered up last season. Late clearance showed good concentration in the late stages and saved us a point. Man of the Match.

Kortney Hause: Untroubled on his return to the starting XI, does sometimes get a little flustered in possession which is something he needs to work on. Certainly playing all of him, Iorfa and Batth means that very few teams will have forwards that are able to physically bully us.

Matt Doherty: Another decent game, no alarms defensively and offered a decent outlet down the left at times. We do need a dedicated left back though; his constant cutting onto his right harms our build up play, for one thing we can’t knock a simple ball down the line on that side and we become very predictable whenever attacks build down the left. The question with him is always focus, he needs to maintain the levels he’s shown in the last week.

Lee Evans: His ball retention statistics always look good and he has the trust of the management for now, however you would have to ask how much of his passing actually hurts teams. Might need to be deployed further up the park as we progress. A few unnecessary catcalls from the crowd as he looked to keep possession and build an attack.

Dave Edwards: Completely anonymous and rightly hooked at the break. Has never had the ability to impact games on the ball and his running seems diminished these days too. Not offering anything in this shape and would seem to be the first candidate to be replaced when Prince Oniangue is in contention for a starting spot.

Conor Coady: Put himself around but doesn’t have the quality to push forward into the final third. Customary lax touch at times. May have been worth switching him and Evans at some stage, looks more comfortable at full back.

Joe Mason: An ineffective game, delayed a shooting opportunity in the first half (which is becoming a common theme) and made little impact when played centrally. Nouha Dicko’s impending return should have him looking over his shoulder.

Joao Teixeira: Not quite the sparkle of his first two displays but still showed plenty of class on the ball. Some robust treatment from the Ipswich players but nothing malicious or overly rough and it’s up to him to adapt to that. Always wants the ball and always plays ‘head up’, which are good signs.

Jon Dadi Bodvarsson: Looked a little jaded and may have been one of those that Zenga was referring to when he suggested he’d have been forced into changes had this been a 3pm kick off. Won the penalty from nothing with his trademark 100% effort and was thwarted by a good save.

Subs: George Saville (for Edwards, 45); looked to carry the ball forward with greater purpose than his other partners. Helder Costa (for Bodvarsson, 65); one sublime piece of skill, one decent late effort from range. Jed Wallace (for Teixeira, 84); no time to make an impact.

MATCH PREVIEW: WOLVES VS IPSWICH TOWN

Looking to follow up on Saturday’s impressive display

Preamble

All round, Saturday’s win over Reading was a thoroughly enjoyable experience throughout and it’s now up to Walter Zenga’s men to repeat the dose tonight. As previously mentioned, we’ve been handed a start which gives us a fine opportunity to pick up a decent points haul even while we’re bedding a new squad down and we should be looking to capitalise while confidence is high. If we can come through these opening seven games with anything approaching two points a game then that would solidify our position as a team with genuine designs on a top six spot this season.

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Just don’t ask him to wave during the game again.

The team

This one should be fairly simple; send the same team out as on Saturday and tell them to perform in the same way. Doubtless Ipswich will be less accommodating than Reading were (and indeed that should apply to most games this season) but high intensity and a coherent attacking plan are often enough to get you through a chunk of Championship home games. Prince Oniangue wasn’t signed in time to feature in this fixture though it’s unlikely he would have played much part in any case having not yet trained with the team. Of course this does mean that we’re sticking with a number of players (for now) who are not especially likely to have much of a long term future with the club, there’s certainly no long term value in playing Dave Edwards and George Saville in the same midfield, but it’s up to them to prove they can at least play some kind of a squad role; a test they fundamentally failed in the first halves against Rotherham and Crawley, but showed better signs at the weekend. A lot of these players won’t ever play for a bigger club than Wolves and certainly won’t be involved (even on the fringes) of a project like this so they should be giving it their all.

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One of the great quartets of Wolves players.

Carl Ikeme

Conor Coady – Dominic Iorfa – Danny Batth – Matt Doherty

Dave Edwards – Lee Evans – George Saville

Joe Mason – Jon Dadi Bodvarsson – Joao Teixeira

Subs: Andy Lonergan, Kortney Hause, Sylvain Deslandes, Jack Price, Jed Wallace, James Henry, Helder Costa.

The opposition

We should all know what a Mick McCarthy team is going to produce, we had five and a half years of watching them. Mick has by and large done a tremendous job at Ipswich, following years of reasonably heavy and wasteful spending under sub-standard managers (sound familiar?) he came in with a brief of turning around the fortunes of a low quality squad and pulled them into the realm of top six form just through basic organisation and hard work. So far, so Mick, and worth considering that in his entire time at Portman Road he’s barely had anything at all to spend on transfer fees. However things have stagnated a little of late, last season’s playoff push was effectively ended by a run of one win in 10 games during March and April and there has been growing discontent amongst the support about his perceived lack of flexibility when results start to decline (again, sound familiar?). It would appear that the financial taps have been permanently shut off by Marcus Evans so transfer business has once again been low key, Adam Webster and Grant Ward from Portsmouth and Tottenham’s reserves respectively being the main two arrivals in the summer. Ward began the season with a hat trick off the bench against Barnsley on the opening day (aided it has to be said by some atrocious goalkeeping) but Town have since slipped to successive defeats, at home to Stevenage in the EFL Cup and at Brentford on Saturday.

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No Mick, I don’t know why you’re rubbish in the cups either.

Perhaps Mick’s greatest achievement of all at Ipswich has been to inspire Christophe Berra to score 12 goals in his three years at the club, which is a major improvement on the 0 he managed in a Wolves shirt in four and a half years here. Daryl Murphy continues to lead the line for the Tractor Boys in his yeoman way while familiar Championship level faces such as Luke Chambers, Cole Skuse and Jonathan Douglas are still regulars in the squad. Wolves haven’t managed to beat Ipswich since Mick moved to East Anglia and indeed haven’t managed a home win against them since Mick’s very first home game in charge back in August 2006 when Jay Bothroyd scored a 30 yard scorcher (and do use that word), Carl Cort was sent off and Matt Murray capped a heroic personal display with a penalty save.

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Well up Chris, keep your eyes on the b…oh.

Last line-up (vs Brentford, 13.8.16, L 0-2): Bialkowski; Chambers, Webster, Berra, Knudsen; Bru, Skuse, Ward, Grant; Sears, Murphy.

Last meeting

Saturday 2 April 2016: Wolves 0-0 Ipswich

Honestly, I won’t just be writing about 0-0s forever. I promise. But this was another of those games at the back end of last season that just had no purpose to it whatsoever. Indeed Ipswich were equally to blame for the tepid stuff on show, especially as they were still in the distant chase for a playoff spot but showed little by way of attacking adventure in this one. Liam Feeney hit a post for Ipswich and Brett Pitman had a shot cleared off the line by Kortney Hause, it took us 72 minutes to have a shot on target and that wasn’t really anything to write home about either. Dreadful, dreadful stuff.

Team: Ikeme; Iorfa, Batth, Hause, Doherty; Coady, Price, Saville; Sigurdarson (Henry 45), Zyro (Le Fondre 68), Helan (Mason 58). Unused subs: Martinez, Deslandes, McDonald, Hunte.

Past meetings

2015/16: D 0-0 (H), D 2-2 (A)

2014/15: D 1-1 (H), L 1-2 (A)

2012/13: L 0-2 (H), W 2-0 (A)

2008/9: D 0-0 (H), W 2-0 (A)

2007/8: D 1-1 (H), L 0-3 (A)

2006/7: W 1-0 (H), W 1-0 (A)

2005/6: W 1-0 (H), D 1-1 (A)

2004/5: W 2-1 (H), L 1-2 (A)

2002/3: D 1-1 (H), W 4-2 (A)

1999/0: W 2-1 (H), L 0-1 (A)

1998/9: W 1-0 (H), L 0-2 (A)

1997/8: D 1-1 (H), L 0-3 (A

1996/7: D 0-0 (H), D 0-0 (A)

1995/6: D 2-2 (H), W 2-1 (A)

1993/4: D 1-1 (H, FAC), W 2-1 (A, FAC)

Prediction

Wolves 2-1 Ipswich (Bodvarsson, Teixeira)

A tougher game than Saturday but Wolves to come out on top with a front three that should have too much by way of movement for a fairly cumbersome Ipswich back four.

WOLVES 2-0 READING: THE VERDICT

First league victory for Zenga as Wolves cruise to easy win

After the dissecting of managerial statistics cribbed from Wikipedia, the endless speculation surrounding potential transfer targets, a rocky start at Rotherham last week and amid much intrigue about a new era for Wolves, many of us got our first proper look at a Walter Zenga team on Saturday. It would be fair to say that the signs were extremely encouraging as Reading were swatted away and ultimately left fortunate to only lose the game by two goals.

Zenga retained the 4-3-3 shape employed in the Rotherham and Crawley fixtures but on this occasion the nominal wide options deployed were Joao Teixeira and Joe Mason; they combined with Jon Dadi Bodvarsson to form a genuine, fluid front three, rather than a central striker being isolated with the two wider players (in James Henry and Jed Wallace) offering little by way of support. Conor Coady retained his place as an auxiliary right back with Dominic Iorfa playing at centre half while Kortney Hause dropped to the bench. These switches all came off for the Italian; Coady had a perfectly serviceable game in an unfamiliar position, looking more at home there than he has done on many occasions playing in central midfield. Having played virtually all his Academy football as a centre half it should be no surprise that Iorfa looked more than comfortable in the heart of the defence, and while we miss his charging runs from right back, playing him centrally gives us some added mobility to what can at times be a fairly lumpen combination. The front three caused Reading problems all afternoon with excellent movement throughout and feeding off quick, direct service when we won the ball back. By no means did we play long ball football, but our transition from defensive possession to having the front three running at the Reading defence was rapid and had us looking threatening for the whole game.

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Dom clearly thinks Dave can’t be trusted with the ball.

For all that we put on an impressive show, it should be added that Reading were extremely poor. Jaap Stam may have been able to showcase football with the Ajax Academy teams where passing out from the back was de rigueur, but attempting the same with Ali Al-Habsi, Paul McShane and a centre half in Joey van den Berg who should have had ‘wide load’ displayed on the back of his shorts is inevitably doomed to failure. The Royals were wedded to this philosophy to the point of self-destruction; the first goal ultimately coming from a failed attempt to pass the ball out by Al-Habsi from which they never really recovered. The centre halves’ inability to pass the ball into midfield effectively (and indeed, the failure of any of Reading’s central midfield trio to show for a pass on many occasions) meant that the bulk of their possession – 66% over the course of the match – came in their own defensive third and was frequently squandered as soon as anything more ambitious than a sideways five yard pass was attempted.

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‘Caution: This cumbersome Dutch centre half is reversing’

Their wide players in Roy Beerens and Garath McCleary never got into the game and as an attacking force they were limited to a handful of hanging crosses and a couple of tame long range efforts on target, all of which were comfortably fielded by Carl Ikeme. Had we conceded either of the two goals netted on Saturday I’d have been livid; it should be no secret that Matt Doherty is virtually entirely right footed, so letting him cut inside while making his way into the penalty area was highly negligent, and Joe Mason didn’t even have to jump for a header from a corner inside the six yard box for the second goal. A flawed approach to possession, next to no attacking threat and slack defending throughout; this was an extremely bad day at the office for the men from Berkshire.

The sole criticism that could be aimed Wolves’ way is that we only managed to take two of the many opportunities we had. Joe Mason missed two clear, one-on-one chances and as noted in my reaction following the Rotherham game, this is an aspect of his game that needs significant work. He rarely looks confident in these positions, frequently hesitating a half second too long and allowing the goalkeeper to shut down the angles. Jon Bodvarsson will be disappointed not to have capped his excellent display with a late header when left unattended at the far post. George Saville was denied by a quality Al-Habsi save and Joao Teixeira followed a superb piece of skill by shooting over the top when a pass would have been the better option. Some credit should be due to Al-Habsi who has many shaky moments but has always been a very decent reaction stopper.

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The Omani David James, if you will.

Overall, this was a very encouraging performance, the fans once again demonstrated that if you hand us a team willing to attack and play with the intensity, the atmosphere will look after itself. It was such a contrast to last season’s dreary fayre and served to remind us all why we actually bother forking out to watch games. There will undoubtedly be stiffer tests as the season progresses but it has been such a long time that we’ve managed to put away even modest opposition with any degree of conviction that this showing was more than welcome. Zenga already appears popular with the fans and has his players committing to his brand of football and if nothing else, we would seem to be in a position where we won’t often be bored at Molineux. More of the same will do nicely.

Player Ratings:

Carl Ikeme: Came off his line to claim crosses in a manner not seen since at any point last season. He has it within him to be a reasonably dominant keeper at this level so he really should grasp that opportunity rather being the timid, error-strewn presence he was in 2015/16. Fielded a couple of long range efforts with no drama.

Conor Coady: A makeshift solution but didn’t let anyone down. Stuck to his task well, looked solid defensively and passed the ball when required with more precision than he normally manages in midfield. Early days but could yet be a reasonable squad option in this position while we await the debut of Silvio and/or further new signings.

Danny Batth: Seemed to benefit from the extra pace of Iorfa next to him. Kept it simple in possession and won most things in the air. Steady game.

Dominic Iorfa: Looks to be at least as good an option at centre half as he is right back. Never really looked troubled and gives us some much needed pace in the middle of defence. Passed the ball fairly well, should probably now get a run of games alongside Batth.

Matt Doherty: Let’s be honest, I give him a lot of stick. Most of it justified. But it would be churlish to deny he had a good game on Saturday, much like the rest of the back four never looked overly threatened defensively and got forward well. Excellent finish for his goal even though the defending was questionable at best. Still not a long term option but looked much better for not being teamed down that side with Henry.

Lee Evans: Did a good job in frequently being there to pick up the second ball after Batth and Iorfa won the ball aerially, which in turn led to him playing a very deep role. Does lack pace and not all of his passing came off, but for the time being seems to have the trust of Zenga ahead of Jack Price.

Dave Edwards: Did the unglamorous yards as he often does, but had very limited impact on the ball. It’s easy to see why managers trust him, but as we progress then we are going to need better quality. Doesn’t offer any attacking threat at all in this shape.

George Saville: A trademark 2016 game from Saville; periods of anonymity, some loose work on the ball, but popped up with an assist for Mason’s goal and continued his trend of making a key contribution at some point. Linked well with Teixeira at times. Another who may still have a squad role to play having been written off at various points.

Joao Teixeira: Another tremendous display from the Portuguese youngster. Full of skill and tormented Gunter throughout, he is surprisingly tenacious and is no wallflower, he doesn’t shirk when there’s physical treatment aimed his way. Picked up an assist for Doherty’s goal. Subbed not long after a Cruyff-style double dragback almost produced an outstanding individual goal.

Joe Mason: Had a decent game from a starting position as the furthest right of our forwards, though was clearly instructed to drift infield when possible to link with Bodvarsson. He’s a tidy footballer and shows decent movement on occasion, but that finishing really needs significant improvement if he wants to be a regular starter once Nouha Dicko is back to fitness. Got his goal with a simple header following some risible set piece defending.

Jon Dadi Bodvarsson: The fans have a new hero and rightly so. Chases everything, is mobile for a physical striker, can carry the ball, holds it up well and wins plenty in the air, never afraid to get a shot off; the only blemish was not capping it all with a goal. On this form will be a nightmare for Championship defenders as he never gives them a moment’s peace. Man of the Match.

Subs: Jed Wallace (for Teixeira, 71); A few nice touches after losing his starting place. Jack Price (for Mason, 84); Not much time but almost picked up an assist after his set piece found Bodvarsson unmarked at the far post; James Henry (for Saville, 89); Late change to run the clock down.

MATCH PREVIEW: WOLVES VS READING

First home league game for Zenga

Preamble

It would be fair to say I’m anticipating this game more eagerly than any of the games attended post-October of last season, with this being my first match of the season (you might note that there was neither a preview nor a reaction to the League Cup game vs Crawley in midweek…I’ve as much interest in that competition these days as I would if Starsailor decided to release a new album). A chance to see some new players with hopefully a more enterprising style than anything dished up at Molineux in 2016, a big crowd and a fresh start for the club. I don’t think anyone is reasonably expecting us to charge away at the top of the table, but we as fans can at least approach games with a feeling of eagerness rather than all-encompassing dread for now.

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The Paul Blades of the early 2000s indie scene.

The team

The good news is that we have no fresh injury concerns at present, so our thin squad isn’t further tested as we look to bed down this season. The bad news is that we haven’t signed anyone this week, so we’re still stuck with picking from various sub-standard options and hoping for the best. The defence has looked alarmingly shaky against modest opposition so far and there are question marks right along the back five. The Danny Batth/Kortney Hause partnership doesn’t look convincing at all with indecision and slack marking the order of the day so far. We certainly can’t keep persisting with a left side of Matt Doherty and James Henry; two slow, exclusively right footers who frankly just aren’t up to standard. So my chosen back four has a make do and mend look to it, with non-specialist full backs, but then we badly need reinforcements there. It should be a priority that we sign at least one full back in the next week or so given we won’t see Silvio until next month and there have to be longer term concerns about his fitness given his appearance record over the last three seasons.

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If the Milan back four circa 1989 were a pair of classic Wranglers, this is what our current defence is.

It’s our Fosun era acquisitions who’ve provided most of the positive aspects of our play thus far so all those available should be down to start. In both games so far we’ve felt the need to make a change at half time and pair Joe Mason and Jon Bodvarsson together; we need to start this way on Saturday as it’s apparent that we can’t give either the required support if we’re using them as a lone central striker. This means going for a basic 4-4-2 formation; again not ideal given our central midfield options, but it really is imperative at the moment that we get two forwards on the pitch. Of course playing the extra man in midfield nominally gives you more control of the game, but on that front all bets are off when one (or more) of the three is George Saville or Dave Edwards given that neither are actually capable of retaining the ball reliably.

Carl Ikeme

Conor Coady – Dominic Iorfa – Danny Batth – Kortney Hause

Joao Teixeira – Jack Price – Lee Evans – Helder Costa

Joe Mason – Jon Dadi Bodvarsson

Subs: Andy Lonergan, Matt Doherty, Sylvain Deslandes, George Saville, Jed Wallace, James Henry, Bright Enobakhare.

The opposition

While we await full evidence of what Fosun’s ownership will bring to our club, Reading appear from the outside to be a confused club at board level; while they’ve remained steadfastly a mid-table Championship club under their Thai owners, the direction and underpinning approach seems to be muddled. They’ve already worked their way onto their fourth manager in 18 months, the inherited Nigel Adkins, then moving through Steve Clarke (focusing on solid defence and producing dour football), Brian McDermott (seeking to recapture past glories) and now on to the untested but high profile Jaap Stam. The transfer and player ethos has also shifted, from relying on youth and the odd expensive signing – paying such a hefty fee to loan Watford’s Matej Vydra last season seemed extremely strange – to a system of largely low profile overseas signings and with Michael Hector, Oliver Norwood and Aaron Tshibola all sold. However there have been promising early signs for the new approach, the opening day performance at home to Preston being extremely encouraging and debutants John Swift and Roy Beerens in particular impressing. Stam’s complete lack of managerial experience makes him a complete outlier at present, no-one is sure what his prospects are although it would certainly seem advantageous to have such a legendary player at the helm should the club wish to further explore the Dutch player base. More familiar faces are on show in the form of former Wigan keeper Ali Al-Habsi, ex-West Brom defender Paul McShane and Welsh Euro 2016 stalwart Chris Gunter.

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I can confirm there will be a bombscare at Molineux tomorrow afternoon.

Last league line-up (vs PNE, 6.8.16, W 1-0): Al-Habsi; Gunter, McShane, van den Berg, Obita; Williams, Evans, Swift; Beerens, Rakels, McCleary.

Last meeting

Saturday 6 February 2016: Reading 0-0 Wolves

Ah. This was supposed to be a fun little feature of the match previews but as it happens (spoiler alert) I’ll be reminiscing about 0-0 draws for the first FOUR games of this season. Less material on offer than a Christina Aguilera costume change. This bit will get more interesting as the season goes on, honest. This one was as tepid an affair as the scoreline suggests, both sides producing a mere two shots on target and Kenny Jackett choosing to bench Joe Mason despite him scoring on his debut four days previously. We also had the legendary sight of Ken making a mere one substitution despite us clearly offering next to no attacking threat. The point left the two teams in 11th and 15th place respectively; this really was the dictionary definition of mid-table Championship fodder with entertainment values to match.

SuperCupFootball
Seriously, you could play better football on this than either team managed in the last encounter.

Team: Ikeme; Iorfa, Batth, Ebanks-Landell, Doherty; Saville, McDonald, Coady; van La Parra (Byrne 79), Sigurdarson, Henry. Unused subs: McCarey, Deslandes, Rowe, Price, Mason, Le Fondre.

Past meetings

2015/16: W 1-0 (H), D 0-0 (A)

2014/15: L 1-2 (H), D 3-3 (A)

2008/9: L 0-3 (H), L 0-1 (A)

2005/6: L 0-2 (H), D 1-1 (A)

2004/5: W 4-1 (H), W 2-1 (A)

2002/3: L 0-1 (H), W 1-0 (A), W 2-1 (H, P/O), W 1-0 (A, P/O)

1997/8: W 3-1 (H), D 0-0 (A), L 2-4 (A, LC)

1996/7: L 0-1 (H), L 1-2 (A)

1995/6: D 1-1 (H), L 0-3 (A)

1994/5: W 1-0 (H), L 2-4 (A)

Prediction

Wolves 2-2 Reading (Bodvarsson, Teixeira)

We just look too flimsy at the back and through the heart of midfield to shut teams out as it stands. We’re a work in progress and we’re going to get results to match until we can finally purge the squad of the mediocrity left at the tail end of the Steve Morgan era.

ROTHERHAM 2-2 WOLVES: SIX KNEEJERKS

Zenga’s men fight back after appalling start

First up, a disclaimer for this section of the blog. At present, away games aren’t an option for me for a variety of reasons that aren’t worth going into here. So what you get here is my initial reaction to a game, based on whatever reports, commentary and feedback I’ve been able to get. At no stage am I trying to suggest I know better than anyone who went to the match, clearly I can’t guarantee 100% accuracy either. For all the home league games and any televised away ones, you get a proper verdict from me as I’ll be there for all of them. For away games, you get these. That’s the deal. Right, now that’s out of the way, here we go:

Chunks of this team are just not good enough

There’s no escaping that this was a truly abysmal start to the game. 2-0 down after 20 minutes, barely able to string three passes together, it served to show the players left by Kenny Jackett to be a ragged bunch low on technical ability and short on coherence. Slack marking from a set piece, a player not closed down properly to have a shot from range, Carl Ikeme beaten from distance (it might be that he had no chance with this one…but he doesn’t regularly concede from outside the box by accident), a lack of meaningful attacks and being bossed by pretty poor opposition. This was all of the worst parts of last season in microcosm. With Guo Guangchang in attendance, this should have made it plain that we are carrying far too many players who have no business playing for any team with serious aspirations at this level. Ask yourselves what sort of clubs would be likely to be bidding on Ikeme, Matt Doherty, Dave Edwards and James Henry if we put them up for sale. We can’t even hold on to many of these and hope they can fill a squad berth, they just aren’t viable options for us. A degree of ruthlessness is required and these players need to be jettisoned, there isn’t any room in the new Wolves era for passengers.

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Rumours that this is James Henry’s personal pre-match track of choice are almost certainly unfounded.

Do George Saville’s goals make up for his overall lack of quality?

Since returning from his loan spell at Millwall in January, George Saville has made 20 appearances for Wolves and scored six goals; a very healthy return from a central midfielder which compares extremely favourably with Dave Edwards, often lauded for his supposed goalscoring ability yet currently sitting with one goal in his last 21 games. However, we know that Saville is not particularly strong in possession, his passing can be extremely loose, he frequently picks up soft bookings and tends to flit around the edges of games rather than strongly influencing them. As we look to the development of our team, is that scoring rate sustainable and would he be suitable should we evolve into a more possession based team, as seems likely as we bring in players from Portugal in particular? Realistically at very least the choice should be between Saville or Edwards, not picking both as each have similar weaknesses. At the moment only one of them is showing anything like consistent displays of what is their key strength.

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Probably best to leave the Hollywood balls to someone else.

In the absence of Nouha Dicko, our strikers need support

Our rise to the top of the Championship at the start of November 2014 was built around using Nouha Dicko as a lone forward, a role in which he excels and is arguably one of the very best such players outside the Premier League. Quick enough to stretch defences, strong enough to deal with the attentions of multiple defenders, astute and technically able enough to bring others into play, offering serious goal threat of his own. Whenever he’s been unavailable, we’ve tried numerous forwards in the same role and we’ve seen more or less exclusive failure. Jackett was clear shortly after signing Joe Mason that he needed to play with a partner (which begs the question why you would spend £3m on someone who doesn’t fit into the system you predominantly play…but I digress), early signs from today’s first half were that Jon Dadi Bodvarsson was isolated and ineffectual in the starting 4-3-3 shape with James Henry and Jed Wallace nominally supporting him from wide areas. The Icelander looked impressive in a basic 4-4-2 shape for his national team in the summer, but leading the line alone is an entirely different proposition. Until Dicko returns – we hope sooner rather than later – we have to find a way to get Bodvarsson and Mason (or a new signing) in the same team as they just aren’t going to be effective as a lone striker.

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Looks a player, but needs help.

Joe Mason’s finishing is a concern

An excellent comeback today was almost capped by snatching a late winner. Unfortunately given a clear sight of goal, Mason fluffed his lines and allowed Lee Camp to make a comfortable save from a very good position. This is not the first time that the former Cardiff man has missed a presentable chance, and while we would hope that we will become a lot more creative than last year and not relying on sticking away virtually all of our clear cut opportunities, very few teams ever have the luxury of constantly missing chances. Mason’s finishing does not seem to be especially strong, which is of course borne out in his career goal record. He may have cost a hefty fee, but he’s very much a signing belonging to the old regime – if he can’t improve in the area where strikers are most expected to perform then it’s hard to see a future for him in the starting line up.

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One of the great double signings.

The new signings made an immediate mark

Once we changed our shape to give Bodvarsson some much needed support as noted earlier, he had a very impressive second half, full of running and garnished with an excellent equalising goal. The goal was set up by Joao Teixeira with his very first contribution from the bench and he has attracted superb early reviews, his ability to carry the ball from midfield being picked out as a real highlight of his play. These are very encouraging signs from the two new recruits who saw serious gametime today, if Silvio and Helder Costa (restricted to a very late sub appearance for a spent Bodvarsson) are of similar quality and further new signings are of similar calibre, this signifies extremely promising signs for our recruitment policy. Always worth considering that many a player has started well at Molineux only to fade away (as happens at every club up and down the land), but these two players already seem to have the fans onside and look ready to make an impact on the division. We just need to put the right quality around them.

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Swoon

‘The ball is never out and the game is never finished’

They were Walter Zenga’s words at his introductory press conference and he stuck to that ethos today. It would have been hard to see the 2016 version of Kenny Jackett inspiring a comeback from two goals down, or committing to attacking Rotherham while down to 10 men and even chasing a winner. We continued to play in a positive fashion through the second half and the fans will support any team that opts to approach games in that way. We’ve had our fill of needless caution and low ambition. Enterprising substitutions, looking to play off the front foot, never giving in, fighting to the last even in adversity, if this is the Zenga way then we can all be positive about what’s to come.

MATCH PREVIEW: ROTHERHAM UNITED VS WOLVES

New season, new hope

Preamble

We’re back! Almost exactly three months after the dreariest of seasons ended, we kick off 2016/17 with a new owner, new manager and a handful of new players. We’re still currently very much in the realm of the unknown regarding our prospects for the campaign; the squad still needs serious rebuilding and further new signings are an inevitability (how high profile they’ll be is still up for debate at present), Walter Zenga will be taking charge of his first ever game in English football and at this stage we’re very much in the dark as to how he’ll choose to set up. Still, unfamiliarity has an intrigue to it which beats hands down anything last season had to offer. For a while, anyway.

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One of the rare occasions in life when Sonia’s wise words don’t apply.

The team

Getting thumped 4-0 at home in your final pre-season friendly is hardly perfect preparation so it’s just as well that several of those who played against Swansea last week are unlikely to have any long term future at the club. Zenga gave little away in his pre-match briefing yesterday regarding whether the new arrivals are ready to play – clearly none of the Portuguese intake have had much by way of pre-season football so match fitness would have to be a question. Dominic Iorfa and Joe Mason have been passed fit to play after missing the Swansea game which in the case of the former is a major positive.

Personally, I’d be playing all of the new signings. They have to get some football at some stage, we’re unlikely to field them in U23 games to get them up to speed, the alternatives scarcely bear thinking about and we need to find out quickly how suitable they are for Championship football. Going ‘tried and trusted’ only works if the ‘trusted’ bit actually applies, and I fundamentally don’t trust the likes of Dave Edwards, Matt Doherty and Conor Coady.

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Do us one last favour Ken and take him wherever you end up next. Please.

In the longer term I would like to move away from the 4-2-3-1 most often favoured by Kenny Jackett but for this fixture with the players available I feel it’s the best fit.

Carl Ikeme

Dominic Iorfa – Danny Batth – Kortney Hause – Silvio

Jack Price – Lee Evans

Jed Wallace – Joao Teixeira – Helder Costa

Jón Daði Böðvarsson

Subs: Andy Lonergan, Matt Doherty, Sylvain Deslandes, George Saville, James Henry, Joe Mason, Niall Ennis.

The opposition

Rotherham kicked off last season heavily tipped for relegation with a squad that on paper looked deeply insufficient for second tier football; fast forward 12 months and exactly the same applies. They are extremely light on forwards with only Danny Ward (who has often played in wide areas for his previous clubs) having any kind of record at this level while any defence marshalled by Kirk Broadfoot is about as reassuring as a George Osborne economic forecast. They have this week broken their record transfer fee for Peterborough’s Jon Taylor who looked lively against us for Shrewsbury in League One but otherwise this looks like another tough season ahead for the Millers. Neil Warnock did an exceptional job in leading them to an 11 game unbeaten run which hauled them out of the relegation mire, but he appeared to know when the time was right to jump ship as similar heroics would be a very tough ask the following year. Alan Stubbs won the Scottish Cup last season with Hibs to end a 104 year hoodoo for the club yet equally presided over a second successive year of promotion hopes collapsing in the spring, despite purportedly having a bigger budget than many SPL teams. This seems a tough assignment for his first managerial job in England. Rotherham have also signed ex-Wolf Anthony Forde from Walsall this summer; he appeared to perform reasonably well for the Saddlers but all the evidence from his time at Molineux was that League One would be his absolute limit, being a winger who doesn’t really have anything by way of pace, trickery or delivery which are generally pre-requisites to play out there. The ever popular Greg Halford is also still at the New York Stadium and the travelling fans will doubtless show their appreciation for his many whole-hearted and skilful displays in a gold shirt.

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Mad skillz.

Last meeting

Saturday 23 April 2016: Wolves 0-0 Rotherham

The final instalment of Ken’s tetralogy of 0-0 home draws in March/April 2016. What glorious times to be alive. There really isn’t much to recount from the game at all; Rotherham came for a point as they knew it would more or less guarantee their survival, we were as potent an attacking force as Audley Harrison circa 2002. Joe Mason missed a one-on-one, Sylvain Deslandes nearly scored with a header right at the end, but that was pretty much it. We had nothing to play for at all yet decided to play Bright Enobakhare out of position and leave two youngsters as unused subs. Given the choice between watching this game again and tuning in for the Olympic dressage in the next few weeks, I think I’d have to plump for the horse dancing.

Team: Ikeme; Doherty, Iorfa, Batth, Deslandes; Coady, Saville, Edwards; Enobakhare (Wallace 64), Mason, Henry. Unused subs: Martinez, Hause, McDonald, Price, Hunte, Collins.

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More nimble footwork than that midfield trio will ever show.

Past meetings

2015/16: D 0-0 (H), W 2-1 (A)

2014/15: W 5-0 (H), L 0-1 (A)

2013/14: W 6-4 (H), D 3-3 (A)

2008/9: D 0-0 (A, LC, lost on pens)

2004/5: W 2-0 (H), W 2-1 (A)

2002/3: D 0-0 (H), D 0-0 (A), D 4-4 (A, LC, lost on pens)

2001/2: W 2-1 (H), W 3-0 (A)

Prediction

Rotherham 1-2 Wolves (Wallace, Batth)