Short and angry about sums me up at the moment. I’ll go deeper into this malaise later in the week but for now this is my brief reaction to yesterday’s game. Apart from “Christ this is bad”.
What did I say in the week? We’ve averaged marginally over a point a game for the whole of 2016 with the British/Irish core of players, they aren’t very good. They are poor Championship players at a real push, keep picking them as the heartbeat of your team and you’ll get relegated or very close to it. Not happy at all with Lambert’s selection, doing that once as a makeshift “get a 0-0 away from home” team in your first game is just about ok. Not at home when you’ve been making noises about playing from the front foot. Aside from the opening 10 minutes where we outworked Wednesday (and not much else), we giftwrapped these three points for them. They didn’t have to do anything. Didn’t get out of second gear. I said to the guys in the pub before and after the game, I could have done Carvalhal’s team talk for them. It’s easy. Here it goes.
“Hunt and Wallace, you boys down the right have got nothing to worry about defensively so just play your own game. They’ve got a fat, shite right back who’ll only ever cut inside and a crap central midfielder down there. Fill your boots. Back line, step up 5-10 yards from where you normally stand, they’ve got no-one to run in behind. Midfield, again don’t worry about them, no creativity, they’ll run around but they’ll let you play. Their defence will make a mistake or two so just bide your time. They won’t try to keep the ball at all so just bide your time for possession, no need to press too hard. Enjoy.”
We’re in a relegation fight now, make no mistake about that. And the answer is not picking these shitehawks or playing for 0-0s.
Lonergan: Kicks like a 4 year old. Couldn’t do much about the goals but he is what he always has been, a poor Championship keeper with a highlight reel. 3
Iorfa: What has happened here? Put us in the shit for the second goal with a woeful five yard pass and nearly repeated the trick in the second half. I like the guy but that doesn’t mean I can’t see when he’s had a shocker and it’s happening all the time at the moment. 2
Stearman: We absolutely mugged Fulham last August to get £2m for him. He goes there and they concede 78 goals…so we bring him back. His one asset of being quick on the turn has gone, he can’t do it any more. So what you’re left with is a casual bastard who strolls around stroking his mullet. Awful. Don’t ever pick him again. 2
Hause: Did at least stand up to the physical presence of Lucas Joao but distribution was awful and lucky not to give away at least one penalty. 3
Doherty: Just wow. This awful, awful cunt would not get a game for Bilston Town. He’s not a footballer. Overweight, stinking attitude, horribly one footed, no defensive ability whatsoever, can’t run, can’t turn, can’t tackle, can’t mark, can’t jump, isn’t even any good going forward and we have him contracted until 2019. I’ve said it before about him, he was a £100k Irish league player when we bought him and he’s an Irish league player now. He is a total liability, he will constantly cost you goals at this level. Hate is a strong word. I fucking hate Matt Doherty. Rip his contract up, I never want to see him ever again. 0
Price: Tries hard, really though he’s just a neat and tidy cog in a wheel. Stick a dominant presence like an on form McDonald or what I think Saiss could be, and he’d probably look ok. In this team he looks like a little boy lost. 4
Coady: Did a bit of Dennis Bergkamp skill to engineer our only first half chance…followed it up with a Dennis Pearce finish. Rubbish footballer, £2m for that? I’ve seen more accomplished players down the park. Can’t play as a defensive midfielder, can’t attack so what really is he doing? 3
Saville: Newsflash everyone, George Saville can’t play on the left wing. This was a shocking selection by Lambert because you’re completely negating any threat down that side and he isn’t even that good at tracking back. I tell you what, I’m not going to rate him. I wouldn’t rate Olly Murs on his DIY skills or Gordon Ramsey on his ability to drive an F1 car. N/A
Costa: The only one in the first half who looked to do anything, he had a couple of runs which came to nothing. Basically he’s our only attacking outlet and in the process doesn’t have that much end product. I feel sorry for him, I bet he wants to leave. 4
Edwards: Played more or less up front in the first half. Played sort of on the right in the second half. Was crap at both. We all know he’s a great pro but he wasn’t good enough years ago and nothing has changed. If he’s going to be the fulcrum of a Lambert team then I’m not sure I want to see it. 2
Bodvarsson: Yeah, the service to him is dreck. But he really isn’t offering anything at all to us at the moment. Maybe he might in a genuine front two, maybe he might if we played a bit more football (we played none yesterday). At the moment he may as well not be on the pitch, he’s playing like Sig did last season without the stick from the crowd. 2
Subs: Dicko gave us a bit of impetus, gave us an outball down the channels, tried one shot from a silly angle when he should have crossed or waited for support. Teixeira came on with seemingly no instructions, played nowhere and might have got sent off on another day. Cavaleiro missed a sitter but the game was gone by then. A collective 3 for effort alone.
Last week’s goalless draw at Preston North End represented a solid if uninspiring start to the Wolves reign of Paul Lambert. With ticket prices cut to a much more realistic level – there’s a whole blog on that subject which I need to get written at some point – a crowd of over 27,000 is expected for Lambert’s first home game at Molineux and it is fair to say that those attending will expect to see more adventure than a display where we failed to have a shot on target until the 85th minute. It’s now over two calendar months since we registered a victory and we’ve lost three successive home games for the first time since Terry Connor was taking time out from crying in post-match interviews to nominally manage us (that’s right, even Dean Saunders didn’t manage that kind of run). Tomorrow will be no easy task against a very decent Wednesday team but eventually we do have to start winning games; bobbling along picking up a smattering of draws amid regular defeats will only lead to a winter of scrapping to stay out of the bottom three, which is not what any of us wished for or expected a couple of short months ago.
It was the right move last week to switch our shape to 4-2-3-1. Our flimsy looking defence – where all combinations tried right across the backline have looked suspect all season – badly needed more protection in front of them and it’s also a formation which theoretically should help us look after the ball better. Where most would quibble would be in the choice of personnel, although some of Lambert’s thinking would undoubtedly have been driven by our barely credible record of conceding in the opening 15 minutes of six of our prior seven games. It is understandable why we set up first and foremost to be solid and to ensure we weren’t immediately chasing the game, but it isn’t a viable strategy to set up that way for any great length of time in this division.
Carl Ikeme has reportedly trained all week and should be fit to make his return to the starting line-up; Andy Lonergan’s rare brand of top class close range saves, inexplicable howlers and U7s level kicking isn’t really suitable for a genuine first choice keeper at this level. Danny Batth is suspended after picking up a fifth yellow card of the season at Deepdale; after a series of rocky displays and the poor reception from the crowd that he received against Derby, this may prove to be a welcome break for him to get his game back to the standards we require. It’s likely that Richard Stearman will replace him in what will be his first appearance since the 0-4 calamity at home to Barnsley in September. With him thus far having failed to make any kind of impression on the first team since his return on loan from Fulham, this may well represent his final chance at making a go of his second spell at Molineux, especially as Lambert is likely to look at strengthening the defence during the January transfer window.
Elsewhere, I would bring in Romain Saiss – a late arrival back from international duty last week – for Conor Coady to give us more quality on the ball in midfield without compromising the much needed solidity in front of the back four. Saiss alongside Jack Price should theoretically be a good combination with a left foot/right foot balance, both players being comfortable on the ball and both having the requisite discipline to hold position at the base of the midfield. Perhaps the most obvious change is to bring in Ivan Cavaleiro for George Saville on the left hand side; with us already being relatively goal-shy, there is no room for ersatz attacking solutions, especially at home and when it’s to the detriment of our record signing who offers much needed creativity. Personally I would leave out the risible Matt Doherty for Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, but I accept this is unlikely having kept a clean sheet in the previous game, so I guess we’re in the familiar situation of waiting for a clearly substandard player to have a poor game (to our inevitable detriment) or outright cost us a goal before he loses his place. Whether Borthwick-Jackson or indeed the lesser-spotted Silvio are ultimately up to the task, in the long term we simply cannot use Doherty as a serious option at left back. A handful of acceptable games at the back end of last season, magnified due to the fallibilities of the team elsewhere and by comparison to his previous dismal displays, do not make him a Championship left back. At the other end of the pitch, with Jon Dadi Bodvarsson now through three months without a goal, the time has come for Nouha Dicko to be granted a start and to see if he can offer us more of a cutting edge.
The final decision will be whether to restore Dave Edwards to the starting line up after completing his own one game suspension. Even as one of his biggest detractors, I will concede that he was performing reasonably before his ban, showing at least a willingness to fight when we inevitably fell behind in games and being on one of his very rare scoring mini-streaks. However – as one of the deep midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 he is unlikely to offer us what we require in that position, and as a number 10 he simply doesn’t offer anything by way of creativity or enough in terms of support to the front man (he’s frequently a good 30 yards away from whoever the striker is as he tries to hold the ball up). Also, it would be very tough on Bright Enobakhare to be thrown in for one game where we set up very defensively and then to pull him straight back out of the team. I fully expect Edwards to be given the nod, but I would stick with the youngster who in the long term surely has more to offer. In a similar vein, Christian Herc’s excellent form for the U23s this season should be rewarded with a place on the bench in preference to more experienced options who are unlikely to change the game as substitute, while we must conclude that Lee Evans, Joe Mason and Prince Oniangue remain unavailable in the absence of any actual injury updates from the club.
Subs: Andy Lonergan, Matt Doherty, Conor Coady, Dave Edwards, Christian Herc, Joao Teixeira, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson.
Were it not for a last gasp equaliser last week at Craven Cottage from former Wolves man Scott Malone, Wednesday would currently be sat level on points with 6th placed Norwich and feeling confident of their prospects of emulating last season’s playoff finish. As it is, they find themselves on a run of one win in five games and in the clutch of clubs caught betwixt looking up at the top six and looking down at the reaches of lower mid-table anonymity. Such are the margins in the Championship. The Owls’ form has been patchy all season, with a five points from five games start boosted by a run of five wins from the next seven games, before hitting the current disappointing sequence.
Moderately disappointing opening third to the season aside, this is without doubt the best overall position Wednesday have found themselves in since their relegation from the Premier League in 2000 – indeed, last season was the first time they had managed to make the playoffs in the second tier (or even seriously challenge for them) since they dropped out of the top flight. In terms of size they are at least as big, arguably bigger than Wolves, yet have been even more starved of success this century. However, these are new and exciting times for the club as owner Dejphon Chansiri has invested well in the squad and made a shrewd managerial appointment in Carlos Carvalhal. There are lessons for Fosun to be learned from Chansiri who appears to have got the balance right in terms of on field strategy, though his thinking on ticket pricing leaves a lot to be desired.
With Gary Hooper absent due to a hamstring injury picked up at Fulham, Saturday is likely to see the return to Molineux of Steven Fletcher, just over four years since he departed for Sunderland. While the eventual end of his time here was messy – you do wonder why it seemed to take three months or more for him to realise that we’d been relegated – it was always an inevitability that he would leave Wolves once we lost our Premier League status; teams in the lower half of the top flight were never likely to pass up the opportunity of signing a striker with a proven record of scoring goals in poor teams. He will inevitably receive some form of barracking from the home crowd though I would prefer to remember his superlative heading ability (the best we’ve had in that regard since Andy Gray, I’m reliably informed by those of that vintage) and genuine class against the best teams in the country. Injuries limited his subsequent output at Sunderland while whispers about his attitude grew in his time in the North East, but he remains a formidable opponent and we must take care to limit his supply from out wide. He will be partnered by Fernando Forestieri, another undoubtedly quality performer at this level but one most remembered at Molineux for a shameful piece of gamesmanship to get Bakary Sako sent off in Watford’s 2-2 draw here in March 2015. His fellow ex-Hornet Almen Abdi has struggled to make much impact since his summer move to Hillsborough but retains the class to hurt teams from midfield, while Barry Bannan and Kieran Lee provide further impressive options in the centre of the park. Another ex-Wolf in David Jones is likely to start on the bench.
Last line-up (vs Fulham (A), 19.11.16, D 1-1): Westwood; Hunt, Loovens, Lees, Reach; Wallace, Lee, Hutchinson, Bannan; Hooper, Forestieri.
Top scorers: Gary Hooper (5), Fernando Forestieri (4), Kieran Lee, Steven Fletcher (3)
Top assists: Barry Bannan (3), four players on 2
Saturday 7 May 2016: Wolves 2-1 Sheffield Wednesday
In what proved to be Kenny Jackett’s final competitive game in charge of Wolves, we rounded off a horrendous home campaign with our first home win and goals in two months against what was very much a second string visiting team, with their playoff place having already been secured. An early disallowed Joe Mason goal was swiftly followed by Michael Turner putting through his own net, before George Saville tucked home smartly from just inside the area. The first half was characterised by strong performances from Saville and Jed Wallace in particular; promise that has sadly failed to translate into much this season. The visitors had more of the play in the second half and pulled a late goal back through a Lewis McGugan penalty, though the abiding memory is of one of the strangest substitutions made in an overall puzzling season from the manager; Adam Le Fondre had long seemed unlikely to be earning a permanent deal here but was sent on for the final 45 minutes in place of the ill Wallace, despite the presence on the bench of Bright Enobakhare and Connor Hunte. Sure enough, we announced that Le Fondre would not be retained a whole 48 hours later. Perhaps a fitting epitaph for the sorry spectacle that was 2015/16.
Of recent times I’ve been plaguing social media with updates on my ongoing mental health status. I tend to abbreviate it as talking about “mental health” is still taboo to an extent, MH just looks nicer. Makes it seem more approachable. I only thought it fair to give you all – some will be more familiar with the story than others, so feel free to skim-read as you wish – a bit more of an insight into why I am how I am.
Yeah, this is the bit I’m not proud of. I was born with a lot of advantages. I had a reasonably affluent upbringing, went to a grammar school, was lucky enough to have a skillset which meant I could spend a formative year abroad, some would say I was born with a degree of intelligence (I would dispute the nature of intelligence, but that’s probably not for now). Went to university. Basically had everything handed to me on a plate. Yet I fucked it. I’ve spent so much time over the last couple of years agonising over the terrible things I’ve done. How I’ve taken friendship and threw it back in the faces of those people (and yet they came back for more). How I threw away opportunities. How I messed up relationships through sheer idiocy. How I always knew best and everyone else was wrong. How I’ve chucked away three separate careers, as well as not made the best out of university. Because I really didn’t there, a First was on a plate and I muffed it (my own fault, I make no excuses for it).
But this is the thing – while I undoubtedly can be an idiot, I can pinpoint elements of my depression back to the mid 90s, when I was at school. I always had times where I was insular and doubted myself. I believe that I’ve always had this lurking within me, it is an illness after all, but the systems were not in place 20 years ago to deal with it. That’s not a criticism of anyone or anything, that’s just the way it was. Suffice to say that self-loathing has been a feature of my mindset for a long, long time. I’ve hidden behind a mask on so many occasions. Back when I could play football to a reasonable level, I stylised myself as a bit of a hard bastard – I mean I’m not exactly a physically imposing specimen, but I stood up and made it clear that I could look after myself (a few filthy Paul Scholes-style challenges and a bit of Roy Keane-style chat will do that). I positioned myself as a bit of an intellectual in discussions, that I knew enough to bluff my way through any kind of debate and form it in the manner of someone who sounded like he knew what he was on about. I mean I actually do know stupid amounts about football, but that’s by the by. But did I believe any of it? Did I genuinely think I won any of those battles? Did I fuck. I was plagued by self-doubt. It was all bluster.
Something was very badly wrong and for a long, long time – to my own detriment – it was affecting me. I drifted through life making bad choice after bad choice, putting friendships at risk and making reckless decisions, until around 2013 after a particularly bad episode I had to take stock. Basically – you can carry on as you are and you’ll die in five years. At this point I was 32 and hitting the bottle to a stupid extent. Because booze solves everything, and in your 20s, who doesn’t like a bit of a hero who can demolish a dozen pints and a ton of shots? Everything revolved around drink. I’d habitually buy litre bottles of vodka and polish them off in a night. It was a shambles. Or I could sort myself out. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last three years.
So this is where we are now. I accepted in 2013 that I had multiple problems and went to the doctors. I had alcohol issues, I had to deal with them by myself (I have). I have acute depression and major anxiety issues (this bit you need help with). Yippee. But ultimately you can’t run away from your problems, you have to deal with them. The last three years have been a constant battle to improve. It’s all small steps. I appreciate that I can be an immensely frustrating person to follow on social media, because I flit from euphoria to despondency in a heartbeat. I really am sorry for that. But it’s hard to get through sometimes about how you feel without being maudlin. There are many analogies about depression; the most fitting to my particular variant is that it’s like living behind a triple glazed pane of glass. You can see everything that’s going on, but you can’t do anything and no-one can hear you. Oh, and everyone tells you you’re shit. Because that’s the biggest thing with me. It doesn’t matter what I do, that internal voice is always there:
“You’re hopeless, Lavelle”
“You’ve let everyone down, you know”
“You’re bluffing this. You haven’t got a fucking clue what you’re doing, have you”
“Why does anyone like you? You’re rubbish pal. A joker”
“Imagine you died tomorrow, what would they put on your gravestone. Nothing. Because you’ve done nothing. You’re a fucking mug and I don’t know why anyone likes you”
“I hope you die, you cunt”
So yeah, imagine that going through your head all the time. It’s not nice. Some of it is probably justified but still. I am ridiculously self-critical. And it’s true, I haven’t achieved anything.
I try extremely hard to make people proud these days and I feel immensely frustrated when I can’t. I suppose I have expectations somewhere in my subconscious that are way too high and I can’t get rid of them. I constantly fret that my friends will ditch me when they find out what a fraud I am, that everything I have right now is holding by a thread. When you’re a big fat nobody with a big fat unstable employment status, it’s like walking a tightrope every day.
We’ve established how I am, how do we move forwards? Well, the positive thing is that I have done so much good in the last three years. I’ve rebuilt friendships and relationships that should by all means have been broken due to my fuckwittery. I’ve kicked the addiction to booze, I can have a drink socially but I’m no longer knocking back industrial quantities. I’m on medication which needs reviewing but it seems to suit me.
That’s all fine but it only really puts you back to a default state of “normal”. That’s why I started my blog really, because I thought it would propel me beyond the state of “normal”, that it would showcase something I can actually do and give me a bit of an outlet. Now this brings its own problems, I’ve written 25+ blogs but there are another 25 that I’ve thrown away because my mind says they’re “crap”. I absolutely love people telling me what I write is good because at least then I’ve brought something positive to the world, but I really don’t do this for validation, I am not some kind of social media whore who needs the world to tell me that I’m loved – God, I’d feel awkward with that kind of attention if anything. I write because it’s a good process for me and I think the Wolves community deserves better than anything the local media can serve up. I suppose for now it gives me a bit of purpose, there’s a tiny, tiny, tiny section of people who like reading my stuff. And that’ll do. I like to think I’m a decent writer, that what I put out is worth reading, that maybe one day I could make something of this, as pie in the sky as that might be.
Going forward, I know I need to grow some self-belief. It’s not an attractive attitude to be so downbeat all the time and there’s a line between self-deprecating and just being a morbid dickhead. I do have elements to my character and ability that are ok, it’s how we employ them from here. I said to a good friend of mine last week that I obviously can write, because not that many people independently of themselves can just be humouring themselves to say they like it (I’m now through 5,000 unique visitors to my blog, and the comments on Facebook and the forums just blow my mind). Like the unbelievably good friend that she is, she reassured me that I’ve always been good enough, I just need to believe it a bit more.
For now though I’ll just say thanks for listening and for being there. Because really, it means the world. I’m trying my best.
Former Villa boss arrives with much structural work to undertake
After the failed experiment with Walter Zenga – a coach with a varied history of mostly middling-to-poor results and swift departures ending up living up (or down, if you like) to his reputation – Wolves have gone back to a tried and trusted British manager in Paul Lambert, one who knows the unique demands of this division and indeed English football as a whole. While there were certainly more alluring names from abroad which may have added more intrigue – the likes of Marco Silva, Andre Villas-Boas and Vitor Pereira featuring strongly in the betting at various points – the direction that Fosun appear to be taking from here on is one of steadiness; we simply cannot afford to enter into a cycle of poorly conceived appointments where not enough due diligence is done and the perception of the club is on a par with those who habitually change managers every six months. There are mitigating factors surrounding why we have ended up with our second manager of the new era before the Christmas decorations have gone up, the key from here on is to put together a solid foundation which gives us the optimum chance of realising our goals with minimal disturbance. My own standpoint on Lambert’s appointment is one of cautious optimism, in that I certainly feel he gives us a greater chance of success than Zenga did and offers more of a guarantee of smooth progress than his major competitor for the job in Nigel Pearson would have. As we approach his first game in charge at Preston this weekend, there are several key areas which need to be his focus.
Prove himself all over again
This is somewhat of a career crossroads for Lambert. Managers are invariably judged on their most recent jobs, so while he can point to solid work at both Wycombe and Colchester, and exceptional achievements at Norwich on his CV, there can be little doubt that his spell at Aston Villa did great damage to his previously burgeoning reputation. There were clear signs that Villa Park in the latter half of Randy Lerner’s time as owner was not the greatest place to work with multiple factors hindering multiple managers, but nonetheless Lambert’s results and overall style of football simply were not good enough. The tactics seemed to veer wildly between a style which allowed for extremely low possession statistics – at points it was routine for Villa to be “enjoying” around a 30% share of the ball, even at home – and later an emphasis on endless passing in inconsequential areas, neither providing suitable returns in any sense. This confused approach made it difficult for Villa fans to ever see what it was that Lambert was trying to achieve; he could hardly be said to be building a long term strategy when over the course of months the direction was switched from one extreme to another. Equally his work in the transfer market does not bear much scrutiny with arguably only Christian Benteke being the only unqualified success in his 20+ signings for the club. Once again there were constraints in place with the transfer spend being relatively paltry by Premier League standards and the wage:turnover ratio being consistently reduced, but Nicklas Helenius, Antonio Luna, Kieran Richardson, Jordan Bowery and Aleksandar Tonev are not names that are fondly remembered in B6.
His time at Blackburn proved nothing much either way, as he did an acceptable enough job in preserving Rovers’ Championship status for another year but little beyond that is ever going to be possible under the appalling stewardship of the Venkys. Therefore the onus is on him to make his time at Molineux a success for his own good as well as for us collectively. Portents aren’t necessarily that promising as it remains relatively rare for managers to have an outright disaster mid-career and proceed to turn it around – Mark Hughes wiping out his dismal time at QPR being a notable exception – but on the positive side, the Scot appears refreshed (both physically and in terms of how he speaks) and must know that this will likely be his final chance at a job of this size should he fail. We have to accept that in restricting ourselves to out of work managers with experience of working at this level, whoever we picked up would to an extent be damaged goods. After all, that would have applied to Mick McCarthy when he arrived at Wolves in 2006 and very few people would be unhappy if Lambert managed to replicate his work in the second tier – and we are working from a much more advantageous starting point now than Mick did. It is encouraging that Lambert has spent his time out of the game visiting foreign clubs (predominantly in Germany) to further his own education and understanding of alternative methods; he is manifestly not a man content to sit back and issue bland platitudes on Sky Sports News while looking for a new job. His knowledge of football in general has been pitched by Kevin Thelwell as a major selling point at interview and having a genuine student of the game in charge can only be of benefit to us in the long run.
Address our poor starts
The overriding theme of our first half dozen games under Zenga was that we would start extremely slowly, offering little in an attacking sense before improving in the second half. Rather than improve as time went on, this trait actually got worse from the end of September in as much as regular early goals conceded became the norm – we have now conceded inside the first 15 minutes in six of our last seven games. Lambert has already spoken of his wish to play from the front foot and this will be absolutely fundamental in stamping out this unwelcome trend; successful teams simply don’t find themselves chasing from a losing position game after game. It is possible that there were communication issues during Zenga’s time in charge, but the trend was just as bad with Rob Edwards as caretaker with a pair of appalling starts to the matches against Blackburn and Derby. Whether it is an issue of concentration, approach or setup, the first task is to ensure that we aren’t handicapping ourselves right from the off.
Get the defensive side well drilled
Our entire approach to defending all season has been haphazard at best – just three clean sheets in 19 games in all competitions testament to a flimsy rearguard. It extends to all elements of our defensive play; we’ve seen full backs tucking in to a ludicrous degree allowing wingers time and space to deliver from wide, increasing numbers of basic individual errors leading to goals, a midfield which seems short on instructions on what to offer off the ball and a lack of emphasis on keeping the ball which puts unnecessary pressure on an already struggling back four. The credentials of many of our defenders can certainly be questioned but it remains principally a question of organisation and structure. All of Carl Ikeme, Matt Doherty, Danny Batth, Richard Stearman, Dominic Iorfa and Kortney Hause – whatever your feelings on any of them as individuals – have been part of runs of games at this level where we have conceded very few goals. At the start of 2014/15 we allowed just three goals against in our opening eight games, and for all the tedium that last season brought, we saw four consecutive clean sheets at home in March and April of this year. Even mediocre defenders can be drilled in such a way to make a team solid at this level. It is entirely possible that the defence is an area where Lambert will look to make additions in January, especially with the failure of Stearman to make any kind of impact since he returned to the club. James Tarkowski – so impressive at Brentford but struggling for game time at Burnley – would be a superb signing, while we have received news this week of some progress in Mike Williamson’s long awaited return from injury, though after what will be over a year out of the game, no assumptions can be made on his reliability or availability.
Find a more suitable system
It can be said that no particular system is intrinsically good or bad; the quality of output depends on the individuals’ suitability to that shape and how the manager executes his ideas. However, it is increasingly apparent that for now, the 4-1-2-3 shape (with slight variants) that we have employed for most of the season is not serving us especially well. Chance creation is on the whole low, the defensive frailties noted above are in part down to the formation and what the players have been told to do and we are not getting the best out of our attacking players. Lambert must find a shape which does make best use of what we have available which for now would seem to preclude the diamond midfield he often favoured at Norwich; it is hard to see how Ivan Cavaleiro (who must be given more regular gametime), Helder Costa or the soon to return Jordan Graham would fit into that formation. He may be tempted to field Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Nouha Dicko as a genuine strike partnership at some point, but it is difficult to see how he can do that at present. More goals, especially at home, are a necessity and it is an element of our game which needs improvement immediately. It may be that a subtle change to the setup and an overall change of emphasis in approach – as previously, starts which are timid at best, incompetent at worst need to be consigned to history – could help us in this regard rather than a revolution in style. It is a positive that Lambert has not been wedded to a single system during his managerial career so the scope is there for flexibility and finding a way to get the kind of threat from these players that their skillset suggests we should be able to offer from week to week.
Weed out the deadwood
In his unveiling as new manager, Lambert openly stated that our current squad is too big and he would prefer to work with reduced numbers. It is certainly the case that we have players that are either severely lacking in quality (and never likely to be good enough) and areas of the pitch that are way overstocked with options of roughly equivalent standard. I would personally like to see January bring a swift end to the Wolves careers of George Saville, Jed Wallace (the potential in both these two having not materialised, both of whom having had long enough by now to impress), Matt Doherty (inexplicably one of our most used outfield players to date despite long since regressing to his previous lackadaisical standards and constantly showcasing his lamentable defensive abilities) and Paul Gladon (a signing every bit as poor as Yannick Sagbo or Grant Holt), all of whom are simply not adequate options at this level and do not have it in them to make the necessary improvements. Should we sign at least one new centre half, Richard Stearman would be ever more surplus to requirements while the currently injured Ola John is highly unlikely to make any impression here in what has always seemed to be a superfluous loan spell. At least one of Conor Coady, Lee Evans and Jack Price could also comfortably be dispensed with as we seek to improve our central midfield, and in the longer term we surely require better than Carl Ikeme and Dave Edwards, though both have performed to an at least acceptable standard this season. New contract and captain’s armband notwithstanding, Danny Batth must return to his best to get the fans back onside after a very rough spell and Joe Mason has to do more to justify the money spent on him in the previous January window. There are many, many question marks over much of our squad and a degree of ruthlessness has to be exercised. 2016 has been an extremely poor calendar year for Wolves and we cannot tolerate mediocrity if we are to significantly improve.
Consider playing youth
There will be funds made available to Lambert in January but he would do well to look at what we already have in the ranks of our Academy. The U23s have made encouraging progress through to the knockout stages of the Checkatrade Trophy and prior to Monday’s goalless draw at Portsmouth had scored 21 goals in their previous six games. With emergency loans now off the table, the exposure of our youngsters to first team football is now more limited and so as not to stifle their progress, it would be beneficial and potentially very exciting for the likes of Christian Herc, Niall Ennis, Bright Enobakhare or Conor Ronan to get some senior action after some extremely impressive signs in age group football. The principle of the Academy providing a solid base to build from has long since been engrained at Wolves – it is time that we reward those young players who show genuine signs of progress and serious talent with tangible first team prospects.
Good luck Mr Lambert – there is much to do, it’s down to you to prove you’re the man to take this task on.
Shock victory for Trump confirms that we have lurched into a new era of politics – and it isn’t pretty
I retired to bed in the early hours of the morning having watched the first parts of CNN’s excellent US Election coverage, where early indications and analysis seemed to point to a fairly comfortable Hillary Clinton victory. At this point I was happy enough to predict that although I had seen two inexplicable election results in the last 18 months – they of course being the return to Parliament with an overall majority of David Cameron’s Conservatives, and the decision that Britain should leave the EU – I wouldn’t be seeing a third. So yeah, I was wrong. For the third time out of three, as it turns out. But then I, nor indeed anyone else, can be expected to reliably predict events that fly in the face of all logic and reason. Donald Trump (!) is the next President of the United States. There’s no amount of sinking in that can be done there.
The common theme in both the EU referendum and Trump’s victory appears to be that the vote has been won by predominantly blue collar sections of the electorate who feel that they have been ‘left behind’ by modern politics. This is a perfectly valid sentiment; all of us will currently live within reasonable distance of a community which has been stripped down to desolation over the last 30 years, and it is understandable why those people would feel anger at how their own town or city has been left to rot by those in power. That they would seek to effect a change which puts them back on the map and hand back respectability. But what seems to have been completely missed in both elections is that it was right wing solutions which put those areas into that state. Thatcherism and Reaganism directly embarked on policies of eroding the manufacturing bases in both countries, of rampant belief in the free market above all else, mass privatisation of services, a dismantling of the concept of society, a race to the bottom in terms of employment and the continual espousal of the total myth that is trickle-down economics. So why has a form of further right wing dogma won the day on both occasions? This absolutely defies belief, akin to handing a burglar a set of your house keys after he’s made off with your possessions so he can have a go at pilfering the replacements a few weeks later. This counter-intuitive thinking has been shown up in the UK most recently by people reliant on in-work benefits voting for a Conservative government who brazenly state their desire to hack away at the welfare state and make the future of all such payments extremely precarious, and areas who have greatly benefited from EU funding voting to leave the EU regardless. One can only wonder what disaffected low paid US workers believe the arch-capitalist Trump is going to do to improve the lot of the working man.
It is fairly clear that we are now living in a sloganised and ‘post-facts’ era of politics. There’s a running theme in the second series of Extras where Andy Millman despairs that his dream of comedy has been reduced to shouting out inane phrases; worryingly, our politics has gone down that exact road. ‘Long term economic plan’, ‘fixing the roof while the sun’s shining’, ‘strivers not skivers’, ‘doing a Greece’, ‘take back control’, ‘make America great again’, ‘build a wall’, ‘lock her up’, ‘Brexit means Brexit’ – these are all phrases that any regular consumer of news will have heard constantly at various points over the last five years. Not one of them has any substance whatsoever, yet they are parroted ad infinitum as if their sole existence is good enough, as if that will do instead of actual policy or proper arguments.
The post-facts aspect is no less troubling and seems to be getting worse. David Cameron won his second term by continuing to peddle the long-standing – and virtually unchallenged by the media – lie that Labour alone caused the global financial crash of 2007/8. His party manifesto for 2015 stated that there would be a further £12bn worth of cuts to welfare over the next Parliament if they were elected, but refused to say where they would be coming from until they got into power, and yet people still voted for this complete absence of content. Between 2010 and 2015 his Government managed to miss virtually every single one of their own self-imposed economic targets, but he continued to press the line that only the Tories could be trusted with the economy. Austerity in itself was discredited by the overwhelming majority of leading world economists, was indeed partly abandoned through that 2010-15 Parliament, yet was then redressed as the only solution for the following five years, despite all evidence to the contrary. The culture hasn’t gone away since Cameron himself departed; only last week Damien Green was insisting that the benefit cap – which is currently being invoked and resulting in thousands of low-paid families no longer being able to afford rent or basic essentials – was a good thing as it encouraged those claimants to find more work. This despite there being no evidence whatsoever for his claim, a claim singularly debunked by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, as so many of the post-2010 welfare policies have been.
The rafts of misinformation in the campaign to leave the EU almost verged on the territory of parody, but still that side somehow won the day. Be it £350m a week being sent by the UK to the EU, all that saved money being spent on the NHS, myths about health and benefit tourism, wildly exaggerated claims of entire populations of prospective new EU member states migrating to the UK, Turkey imminently joining the EU – none of it had any basis whatsoever in fact, indeed none of it was even hard to check. But it was allowed to run riot. Michael Gove even infamously stated that ‘people are tired of hearing from experts’, as if respected expertise based upon empirical evidence in a certain field somehow now detracts from an argument. The campaign was also structured around the insistence that Britain should retain its own sovereignty in law making, a noble enough concept yet one which the Government is as we speak seeking to override, as they believe that they are not answerable to Parliament in terms of putting forward the process of withdrawal through our own elected representatives. Despite over 300 years’ worth of precedent and a High Court ruling.
Trump himself has practically no credible policies of his own. His speeches have been littered with outright lies, impractical promises and slurring of his opponents. He has been allowed to lie about his own past, his own positions, his aims and his vision for the country. His views on foreign policy are nothing short of terrifying, not to mention in breach of the Geneva Convention. He has been allowed to behave with complete impunity with regard to his personal behaviour, most shockingly in his language regarding Hispanics and women. But none of this – be it concerning the Tories, Brexit or Trump – seems to matter any more. You can put facts out in an argument. You can demonstrate the clear fallibility of an opponent’s dogma. You can produce reams of evidence to suggest that on the balance of probability, you are right and the slogan shouting, myth eulogising guy on the other side is wrong. It doesn’t count any more.
What has been apparent in all three of these campaigns, and of course why all three were to differing extents shock results, is that the pre-election polling has been found in retrospect to be completely inaccurate. This could well be due to the methods employed being greatly outdated, for the way in which people consume information these days and indeed express themselves has altered greatly in the last 20 years, while polling itself appears to be stuck in the past. But equally, there is a theory that people are ashamed to admit openly to preferring these right wing policies, the concept of the ‘shy Tory’ in the UK. This does beg the question – if it is seen to be taboo to publicly endorse thinking that is by turns racist, small minded, insular, lacking in empathy, outrageously selfish and utterly mendacious (as all three successful campaigns have variously been at different stages), it shouldn’t really be acceptable to secretly vote for it. One of the reasons so many people of my age group and demographic – the latter of which I fully accept isn’t necessarily representative of the country as a whole – find Brexit an incomprehensible concept is that we personally know so few people who will admit to voting that way (or indeed, for the Conservatives at any stage). There’s a certain irony in the contrast between the public bombast of right wing politics and the reluctance of those who endorse it to reveal themselves.
It should be said that the Left and liberal politicians in general are also complicit in the current state of affairs. The perception of ‘elite politics’ doesn’t exist by accident, governments in both the UK and the US have been increasingly remote from ordinary people for quite some time. There appears to be a fundamental issue of coherence on this side; Labour are riven by internal chaos and appear to be condemning themselves to years outside of Government at the current rate, the Liberal Democrats cut their own throats in enabling a brutalist hard-right Tory strategy in quasi-coalition, the Democrats put up perhaps the only feasible Presidential candidate who Trump could hope to beat, with a mass of public groundswell already against her and plenty of skeletons in her own closet. So while we can rightly rail against those who are now inexplicably in power and what they stand for, there simply has to be more of a credible alternative. Left-leaning parties can’t just expect people to vote for them by default because they aren’t Theresa May or Donald Trump. That isn’t anywhere near enough.
To finish – we are now intractably bound on both sides of the Atlantic to hardline, authoritarian, throwback governance, led by people with a sense of their own power and little else, with a side order of Brexit to follow. We are so often told by the overwhelmingly right-leaning media that right wing Government is the only sensible and practical way to go, that left wing policy is for political theorists and wooly-headed idealists. The next four to five years will bear out whether they are right and the likes of me are wrong, as I have been with all my political predictions over the last 18 months. Time will tell, if in the spirit of the day I can throw out my own trite, meaningless slogan. What I will say at this stage is that having the likes of Theresa May and Donald Trump as the architects of our future is deeply unpromising. They promise the politics of division, fear and elitism – that doesn’t sound like a future to me that is ‘taking back control’ for any of us.
Aiming to end winless streak heading into international break
This is highly likely to be the final game of Rob Edwards’ brief caretaker reign. While we have perhaps sensibly not rushed into a decision on the new manager, the season continues to rumble on while we make our deliberations and at this point, we are desperate for a win having failed to taste victory in any of our last six fixtures. Walter Zenga was sacked so that the season could be salvaged and we could press on with our aims to at minimum, seriously challenge for the top six; at present we stand seven points (plus a healthy margin of goal difference) behind Bristol City. It’s the kind of gap which can easily grow into an insurmountable one if results continue to splutter along in far from top six standard and it is imperative that we are at least in touch with the playoff places as we hit Christmas and New Year if we are to attract the calibre of mid-season signings we desire; players eager to play in the Premier League are markedly less likely to join a club that is almost certainly condemned to a minimum of a further 18 months’ purgatory in the Championship. So, for about the fourth week in a row, we could really do with winning this one.
Last week’s unconvincing display at Blackburn – a very poor advert for Edwards even getting a prolonged spell as interim boss, if indeed this was ever a possibility – was enlivened by the final 25 minutes when all of Helder Costa, Joao Teixeira and Ivan Cavaleiro were on the pitch. The clear boost in creativity that we have when the trio are playing together should make it a given that they appear from the start in home games where we need to set the attacking agenda, even if there would be a reticence to go with the three in tougher away trips. As a team with a relative abundance of attacking talent (yet lack of recent goals), the onus is on us to start games on the front foot and have the opposition worrying about what we can do to them, rather than beginning in passive fashion and, as so often has been the case this season, conceding early and ending up chasing the game.
In addition, the variant of 4-3-3 that we’ve played for much of the season really isn’t working for us at the moment. Jon Dadi Bodvarsson – who badly needs a goal himself, having not found the net since the end of August at Birmingham – is way too isolated and feeding off extremely poor service for the most part. When we get the ball in wide areas, the opposite wide forward and midfielders are more often than not failing to break into the box so it means that the frequent eye catching work of Helder Costa in particular is producing no reward for us. A change of shape is needed to get the best out of the players we have and to freshen up an approach which has made us increasingly predictable and easy to contain.
Edwards stated after the Blackburn game that he had asked his full backs in Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Matt Doherty to become more involved in general build up play, including in conventional midfield areas, and above all to get forward more. While we definitely do need the latter aspect – it was puzzling how Zenga became more and more fixated with not allowing them to overlap – the first priority of full back play should always be to make sure the defensive elements are right. Doherty has regressed back to the depths of his pre-February 2016 form where he ambles rather than chases after his opposite number, fails to stop anything coming into the box and constantly allows the winger to cut inside and get a shot away if they wish. As such, he should not be in the team until he has demonstrated that he can concentrate on actually defending again, though I will concede it is unlikely he’ll be dropped this weekend.
Elsewhere, Danny Batth seriously needs to shake himself out of his month-long rut of slack marking and basic errors – when your game is entirely based on getting the fundamentals of defending right in a no-frills way, it isn’t a good look to be at personal fault for multiple goals – and Romain Saiss must improve on a strangely subdued showing at Ewood Park. Carl Ikeme misses out this week with the side strain he picked up in the last game so Andy Lonergan will deputise. At 33, Lonergan’s game is set in stone; he will make the occasional outstanding save, but he is highly suspect on crosses and prone to comedy errors (as already shown in the Checkatrade Trophy game at Crewe last month). He represents no kind of serious alternative to Ikeme so this is an area where we must look to improve during one of the next two transfer windows.
Silvio – Danny Batth – Kortney Hause – Cameron Borthwick-Jackson
Dave Edwards – Romain Saiss
Helder Costa – Joao Teixeira – Ivan Cavaleiro
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson
Subs: Jon Flatt, Dominic Iorfa, Richard Stearman, Conor Coady, Jack Price, Prince Oniangue, Nouha Dicko.
Nigel Pearson has been heavily linked in some quarters with our own managerial vacancy following his acrimonious departure from Pride Park. Arriving after a year’s sabbatical following another, you guessed it, acrimonious departure from Leicester, Pearson came with the reputation of a manager skilled in building successful teams at this level and with a point to prove. Unfortunately for Derby fans, all that he proved was his serial ability to fall out with people. Key striker and fans’ favourite Chris Martin – 52 league goals in the last three seasons for the Rams – was marginalised in the early stages of the season in favour of the embodiment of sloth, Darren Bent, and subsequently loaned out to Fulham. Such an unpopular decision was exacerbated by Pearson’s team’s failure to find the net – just three goals scored in nine league games before he had a training ground argument with owner Mel Morris and was subsequently suspended and dismissed. While it is easy to see why Derby would have been seduced by his on field record, it’s apparent that any future employers of the ex-Middlesbrough centre half will have to do serious due diligence on his character before being convinced he will be able to work at their club.
Steve McClaren has since returned to the East Midlands after a disastrous spell at Newcastle last season and his original tenure at Derby ending with a run of just 2 wins in 13 games; a sequence which led to a team topping the league at the end of February completely missing the playoffs. It would be fair to say that this would represent a final chance for the former England manager to resurrect his career. McClaren has switched to his familiar 4-3-3 shape in contrast to Pearson’s preference to play two out and out strikers, a move which does appear to have helped them defensively at least as they have conceded just one goal in his opening four games in charge. On paper, a midfield three of Will Hughes, Bradley Johnson and Jacob Butterfield is one of the very best engine rooms in the Championship while Johnny Russell and Tom Ince have proven themselves in the past to be excellent operators out wide. Major summer signing Matej Vydra has thus far continued his pattern of underwhelming when playing for English clubs other than Watford and it may be that he will struggle to fit the brief required by McClaren from his main striker.
Last line-up (vs Sheff Wed, W 2-0, 29.10.16): Carson; Christie, Keogh, Pearce, Olsson; Johnson, Hanson, Butterfield; Russell, Bent, Ince.
Top scorers: Matej Vydra (2), seven players with 1 goal
Top assists: Will Hughes (2), Tom Ince (1), Ikechi Anya (1)
Saturday 27 February 2016: Wolves 2-1 Derby
Coming off the back of a seven game winless run and just one goal scored in four games, spirits going into this one were far from high, although Derby were in a state of relative flux themselves having recently sacked Paul Clement for reasons that remain unclear. The mood was brightened by a quick start and George Saville’s first goal for Wolves in the opening 15 minutes, a calm finish from the edge of the box. Derby came back into the game and equalised on the stroke of half time with a Chris Martin free kick, aided by some questionable positioning from Carl Ikeme. However, the second half was one where Wolves largely had the upper hand and that was rewarded five minutes from time as Saville struck once more, a fine header from a Matt Doherty cross which gave Scott Carson no chance. This was a rare afternoon of pleasure in the latter half of 2015/16, a performance of fight and endeavour rather than particularly eye catching football, but pleasing all the same.
While a win is much-needed, an improving Derby who appear to be settling back into a pattern of play which brought them prolonged good results for 18 months will be a strong test and there are too many issues with our play at present to be confident of picking up all three points.