The story regarding Paul Lambert’s future at Molineux first broke three weeks ago, with the narrative being that Lambert himself was considering his future as a result of a disagreement regarding transfer policy; specifically that Jorge Mendes, rather than Lambert, would be placed in charge of recruitment this summer. However, this is a question of performance and competence rather than any kind of clash behind the scenes regarding our future strategy on signings. That story in the Telegraph was planted by either Lambert himself, or someone close to him, in an attempt to limit any damage to his reputation when he already knew that his position was seriously under threat, or even that his fate had already been decided. It’s much better for his future career prospects if a picture can be painted that he was sawn off by the powers that be rather than dismissed for poor results. It might well be that he would prefer more autonomy than we are set to offer to any Head Coach, but that isn’t the reason this has happened. There has not been a breakdown in relations or a critical rupture regarding how the football side of the club is operated. Fosun have reviewed how the team has performed since the Scot arrived and they deem it to be unsatisfactory. They aren’t sufficiently convinced that he is the man to take us forward from here and so he has been sacked. It’s a fairly standard, straightforward, footballing matter. As much as some elements of the media would wish it to be otherwise.
How to assess Lambert’s time in charge?
It wouldn’t be fair to paint Lambert’s time here as an unmitigated disaster, but he simply hasn’t done enough to further his cause. His immediate brief was to avoid relegation – a state of affairs that we shouldn’t even have been remotely considering after we’d made the investment we had in the summer – and we ended up doing that with a degree of comfort, though for a time in February and March our prospects looked bleak. Beyond that, there wasn’t all that much to suggest that he could take us beyond severe inconsistency and overall mid-table returns. Fosun will have expected him to pull us out of a relegation scrap (which he did, through December and January) and keep us well away from the bottom end of the table, even though a push for the top six was already all but unattainable by the time he arrived. Sinking back into the mire through the late winter was not on the agenda. Our five successive league defeats included shocking performances against Burton, Wigan and Birmingham and the general paucity of our play – as well as picking up 0 points against teams who ended up finishing well below us – will not have escaped the attention of the board.
The FA Cup run was a welcome surprise, particularly coming almost a decade since we’d had any kind of progress in any cup competition. To beat good Premier League teams on their own patch, and deservedly so, will live long in the memory. When we won at Anfield it genuinely seemed like we were on to something under Lambert. However, perversely the run didn’t help him out in the long run. He somehow got it into his mind that the tactics that had beaten Liverpool would serve us well going forward. Yet this was never likely to work; we played that way in that specific game knowing that Liverpool would be relentlessly attacking us, we would need to soak up that pressure and play exclusively on the break. With the best will in the world, Burton and Wigan are never going to face up against Wolves, home or away, and adopt that approach. The upshot of which was we spent a month playing very little football at all, continually looking for an early ball forward which proved fruitless as the forwards were surrounded by defenders who hadn’t pushed on, there was no space in behind to exploit as there had been against Jürgen Klopp’s men. Predictably enough, it didn’t work. Had we not scored two late goals at Brentford in March – a game which, in fairness, we fully deserved to win – then there’s every chance he might not have seen the season out, although it’s hard to think who we could have appointed at that stage.
In general there were few clear signs of how Lambert wanted us to play. It’s true that he pushed the full backs on more than Walter Zenga did. He eventually shifted Ivan Cavaleiro into the number ten role to good effect. He continued to get serious output out of Helder Costa (though Lambert is well wide of the mark when he suggests that Costa was in and out of the team before he arrived). The signing of Ben Marshall indicated that he valued footballing ability in the wide areas just as much as raw pace and directness. He granted debuts to Connor Ronan and Morgan Gibbs-White, two excellent young footballers. These were all small good signs yet our games were still characterised by slack passing, an overly direct approach at times, a lack of cohesion, players not showing for the ball, significant periods where we appeared shapeless…I have some sympathy with him because he didn’t have the greatest tools at his disposal. We were never likely to spend big in January given that we were out of contention for promotion and as such, were not going to be well placed to pick up any high profile players at that stage. There isn’t a manager in the country who’ll turn George Saville and Dave Edwards into acceptable passers of the ball. But then no-one made him pick them. We simply didn’t even resemble a decent team in the bulk of his games in charge and there certainly isn’t any excuse for the tepid displays once survival had been all but secured at the start of April. At a time when we had nothing to play for, to refuse to experiment, to still play in a fashion whereby we seemed to be happy to try to eke points out at the expense of playing with any flair at all (the 0-0 draw with Blackburn was particularly puzzling) was not a good advert for our future prospects under him.
Ultimately, a month ago I wasn’t calling for his head. The points return that he managed (41 points from 30 games, 1.36 PPG) would equate to a tally of around 62 points over a full season, enough for around 11th place in this or most other seasons. Given the litany of issues facing the squad, whereby we don’t even have one genuinely capable option in several key positions, that probably isn’t far off the limit of what anyone could have got out of these players, although the fact that results tended to come in bursts of either winning or losing form with nothing in between doesn’t necessarily help perception. He didn’t do a bad job, but he certainly didn’t do enough to secure his own position. It’s apparent that the owners expected more. Personally, I can’t say I’ve shed any tears since it was clear that he was soon to be on his way. Other than the ones I shed every day about our left back situation. I certainly cannot agree with some of the handwringing that’s already on show about his supposed “shabby treatment”. The only reason he appears to have been left on the hook for the last three weeks is because someone from his side of the fence chose to leak a story regarding uncertainty surrounding his position. The club have played no part in that. They’ve assessed his contribution to date and concluded that it isn’t sufficient for us any more. That’s football. I can’t see what is manifestly “shabby” about that.
Where does this leave us?
Barring a major surprise being sprung, Nuno Espirito Santo will be announced as Lambert’s successor in the coming days. On the face of it, a Championship club should never be able to attract a manager who has Valencia and Porto as his most recent two clubs; furthermore, he led Valencia to a fourth place finish in La Liga as recently as 2014/15 and this season, lost a mere two league games with Porto, one of them being a final day dead rubber when their challenge for the title was already over. Although he failed to pick up any silverware with Porto, Benfica’s dominance in Portugal is not exclusive to this campaign; Porto have failed to win any trophy since 2013. It is through Jorge Mendes that we have been able to tempt him into the dizzying prospect of midweek encounters at Portman Road and The Den, Nuno being his first ever client. Being familiar with Mendes and being open to his players being brought to the club (as happened with Nuno at Valencia) is going to be crucial for any Head Coach as we move forward.
Some fans may not like this prospect but they are simply going to have to get used to it. Fosun have a serious financial and emotional stake in Gestifute and it will be through them that we source a large proportion of our signings. I think we’d all take a couple more Helder Costas. It is of course up to Mendes to furnish his man with the requisite quality – players, of course, that have to be willing to come to the Championship and buy into what this league requires – and at this stage, we have to operate with the faith that he will live up to his end of the bargain. It would make little sense for him to place a trusted client at a club where he clearly has an ongoing involvement, then send him signings of the calibre of Ola John. Time will tell. While it wouldn’t be fair to castigate Lambert wholesale on mere rumours, it’s telling that no-one thought it outlandish that his supposed targets included Jason Steele, Grant Hanley and Jordan Hugill. I would suggest it is likely that Mendes can offer us better than that. Additionally, the success in the Championship of late from the likes of Slavisa Jokanovic, Jaap Stam, Aitor Karanka (not that I would ever welcome his brand of footballing torpor to Molineux) and David Wagner suggests that the days when managerial experience of this league was a prerequisite are over. Worry about the talent of the man in charge before you consider the colour of his passport.
Making three managerial changes in less than a year is not ideal. Optimally you would seek to find the right man straight away and let that side of affairs look after itself. However, what the flux suggests is that Fosun are never going to be content with mediocrity. There is no chance that the club will be allowed to drift along as one of those teams that enter August each year with the vague hope that they might sort of challenge for sixth place if everything turns out well. The ambition is to get out of this league (at the right end, so apologies Deano, but you need to not apply) at the earliest possible opportunity. This cannot be a bad thing. I know that I’m not happy watching us finish 15th. I know I’m not happy with successive sub-60 points finishes in what remains a fairly ordinary division – for evidence of which, have a re-watch of yesterday’s Championship playoff final. Go on, I dare you. I know I’m definitely not happy watching the players that have contributed to the last two years of drudgery and are the sole common factor across those two campaigns. We need to change and it needs to be pretty radical, there is no value in wasting time or offering more opportunities to those who have conclusively proven that they are not up to the task. For many years, fans have bemoaned our coaching structure and called for a clearout. They’ve got their wish as Lambert is followed through the exit door by Stuart Taylor, Rob Edwards and Tony Daley (with Pat Mountain also set to be downgraded from first team matters if he remains at the club). Nuno will bring in all his own men. They’ve looked at other clubs and lamented that we are never as “ruthless” as they are. Well, they’ve done that now as well. More than once.
We need them to get an appointment right, one that sticks and one that brings us success. We need this soon because if we end up in a long-running cycle of failed appointments that don’t end up seeing out even a full season, it certainly won’t help the perception of the club, particularly when it comes to recruitment. If they do continue to get it wrong and we fester in this league for any length of time, questions will rightly be asked. But the signs are that Nuno will be given the tools to succeed, and he has a pedigree that should be wholly unmatched in this division next season. This club is changing; perhaps attitudes need to change along the way.
Champions Trophy favourites take on No 1 ranked team
With the Champions Trophy a little over a week away from starting – the ICC having mercifully decided that as they’d finally hit upon a tournament structure that works, they won’t cancel the whole thing after all – England complete their preparations with a three match series against South Africa, currently ranked number one in the world and like the home team, serious contenders for picking up the honours next month. Having learned little from the two matches against Ireland, where the visitors displayed ineptitude not seen since games on ‘Amateur’ difficulty on Brian Lara Cricket 2005, this will represent a serious test of the favourites tag festooned on Eoin Morgan’s men.
The home team
Jonny Bairstow isn’t an especially happy ginger bunny at the moment. His season so far has run as follows; Fail to pick up an IPL deal, be mandated to miss a chunk of Yorkshire’s Championship fixtures at the behest of the ECB (while his team mates are over in India playing seemingly every other day), lose his role as back up keeper in the ODI team to Sam Billings, score a cumulative 82 runs off 59 balls against Ireland without being dismissed…and he’ll still get dropped from the team today. It’s definitely hard on him and there are plenty of teams he’d walk into as one of the star batsmen, but that’s a mark of where England’s batting line up is. That first choice top six of Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler is impregnable. The captain would have probably the flimsiest case to make given his uneven returns over the last 18 months or so, but his position as leader of the team is rock solid and so there simply isn’t any room at the inn. There hasn’t been space to bring in outstanding young talent in the likes of Liam Livingstone and Daniel Bell-Drummond. Ben Duckett can’t get in the squad. Jonny will have to fume and turn an incredible shade of red in the Leeds sunshine instead.
Stokes, Buttler and Chris Woakes are back in the fold after their time in the sub-continent (Stokes ended as one of the undoubted stars of the show, the other two had their moments without grabbing many headlines) and will come straight back into the team. It’s likely that Trevor Bayliss will return to his policy of picking both Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid which leaves two spots up for grabs between Mark Wood, Liam Plunkett, David Willey and Jake Ball. Willey struggled against Ireland as the new ball failed to swing; under those circumstances, his low 80s pace can become cannon fodder. He has generally shown a decent knack for taking early wickets which is absolutely crucial in modern ODI cricket but there’s just something which doesn’t wholly convince about him. His figures thus far suggest that he’s borderline unusable in overs 10-40. His batting is an irrelevance at this level – smashing Josh Cobb and Shiv Thakor around in domestic games is a world away from facing international quality bowling, and thus far in England colours he’s looked little more than an unreconstructed village slogger – and while the variety of a left arm option is welcome, it isn’t enough on its own. Otherwise Harry Gurney would still be in the team with his weird rictus grin. This could end up being a crucial audition for him. Wood is likely to play whenever available due to his raw pace and a combination of him as a strike bowler with Plunkett offering a reassuring battering ram, gloriously bearded control option could be the way forward.
Possible team: Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan (c), Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wk), Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Adil Rashid, Liam Plunkett, Mark Wood
The away team
Chokers. Bottlers. South Africa are never going to rid themselves of that tag until they get round to winning a major tournament (they did win the 1998 Wills Trophy, but given England’s squad for that jamboree included Matthew Fleming, Graham Lloyd and a 35 year old Jack Russell, I’m not sure everyone was taking it especially seriously). It’s probably an unfair tag; they tend to lose in the latter stages of tournaments unlike England’s glorious habit of crashing out in the group stages – I’m still not over 1999 – and so when they lose, it’s normally against a fellow top end team who would be expected to give them a very good game on their own merit. But still, for a nation that has produced so much incredible talent, their inability to seal the deal haunts them. Going into this tournament on a prolonged good run of form and facing conditions which should suit them, this would represent yet another good chance to break that hoodoo. Or they’ll mess it up in the semi-final again, whichever.
The top order of Quinton de Kock (absolutely ludicrous form for a while now – he averaged 57 through 2016 at a strike rate in excess of 100), Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers looks ominously strong. It’s a great shame for the game that AB has seemingly decided to give up on Test cricket to concentrate on schlepping around the world playing T20 and to turn up for South Africa whenever there’s a tournament on and if he’s to have that decision vindicated, this would be the time for him to produce the goods on the big stage. The frontline bowling is strong with the outstanding Kagiso Rabada set to take the reins of attack leader from the sadly crocked Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir on hand to produce the inevitable spell of 5-3-3-4 against our middle order, accompanied by a lap of the ground with every wicket. It’s the middle order which doesn’t look the strongest at this stage; JP Duminy can normally be relied upon for some comically soft dismissals and in 20 ODIs against England averages under 19 with a top score of 47. Farhaan Berhardien is the kind of player England would have picked for the 1998 Wills Trophy, David Miller tends to be more miss than hit, Chris Morris looks like Beaker from Sesame Street looks a notch or two short of genuine class with both bat and ball and Wayne Parnell has never lived up to the hype when he first broke onto the scene. Andile Phehlukwayo has made a promising start to his international career and may provide South Africa’s best hope of filling the all-rounder berth that they seem determined to craft.
Possible team: Quinton de Kock (wk), Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (c), JP Duminy, David Miller, Andile Phehlukwayo, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir
The weather seems to be set fair for all three fixtures and with predominantly flat decks produced for ODIs in this country nowadays, we should see a run-soaked series. Both teams bat deep and bat aggressively and England habitually score heavily while never really threatening to choke teams off with the ball under this regime. De Kock is likely to be the key man for the visitors as he has the ability to take a game away within the opening 15 overs. England will seek to finalise that bowling line-up and hope that Buttler can reignite his form after a quiet few months in the international game. Eoin Morgan to produce at least one seethe-inducing innings of 12 off 26 balls along the way.
First impressions aren’t always everything they’re cracked up to be. Through August and September it looked like in Bodvarsson, we had found a serious answer to our lack of any kind of credible striker which had plagued us since the departure of Benik Afobe. Hard running with an ability to unsettle defenders through sheer effort, he knocked in two goals at Rotherham and Birmingham with well struck finishes…and then, not much. An injury picked up after a Herculean display against Brentford was effectively the death knell for his season as after he returned, he didn’t look anything like the same player. This has been partly attributed to him continually playing football since the summer of 2015 and there is perhaps some merit to this; switching from a summer league in Norway to a conventional calendar in Germany and then playing in Euro 2016 for Iceland genuinely has given him little by way of a break. However, I’m not sure you can attribute his loss of ability to control the ball or win anything in the air merely to workload. As the season progressed and his goal drought went on, he became more and more desperate to score which ended up affecting his decision making in the final third. The effort levels never dipped, but most of his appearances in the final three months of the season in particular were wholly ineffective. Quite clearly we cannot go through another campaign where we get so few goals from our strikers and there isn’t much evidence to suggest that Bod is going to score anything like prolifically at this level; in five seasons in Norway, Germany and England, he averages fewer than a goal every six games. He undoubtedly does need some time to recharge his batteries because that kind of workload is abnormal, but it’s unlikely to be the solution to his fundamental lack of instinct in front of goal.
Appearances: 12 (8)
Here we go with first impressions again. Teixeira came on at Rotherham on the opening day and immediately set up our equalising goal; starting wide on the left against Reading the following week, he was hands down the best player on the park. Playing very much with his head up and showing off his tight technical skills, he looked like he could be a creative force to be reckoned with. The problem when you bring in this kind of player from the likes of Portugal though is that inevitably, they’ll hit a hurdle in terms of the intensity and physicality of this league. In Part 2 of the review I mentioned how Helder Costa visibly improved his upper body strength in particular to allow him to thrive in English football. This kind of adaptation seemed to be beyond Tex. The talent he had was quite clear but attempts to play him in central midfield were an abject failure, and with us signing Ivan Cavaleiro his opportunities in the wide areas became more limited, although he did score twice at home to Brentford when he got the nod ahead of his fellow Portuguese. Essentially he became more and more of a luxury that we couldn’t afford, especially as under Zenga we weren’t playing a system which allowed for a number 10 playing in a free role, divested of defensive responsibilities. It’s not that he shirked those responsibilities or looked visibly cowed by what he was facing, it’s just that he wasn’t up to it. With Zenga gone and after a decent sub appearance at Blackburn, it looked like Rob Edwards had decided to give him a go in behind the striker at home to Derby…alas no, he was back in central midfield again and after an abject 32 minutes (both personally and collectively) he was hauled off. The end was nigh as that proved to be his final start in a Wolves shirt. It was apparent that under Paul Lambert he would be little more than a bit part player and he was sent off on a sub-loan to Nottingham Forest at the end of January where he failed to play a single minute of football. I don’t think anyone doubts that Joao is a talented footballer. He’s simply never going to make a sustained impact in this division unless you make a hell of a lot of allowances for including him in the team, and it’s debatable whether his end product justifies that.
Appearances: 2 (1)
And yet sometimes, a first impression can tell you everything you need to know. With Nouha Dicko still on the comeback trail as the season started, we needed reinforcements up front and we elected to sign Gladon from Heracles Almelo for £1m in late August. From the outset it seemed a puzzling target to pursue; his career had largely been spent in the Dutch second tier with reasonable but far from spectacular scoring returns. It’s pretty well established that signing forwards from the Eredivisie is a bit of a lottery; for every Ruud van Nistelrooy, Henrik Larsson or Luis Suarez, there’s a Mateja Kezman, an Afonso Alves or a Ricky van Wolfswinkel. But all of those players were regular scorers in the top tier in the Netherlands. If the standard there is so variable as to make projected returns highly unreliable…well you can draw your own conclusions as to how good the Eerste Divisie is. He had played for Heracles in the top division in 2015/16, but had made just three starts. So the question of how he came to be on our radar is a puzzling one. Information has leaked out at some point that he was the personal choice of Walter Zenga but this is dubious on a couple of counts; firstly, it’s easier to chuck Zenga under the bus as he’s no longer here and will almost certainly never work in English football again (there’s probably more chance of Mick Fleetwood hosting the Brit Awards again) and secondly, why would a coach who’d spent much of the last decade working in various tinpot Middle Eastern leagues be so intent on signing a fairly obscure Dutch striker? The likelihood is that someone else, still at the club (cough…Kevin Thelwell…cough) was actually responsible and would rather bury that news. Anyway, the uninitiated have probably realised by now that this one didn’t work out. He was handed a start at home to Burton and looked like a League Two player. No pace, a Maierhofer-style ability to seem to shrink when jumping for a ball and an awareness of the offside law that would have shamed Jeremy Helan. Other than a League Cup start at Newcastle and a brief sub appearance at Wigan, that was that. Following Zenga’s departure he failed to even make a matchday squad and it was evident that he has absolutely no future here. We don’t play him in the U23s, as what’s the point of having him play ahead of our developing young forwards. Unless Heracles wanted him back (and it seems they didn’t), he couldn’t move in January as FIFA seem to think the world will collapse if someone adds to a tally of playing for more than two clubs in a season. So if you ever wanted to know what a footballer who doesn’t play football looks like…have a glance at Gladon’s Instagram account. He goes out for dinner with his girlfriend a lot. He takes a lot of trips back to Holland. Nice work if you can get it. We’ll inevitably end up writing off that £1m fee and we shall try not to speak of him again.
Appearances: 9 (5)
The problem with having dross like Gladon in the first team squad is that it blocks opportunities for young players. Bright didn’t make a single appearance for the senior team this season until Lambert arrived at the club. Immediately the new manager was impressed by his raw talent and he had a brief run of starts around Christmas and New Year. While everyone knows that he has a lot of natural ability – he can run with the ball, beat a man, offer a genuine creative threat and a degree of unpredictability – what is lacking at the moment is any kind of tangible productivity. His decision making at first team level is sadly lacking at the moment, as he tends to pick the wrong pass at the wrong time, or when put in a position to score, chooses the wrong option in terms of finish. These failings don’t seem to manifest themselves at U23 level so perhaps it is an issue of confidence, or yet to feel at ease when promoted to the seniors. It’s easy to forget that he’s still only 19 so there’s plenty of time for this to come, yet he does nevertheless find himself at a bit of a crossroads; there is no longer any benefit to him playing at U23 level as he has nothing left to learn from that standard of football, but he doesn’t seem especially close to becoming a regular first team starter at this point. Loan spells tend to be an exceptionally overrated device but in Bright’s case, it would probably be of benefit to him to find a club where he can at least get a few months of prolonged exposure to senior football. We need to make sure that his talent is nurtured in the right way.
Appearances: 19 (6)
For much of the last 30 years, we’ve had a distinct lack of class in our midfield. Plenty of willing runners, but not many players who can dictate play or provide a real calming presence. Saiss theoretically provides those things, but the issue is more with what he can’t do rather than what he can. For it’s all well and good to be able to play the odd eye catching pass, to be comfortable in possession and to at least outwardly be a decent physical presence, a lot of that is negated if you’re terminally slow in both mind and body. And let’s be clear, he is slow. Slower than watching Das Boot. Slower than spending a weekend in Rutland in the exclusive company of Nick Faldo. Slower than Dave Jones is to ever recognising that he might be a tiny, tiny amount at fault when it all goes pear-shaped at one of his clubs. You get the picture. There are plenty of deep-lying midfielders who can’t really run; Jonjo Shelvey is one and he’s just won the division with Newcastle. It’s not so much that that’s the issue, it’s that Saiss is slow to react to danger, meaning the defensive side of his game isn’t especially good, and isn’t quick to think when he’s on the ball, which means he gives it away or gets dispossessed fairly often. So we can’t really use him as a dedicated defensive midfielder, and he isn’t really capable of being a metronomic presence to help us keep the ball and create from deep. He does have qualities and there’s something there to suggest that we can make use of him, but it seems a fairly long shot at the moment. He wasn’t helped early on by Zenga’s tactics which had him holding hands with the centre halves with next to nothing ahead of him within 50 yards, and then was hampered in making an impression on Lambert by missing January and early February at the African Nations. Given our general paucity in midfield since Kevin McDonald decided that effort was something that he didn’t need to bother with any more, Saiss doesn’t look too bad in comparison with what we’ve got. In comparison to top 10 midfields in the league…I’m not sure there’s too many he’d get close to breaking into.
Appearances: 7 (0)
This one really, really should have worked out. Borthwick-Jackson made a series of highly impressive appearances for Man Utd last season, even managing to overcome the obstacle of being managed by Weird Uncle Louis. We were (and still are) desperate for a left back and this seemed to be an option very much worth taking, even if it was a loan with virtually no chance of it ever becoming permanent. Sadly, it didn’t work out. Zenga’s early insistence on changing the back four every single game for no apparent reason meant that CBJ had no opportunity to put a run of games together, and when he did play, his inexperience frequently showed as he’d have a ropey 15-20 minute spell even when he was having a reasonable enough game overall. What was most disappointing was his inability or unwillingness to close down wingers and allow them to get a ball into the box unopposed. We already have Matt Doherty to do that, thank you very much. He was certainly very decent on the ball, but if you aren’t doing the defensive basics properly…well, that’s been our issue in that area for ages. When Lambert came in, he decided that he wanted more “experience” at the back and went with my begloved mate at left back. I’m not sure that “experience” is that vital when it’s experience of defending like Doherty does, but that’s by the by. His mind was made up and Borthwick-Jackson failed to make any further appearances. As we failed to sign another left back in January and United refused to return a portion of the loan fee we’d paid, he was left stranded here doing nothing much at all for the remainder of the season. A sad state of affairs for a promising young player who has now wasted a year of his career at an important development point, and one which has probably ended chances in the short to medium term of us getting any further players on loan from Old Trafford (indeed, it’s largely accepted that during our goalkeeping crisis in December, we were rebuffed from taking Sam Johnstone on an emergency basis). We have to assume that the failing lies on the side of the player as well as the club, hopefully it’s something that all concerned can learn from.
Appearances: 29 (1)
If you’re going to have a mixed bag of a season, it’s always better for perception that the good bit comes at the end. After only starting 12 of our opening 32 league games – where solid performances against the likes of Birmingham and Villa were interspersed with rocky displays against Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham – he established himself as a regular starter from the start of March onwards, producing a series of increasingly more authoritative showings. His potential has been evident since he arrived at the club yet like most young defenders, it takes time for it all to come together on a consistent basis. As the season has progressed, his work on the ball has improved markedly with less of the panicky hoofing of the past, while he’s started to use his natural pace and strength much more effectively. At this stage, he should very much be considered as our number one centre-half – and there should be more to come with him still yet to turn 22. A rough time against Brighton at home shows that he is not yet the finished article and he does undoubtedly need a partner that offers both more solidity and a sense of a permanence as continually swapping centre halves is not a formula that often works in this division. But in a season of relatively few positives, Hause can certainly be considered as one.
Appearances: 7 (0)
It’s a little unfair to judge young Harry at this stage; last season he was our fifth choice keeper and wouldn’t have expected in his wildest dreams to have been playing any first team football this year, let alone walking out at Anfield. Injuries to Carl Ikeme and Andy Lonergan, coupled with our aforementioned failure to land an emergency loan keeper and Jon Flatt’s lack of recent competitive action at the time led to him being thrust into action against Fulham in mid-December. You could at least say that he didn’t look overawed by nerves, and through his appearances there was the odd decent save. He also isn’t Andy Lonergan, which is very much in his favour. However, there’s a long way for him to go before he’s anything like ready to play at this level. Crosses present a major problem for him at present; no keeper will like to be beaten by a header off a set piece from three yards out as he was at Cardiff. A handling issue handed Barnsley a consolation goal at Oakwell and the manager went on record to pin the blame for Huddersfield’s only goal at Molineux on the keeper (Dave Edwards giving the ball away under no pressure and then letting his man run off him seemed to escape Lambert’s gaze). He’d barely played any U23s football before this year let alone moving into senior football and he simply needs far, far more experience – be it in Academy football or out on loan down the pyramid – before he can be considered a serious option.
Appearances: 0 (2)
Another one who wasn’t especially near the first team thinking as the season began, he used the absence through injury of Niall Ennis to fully establish himself in the U23s team and went on to produce a highly impressive run of goals, earning a place on the bench and subsequently making his debut against Chelsea in the process. Unfortunately, in his two brief sub appearances (the other being against Brighton at home), he barely touched the ball. Didn’t help that we were already losing against teams that are miles better than us. His electric pace and calm finishing could well be an asset to us next year off the bench; he probably would have been granted more opportunities this year to show that in the final weeks had the U23s not been engaged in a battle for promotion, which ultimately was more important than the dead first team games. Of course we bottled that particular battle in the end, but we shall gloss over that.
Appearances: 3 (3)
Ignore the fact that he looks about 12, Ronan was showing every sign of being a genuine first team option (and moreover, an improvement on what we’d been sending out beforehand) before a back injury cut his season short in February. Similar to Helder Costa, he’s a lot tougher than his stature would suggest and his passing and dead ball ability look to be absolutely top notch. He’s been spoken of at youth level in glowing terms for some years now and while it’s probably too much to expect that he can command a first team spot for a full season, he should certainly play a role in 2017/18. It’s encouraging that we are bringing through players who are comfortable on the ball and seem to have been coached at some point to pass properly. I mean we might end up knocking that out of them eventually, but for now it’s a good sign.
Appearances: 17 (14)
In some ways, it’s been a fairly subdued debut season for Cavaleiro. On the face of it, a £7m, senior Portuguese international signing for a Championship club should be expected to be making an immediate and significant impact; he hasn’t really done that. What he has done is shown enough to suggest that in the long term, he’ll be worth the investment, and provided enough moments here and there to get a decent pass mark. He’s not a pace merchant in the mold of Costa (although it would be unfair to cast Helder as someone who merely relies on that), more of a natural inside forward who links play and looks to operate from more central areas. Lambert has taken this further and started to use him in the number ten role, concluding that we can’t trust him to do his share of defensive work when he’s employed out wide, which is probably fair enough. This switch should, in time, make use of his ability to beat a man on either side and offer some serious creative threat in what should always be a position where the most technically able are used (and not someone who runs around chasing defensive midfielders and might score occasionally. Hint hint). What is abundantly clear is that when both Costa and Cavaleiro are on the pitch together, we look far, far more dangerous. When both were available in December and January, we played 10 games and scored 17 goals. Through February and March when Cavaleiro was injured, we managed 3 goals in 7 games. Cav returned and we went on a run of 9 goals in 4…before Helder was crocked in the warm-up for the Forest home game and we finished the season with 5 goals in 8 games. Simply having both on the park gives defences more than one problem to deal with and frees everyone up. Unless our friend Mr Mendes has something in line for Ivan, he should be here next season and hopefully can have a bit more of a sustained impact all of his own having had a year to settle in.
Appearances: 2 (6)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; having someone play for us who was born in the year 2000 feels just plain wrong. Bloody kids. After making a surprising debut at Stoke in the FA Cup, Gibbs-White has, like Ronan, shown plenty to suggest that he has been promoted on merit rather than tokenism. Long-term, his future should lie in central midfield where his ability to glide with the ball and pass accurately are best utilised, but for now he has mainly been used out wide, where he has enough pace and dribbling ability to impress for now while perhaps being protected from the fray of a scrap with hardened Championship competitors (although he’s no wallflower, so this needn’t be a strategy we persist with for too long). A hairline fracture to his foot saw him miss the final couple of games but he should be back to take part in pre-season.
Appearances: 6 (0)
It seemed for a time that Williamson would go through his entire spell as a permanent Wolves player without making an appearance. Injured when he arrived, re-injured shortly after returning to training and nowhere near contention at the start of this season, he wasn’t even handed a squad number in August and prospects of retirement seemed very real. He finally got himself back into contention around Christmas and made his return at Stoke where he performed creditably…and promptly got injured again. In his five appearances since, he’s looked ok…but he’s not the long term answer at all. You wouldn’t expect a 33 year old coming off the back of over a year of serious injury problems to be lightning quick, but you do need some kind of ability to turn and break into some kind of sprint. Any kind of ball played over the top or down the channels with Williamson in the team is going to present a big problem for us. He does do his share of organising the defence, but the likelihood is if we simply signed better players (and didn’t have midfielders at full back, or better yet, had a left back who understood where he was supposed to be standing in the first place), we wouldn’t need him cajoling the entire back four all the time. He’s better on the ball than Danny Batth, but not by a huge amount. And clearly, we can’t rely on his fitness at all. We sent him out early to warm up for the second half against Rotherham and he was clanking away so much it was like we’d sent the Tin Man out in the number 60 shirt. There isn’t any realistic way you can see him starting more than 20 games next season, and if we’re thinking of getting rid of Silvio on the basis of injuries yet he is younger and moreover better (albeit in a different position)…then Willo has to go too, really.
Appearances: 17 (4)
Andi Weimann has spent most of his career in England playing predominantly on the right of a front three. Right back to his Aston Villa days, he’s been insistent that his natural position is as a central striker. I, for one, believe him. Injuries to Cavaleiro and Costa haven’t helped but we have pressed him into action wide on either flank more often than we should have, and his impact there remains relatively negligible. You get a fair amount of effort and honest endeavour, which is lovely and all that, but in terms of attacking output there’s next to nothing. He just fills a gap out there and shuttles up and down, like a Super Cup Football player. If he were to ever get a concerted run up front…then it might be a different story. All three of his Wolves goals to date have been extremely well taken and he offers a genuine threat up there, which we haven’t really had from anyone else since Bodvarsson’s early season form dropped off (and dropped off in the sense that Robert Maxwell “dropped off” his boat). He’s probably never going to be prolific, even at this level. It’s hard to see him ever knocking in 20 goals a season, though that said, it’s not like we’ve seen him yet in a team that provides chance after chance for whoever’s employed as a striker. As a squad option within a pool of four or five strikers, he might well be worth keeping on. Word is that the fee we have negotiated for his permanent transfer from Derby is relatively modest – in the £1.5m region – and as he seems to have no future at all there, given they’ve been intent over the last couple of years on building a squad entirely made up of winger/forward hybrids, it seems likely that he’ll be in for a longer stay at Molineux.
Appearances: 13 (3)
Incoming managers always tend to look to their former clubs for signings and so it was no surprise when Lambert brought in Marshall, with him being one of Blackburn’s better players and his contract due to run out this summer. Blackburn being Blackburn under the Venkys, they made life much more difficult than it should have been, with unrealistic demands over the transfer fee delaying the move until the very end of the window and orange faced shorts wearing serial failure Owen Coyle seeing fit to ban Marshall from first team training. In light of which, you could accept him arriving short of match fitness, but there really was no excuse for him turning up a good stone overweight. This meant that his early appearances were pretty unimpressive, with the unsurprising rustiness allied to him huffing and puffing down the touchline with all the athleticism of Jamie O’Hara in 2013. Credit to him though, he did sort that side of things out and finished the season well. He’s clearly a very decent footballer and a good complement to the other attacking midfield options we have, with some eye catching passes and crosses peppering the final couple of months. It doesn’t seem that we’ll look at using him as a right back as Lambert did when they were both at Ewood Park so he should be vying for a spot with the likes of Jordan Graham and Michal Zyro next season. Healthy competition indeed.
The strategy of picking up the best that the lower leagues had to offer proved a fruitful one for us under Mick McCarthy; with this in mind, the signing of Jed Wallace in May 2015 seemed a sound enough idea. He’d scored 17 goals in 2014/15 for Portsmouth and was rated as one of the very best players in League Two, and at just 21 had plenty of room to develop. Unfortunately, this simply hasn’t materialised. While he wasn’t helped by a pre-season injury, his opening campaign at Molineux was a damp squib as he failed to nail down a spot in the team and was sent out on loan to Millwall for three months, although bright appearances against Burnley and Sheffield Wednesday towards the end offered some room for optimism. He started this season in the team under Walter Zenga but save for a fine display at St Andrews in August, his impact was negligible, being replaced twice at half time inside the opening month and his final start came at Ewood Park at the end of October. Save for a 25 minute sub appearance at Preston in Paul Lambert’s first game, he didn’t appear under the new regime and returned for a second loan spell at Millwall, this time with a view to a permanent move. Other than the brief flicker here and there, he simply hasn’t looked up to Championship football; wide players who don’t really beat a man, don’t have any real pace or power to speak of and don’t offer much by way of delivery don’t often get very far. What is odd is that given his goal record for Portsmouth and the quality of some of his goals for Millwall, his shooting and general finishing has looked so poor in a Wolves shirt; the few efforts he has got off have had the power of Fernando Alonso’s McLaren. As with Michael Jacobs before him, some players just have a very definite ceiling at League One level, even if they do look a cut above in that division. You can’t always unearth a Michael Kightly or Matt Jarvis.
Appearances: 15 (3)
Lee Evans certainly divides opinion amongst Wolves fans. For every fan who thinks he’s still a player with a lot of potential and something different to offer in midfield, there’s another who can’t see what all the fuss is about. This has been another season of little tangible progress for the Welshman who started the opening three games as the first choice defensive midfielder under Zenga, but picked up a knee injury at Birmingham and didn’t return until the turn of the year. High points were appearing throughout the FA Cup run and starting each of our five successive wins in March and April; low points would be missing virtually the entire first half of the season, being jeered at home to Wigan and giving away a shocker of a goal at Bristol City. The problem is that he still hasn’t really found a niche. Is he a deep lying playmaker? Can he do enough defensive work to play in front of the back four? Does he have the energy to get about the park if we play him higher up the pitch? Is he ever going to offer us much in the final third? Nearly four years since he made his debut, we’re still none the wiser on all of that. Turning 23 over the summer, he has to start offering more than just the odd decent long pass. Having been handed a three and a half year deal recently, he should have the chance to move his game on, but needs to do it soon.
Appearances: 0 (3)
I suppose this is just a mark of the way in which we operate if we choose to deal with Jorge Mendes. We didn’t really need another wide player, less still one who’d already had an uneven career encompassing a fairly average spell at Reading in this division. We never got the impression that anyone actually wanted Ola John at the club. But he’s part of the bargain, if you want access to the best players possible that Mendes can place here, you have to accept that you’ll have to do him the odd favour here and there. No-one has to like it, it’s just an inevitability. So it followed that John played a whole 72 minutes in a Wolves shirt before being shipped off yet again on loan to Deportivo La Coruna in January, where he’s made a mighty one league start to date. He did nearly notch an assist for us against Leeds at home which proved to be Zenga’s final game, but there’s little else to report. It’s a curious existence that he has; four separate loan spells since joining Benfica in 2012, none of them in any way fruitful. That’s modern day football I guess.
Appearances: 40 (5)
Given we spent £2m on Conor Coady when we already had a surfeit of central midfielders, that turned out to be basically all of our transfer budget for that summer, he swiftly proved himself to be no better than anyone we already owned and nothing about his natural game has improved since he arrived, he’s never going to go down as a good signing. What he does have is a decent attitude and a willingness to muck in, which has proved valuable as he’s been pressed into service this season as an auxiliary right back. His performances in that role have actually been way better than anything he’s served up in midfield. If you can accept that he’s rarely going to offer anything going forward – his crossing is as poor as his general passing, not to mention his ball control, the sight of which makes you question how someone that deficient in basic technique ever came all the way through Liverpool’s Academy – he’s fairly solid defensively, hasn’t really been taken apart too many times despite not being a natural full back, understands the basics of positional play and gives it his best every single game. It’s a low bar for what was a fairly decent sized investment in our circumstances, but making some use of him is better than no use. We know for sure that we can’t use him in midfield if we’re serious about progressing in this league; the horror of having both him and Dave Edwards in the middle of the park is equivalent to listening to Vanilla’s “No Way No Way” on a loop. He wouldn’t be a dedicated option to continue in that right back role, yet as a back up option for the last year of his contract he would be tolerable. It’s a mark of how poor the season has been overall that he managed to come third in the Player of the Season awards. Maybe he deserved it just for that clearance at home to Nottingham Forest, that win effectively confirming our safety in the division (and there’s that low bar again, it’s a good job Stefan Maierhofer isn’t in town).
Appearances: 34 (6)
All of this over the last couple of days has been pretty much negative. Which, you know, I really can’t be blamed for. You wouldn’t expect me to write a positive review of Monster-in-Law just because I’d slagged off Jennifer Lopez’s music purely in the interest of balance. They’re both shit. Good reviews have to be earned and with that in mind, I’ve got absolutely no problem with saying that Helder Costa is comfortably the most exciting Wolves player I’ve seen since Robbie Keane. It’s easy to forget that he wasn’t the most high profile of our summer signings and nor did he have the most immediate impact; Ivan Cavaleiro and Joao Teixeira take those honours. However once he broke into the team, his quality was plain to see. Initial concerns about him being a touch lightweight were soon brushed away as he worked hard to improve his upper body strength and he set about terrorising Championship defences with his incredible dribbling ability. Watching him in full flow is absolutely mesmerising as he can beat a man on either side through skill or simply raw pace, and while it baffles me why teams continue to let him cut in from the right hand side onto his left foot, his finishing has proven to also be of outstanding quality. After a stunning showing at Anfield – had he managed to find the target with his solo effort in the first half, it would have gone down as one of the all-time great Wolves goals – the board recognised that we had to do everything possible to make sure that we at least had an investment to protect, and his initial loan move from Benfica was made permanent for £13m. Sounds odd to say so when it’s such an astronomical sum for a second tier club, but at that price he was an absolute steal. He missed the final month of the season with an ankle injury to prompt the predictable conspiracy theories that a move away from Molineux has already been agreed; while I don’t buy them, it’s fairly obvious that there will be high profile interest in him this summer. A player that good has no real business playing in the Championship. Obviously I hope he stays, but it really is hope at this point rather than expectation. If he does move on I would hope it’s to a club seriously befitting of his talent, rather than any old mid-table Premier League team (ask Steven Fletcher how that move ended up for his career). If he stays…well he’ll absolutely tear the division to shreds. Again. We might even have a team around him this time that he deserves. Whatever happens, it’s been simply a pleasure to watch him every week. I love the little guy.
Appearances: 24 (1)
Before this summer’s arrivals, Dom was our number one asset. An England U21 international with a host of Premier League suitors, right back isn’t the easiest position from which to demonstrate star quality but throughout 2015 in particular, he looked destined for the very top. So how then has he ended up behind Coady for virtually the entire second half of the season? He actually played a fair portion of games at centre half under Zenga and there were some decent displays mixed in there – it is where he spent the bulk of his time through the Academy and his pace was a definite asset to us there – but a disaster of a showing at home to Derby while Rob Edwards was caretaker manager appears to have ended that experiment for good. As a full back, there has been a noticeable decline in his performances. You’d be hard pressed to suggest that his delivery has ever been particularly strong, but the frequent charges forward from right back just aren’t there at all any more. Defensively it was rare that any winger would get the better of him in his first year in the team; when you’re getting burned multiple times by Oscillating Wildly favourite Rajiv van La Parra inside a single half of football, then there’s clearly an issue. It’s now highly unlikely that the level of interest in him is anything like as high given that he’s struggled to make our matchday squad for much of the last four months so it needs to be a summer of knuckling down and finding his form again. When he is playing as we know he can, pretty much every club in the division would love to have him. There’s still more than enough time for him to recover, but he can’t afford too many seasons like this one. Ryan Green looked good for a time and ended up being fit for sunbed adverts and nothing else.
Appearances: 20 (3)
Shane Warne famously said of Monty Panesar that he hadn’t played 33 Tests for England, he’d played the same Test match 33 times. The same can be applied to Jack Price and Wolves; a massive, massive proportion of his 106 appearances are indistinguishable from each other. You know exactly what you’re going to get; he will at least show for a pass from the back four, he’ll typically knock it on 5-10 yards, he’ll give it away a few times, he’ll rarely venture over the halfway line, there might be a pointless booking thrown in there somewhere and although it’s nice that he largely keeps possession, he doesn’t really give much of a sense of security in front of the back four. Essentially, his game hasn’t moved on at all since 2013. This appears to be a conclusion reached by Lambert as despite early praise thrown his way, his presence in the first XI declined to the point where he started just three of the final 14 games of the season. What he offers simply isn’t enough for us any more; it might be accurate to say that he’d look better next to someone like an in-form and motivated Kevin McDonald, if we were to go down that road then in turn we’d want someone who does Price’s job better than he does it. Reports on his contractual situation were initially mixed with it being unclear whether his deal expired this year or next; consensus now seems to be that he’s free to go unless we take up the one year option in the club’s favour. It’s probably best that he goes somewhere else now. It’s hard to see him developing much further here and his limitations are permanent rather than something that can be worked on. We’d all like it to work out for someone who obviously cares a great deal for the club, but the theme this summer has to be ruthlessness.
Appearances: 9 (2)
Patrick Vieira has a lot to answer for. Ever since he broke through over 20 years ago for Arsenal, any tall Francophone midfielder of African descent is expected to be a facsimile of him. While Prince Oniangue stands at 6’3”, he’s no powerhouse. In fact, it’s hard to work out what he is. I suppose his career goalscoring record – and he did notch a couple for us in his brief spell here – suggests that he’d be a bit of a deluxe version of Dave Edwards, perhaps one who can play 10 yard passes with a degree of reliability. He certainly wasn’t helped by Zenga’s tactics where beyond telling the defensive midfielder to never move from five yards in front of the back four, it wasn’t clear what he was asking the midfielders to do. Nor was it helpful that he was parked out on the left wing for a couple of games. All that said, he failed to impose himself and there didn’t seem to be anything particularly exceptional about his game. Injured when Lambert arrived, he reportedly fancied a move back to France and we obliged by sending him off to Bastia, where he seems to have done a reasonable enough job in a terrible team. It’s hard to see a way back for him here; Lambert wants to trim the squad, he isn’t of an age where he’s going to develop sufficiently or where there’s time on his side to spend further months (or longer) on the fringes, it isn’t clear where we’d play him even if he were here and his reputation is probably such in France that we’d get most or all of our money back if we sold him. Seems a thoroughly nice guy, but one that we hadn’t scouted properly at all. Given the timescales involved last summer, it’s perhaps understandable that we had to do a bit of a trolley dash; however signings such as this during this window won’t be looked upon so kindly.
Appearances: 12 (2)
Ah, dear old Lonners. Ok, scrap the “dear” bit. My word, he is poor. Andy Marshall played one game for us and managed to concede five goals. Dave Beasant was authentically terrible during his 1992/93 loan spell here. Paul Jones’ second spell was an unmitigated disaster. Tony Lange played the seminal late 80s “fat, dodgy and moustachioed” role to perfection. And there endeth the list of Wolves keepers you could possibly consider to be worse than Lonergan in the last 30 years. It really is going some when you’re making everyone pine for Carl Ikeme. He basically has one attribute; at some point in a four or five game spell, he’ll probably pull off a really good save. That’s it. Everything else is at a standard where you’d be struggling to get a regular game in League Two. He can’t command his box – not just off crosses, he remains glued to his line when long balls through the middle come sailing towards him. He’s a remarkable exponent of the “flap at thin air”. He lets in an alarming number of extremely soft goals, which kind of negates his one ability as it doesn’t matter so much if you make a wonder save if we’re already losing and it’s your fault. And then there’s his kicking. Now I spent years watching Matt Murray, who could quite easily throw it further and more accurately than he could kick it. Lonergan makes Big Matt look like a regular David de Gea. I’ve seen Lonergan take a goal kick which didn’t go 30 yards. I’ve seen him clonk a steward, sat miles away from the pitch on the Steve Bull side of the ground, straight on the head. I’ve seen him fade the ball in a manner which would make Jordan Spieth proud. He doesn’t even seem to recognise this huge, fundamental flaw and look to throw or roll the ball out, as when he gathers it he simply ushers everyone away and proceeds to spanner it towards the touchline. Now of course, last summer we were for a time in a period of limbo, so money wasn’t really available for a spell and we did need a senior keeper with both Emi Martinez and Aaron McCarey departing. I can see why the management thought that in theory, someone with that number of games at this level behind them couldn’t be all that bad. He is all that bad. Of all the contracted players we have beyond this summer, he should be the first one out of the door. Yeah, even before Matt Doherty. Where he’ll actually end up I don’t know as anyone who’s actually watched him will surely cross him straight off their list.
The third and final part of the review will be up on Thursday 11 May…
Mediocrity unparalleled since The Kings of Leon’s second album
Appearances: 31 (0)
Now into his early 30s, you would think Ikeme should be approaching his theoretical peak as a goalkeeper. If this really is as good as it gets for him, then it’s nowhere near good enough for us. He’s definitely the best option of any of the keepers currently at the club and by some distance too, but that’s rather like picking out Menswear as a better band than Northern Uproar and Starsailor. The same old flaws remain; vulnerable from range, extremely prone to injuries – he’s had three separate absences this season – not really commanding, poor and extremely slow distribution and a tendency to pull out at least a couple of outright howlers a season. More than anything else, he doesn’t do anything exceptional; he invariably won’t keep you in a match with a string of saves, in fact we concede at a reasonable rate without really facing too many shots per game. He won’t pull off incredible stops where you wonder how on earth he got there. He’ll let in a lot of goals that you wouldn’t say are a goalkeeping error per se, but you’d certainly fancy a better keeper to make more of a fist of. It was a vast improvement on last season which really isn’t saying much, given there were around a dozen goals in 2015/16 you could exclusively chalk down to him. Paul Lambert has talked of ending the culture of mediocrity around the club; it’s the likes of Ikeme that he needs to be looking at. He’s simply nowhere near good enough to be first choice for any team with serious designs on the top six. If he could ever stop picking up injuries, he’d be a fine number two at this level – in that you wouldn’t have kittens if he had to play half a dozen games here and there, he’s got plenty of experience, he isn’t good enough to get tempted away by anyone else. It’s a demotion which needs to happen.
Appearances: 45 (2)
I really do spend far too much of my life writing about Matt Doherty. Maybe when the shock has worn off that someone with that level of ability and commitment has made some kind of a career in second tier football, I can get over it. He finished 2015/16 reasonably strongly in an otherwise deathly dull spell for the team and somehow picked up the Player of the Year award, despite making a massive three league starts before mid-December (note to the club: don’t ever let our fans vote on anything, ever). This season started in a similar vein, with some decent enough performances in August including a well struck goal at home to Reading. It was pretty much downhill from there. The problem with so many of these long-standing players is that you know exactly what you’re going to get from them. In Doherty’s case that means an inability to clear the ball, mark, tackle, cover the back post or stand in even vaguely the right position. As a defender, he genuinely is close to as bad as it gets. All of that is exacerbated by an attitude which seems to be that chasing back is one of those things that other people to do, leaving him frequently ambling back while others have to do his job for him. He obviously has designs on being an attacking full back which is fine in itself, but your primary job is to defend. Quite clearly, he can’t do it and doesn’t want to. Chuck in his own share of shockers – Leeds at home, Bristol City away – a lamentable attitude to fitness (I can only assume his spare tyre is an homage to the days when we were sponsored by Goodyear), sulking like a 9 year old when things are going against him and you’re left with a complete liability. Now, it isn’t his fault that we’ve left the left back area criminally neglected ever since we sold Scott Golbourne, he has largely been in the team by default ever since then. He does contribute something going forward as when he puts his mind to it, he can pass and shoot (although his impact is greatly lessened by it being painfully obvious that he’s going to cut inside every time he gets the ball). But it’s one of the most positive portents at this stage that Lambert has said that he doesn’t see him as a left back. We are absolutely desperate for a proper option there. As I’ve said before, I’d be amazed if a penniless League Two club persisted for 17 months with an out of shape, lazy, right back who can’t defend as their undisputed first choice at left back, let alone a well-established Championship club who for a chunk of that 17 months have been owned by a conglomerate worth billions of pounds. Although if any penniless League Two clubs are reading, I recommend you sign Doherty. It might mean he’s finally found his level. Don’t worry about the money, a pipe of Pringles will suffice.
Appearances: 5 (0)
You don’t often get former Atletico Madrid and Portugal full backs in their late 20s offered to you on a free transfer. There has to be a catch. In Silvio’s case, unfortunately that catch is that he is made of biscuits. He arrived here having made just 40 league appearances in the previous five seasons and also with a hip injury which precluded him from the early fixtures. A brief smattering of appearances in September and October were then followed up by a broken foot in training which ruled him out for over four months. For a man only tied down to a one year deal, it’s not the greatest of fortune to have. It’s a shame because everything we have seen from him has been impressive; excellent technical ability, good link up play with the winger ahead of him, positional responsibility, calmness in possession…basically everything we’ve been missing in that area for well, 17 months. If it were merely a question of ability, then retaining him would be a no brainer. Ultimately though, we can’t realistically hold on to someone with that kind of track record for availability.
Appearances: 44 (5)
Ten goals from midfield is no mean feat and for that Dave Edwards deserves great credit. His character remains first class and his effort levels can never be questioned. Without those goals – principally scored in the very early days of Lambert’s tenure, with us hovering just above the bottom three – we would have found ourselves in very real trouble. And yet. Yet. It’s not enough, is it. As ever, Dave scores in little bursts which are great while they’re happening but he’s now on a run of 1 goal in 19 games to follow the run of 1 goal in 31 games which he went on between November 2015 and October 2016. And when he isn’t scoring…you have to question what he’s actually doing. After going on a run of 8 goals in 15 games, largely from a deeper role allowing him to make runs into the box unchecked, Lambert bizarrely chose to switch him to the number 10 role at the start of February, totally unprompted. We then went on to lose every single game that month. Stats around that time indicated that Edwards was attempting (less still completing) fewer than 30 passes a game, at home, from a pivotal area. We know he creates nothing in attacking areas. We know he doesn’t link play. We know he rarely shows for the ball. Without the goals, you’re left with someone who basically chases the ball around without really ever threatening to win it. None of which has prevented him being an automatic choice under Lambert as he has started every game bar one (Stoke in the FA Cup) for which he has been available, and been substituted just once (against Aston Villa at home, when he had a head injury). This is the crux of the issue; not many people would object to Edwards being at the club, as he obviously cares and from time to time, does have something to offer. It’s that he’s continually placed into the team by default – and this is under multiple managers, not just Lambert – even when he isn’t contributing anything. We are not and are not going to be any time soon, good enough to carry someone who might start a run of goals one day and is a nice guy. If he’s playing well enough to be in the team on merit – and he definitely was, between October and January, that spell being the best I’ve ever seen from him in a Wolves shirt – then great. If not then leave him out. I appreciate this is a complex line of thinking, but then this is what football managers are paid for.
Appearances: 19 (0)
When you sell a defender for £2m for avowed “footballing reasons”, he goes on to play for a team who concede 79 goals in a year and then finds himself out of the picture within a year of the move, it wouldn’t seem conventional to bring him back. Of course we now know that Richard Stearman’s move to Fulham was prompted by the downsizing of ambition from the soon-to-depart Steve Morgan and rumours of a personality clash with Kenny Jackett also persist. As we saw attempts to sign Alfie Mawson and Luisao flounder (astonishing really that the latter preferred Champions League nights at Estadio da Luz rather than a midweek schlep to Portman Road, but it takes all sorts), we went with a tried and trusted option, someone we knew, someone we knew was available and would come. That of course being the issue in itself; we know Richard Stearman. Only two things have changed since we originally signed him in 2008; his haircut, which has gone from boyband shock blonde to a straggly mullet, and he can no longer use his pace to recover on the turn, being as he can’t really run any more. Everything else: the slack marking, the complacency on the ball, the inability to lead a defence, the poor positioning leading to a display of flinging himself around like a ragdoll to rectify the initial error, the hamfisted error…that’s all still there. He can fist pump and chest beat all he likes, but it’s all window dressing. It’s “passion” for the sake of it, because we don’t really see that level of commitment in his actual defending; real defensive leaders, real lionhearts, don’t pass on responsibility like Stearman does, week after week after week. Being in and out of a team that has yet to find a convincing centre half partnership says it all and there isn’t any chance we should consider retaining him. Thanks for the goal at Anfield Stears, and goodbye. For good this time.
Appearances: 41 (0)
It’s been quite a downfall in status for Captain Danny. From the terrace hero of 2013/14 to the target of endless (and let’s face it, largely witless) abuse on social media. Which is odd as nothing has really changed other than we’re in the Championship now and we were in League One then. For Batth is yet another player who hasn’t really moved on in the last four years. Everything is the same. He still doesn’t like getting pulled into channels, there are times when his marking leaves a lot to be desired, he gives forwards too much space inside the box at times, his heading has a tendency to go straight back to the opposition, we know there’s a real problem if he’s caught up the pitch and needs to have a footrace with a forward, he isn’t as powerful as he should be given his build and he’s not exactly David Luiz on the ball (although he has improved marginally in this regard this season). As a captain, he does excellent work on behalf of the club in the community but he’s not a great on-pitch leader. There’s no way that he’s the liability that he’s often painted as, but nor should he have been handed a four year deal or that he should be considered as a permanent fixture in the team (thankfully, Lambert does at least seem to be subjecting Batth to the crazy policy of “you only play if you’re actually performing”). He probably won’t ever develop from what he is, which is a fairly bog standard, mid-table level Championship centre half who’ll have some good games, some bad. Which really would be ideal for a backup centre half for us while we’re in this catastrophe of a division. Time will tell if we actually make that a reality.
Appearances: 3 (1)
In the team more or less by default at the very start of the season when we were still trying to piece a squad together and swiftly shifted out as soon as we had actual capable performers in place. Inexplicably we saw fit to hand Henry a near three year deal last season even though he’d failed to make a consistent impact at Championship level, and he hasn’t pulled up any trees at Bolton in his loan spell there, so he’ll be looking for a move again this summer as he enters the final season of his Wolves deal, or we’ll simply end up paying him off.
Appearances: 20 (9)
A goal and an assist to kick off the season against Rotherham and Reading but that was as good as it got in terms of end product for the Bill from Bill & Ted lookalike. That brief run of goals at the end of last season (following into this one) turned out to be the exception to the rule and it’s telling that after three years here, he hasn’t managed to nail down any kind of role in the centre of midfield. Occasionally used wide on the left where he looks about as comfortable as Theresa May eating chips, he actually produced some halfway reasonable performances at left back, though perhaps that’s just me comparing him to who’s normally there rather than a true reflection of how he did. As a midfielder it’s hard to work out what he actually excels at; his passing is below average, he does try to tackle but his tally of 16 yellow cards across a Wolves career which has included just 43 starts tells its own story, he isn’t really ever going to be a consistent goal or creative threat, he isn’t quick or particularly energetic and we still haven’t worked out where it is that you’re supposed to play him. We don’t really have room for a utility player that does a 5/10 job at best wherever you put him and with his contract running out this summer, there seems little benefit in extending his stay. You can’t keep players forever in case they suddenly turn good. He’ll probably end up doing well for a League One team.
Appearances: 20 (12)
The Nouha Dicko that we had between January 2014 and May 2015 was absolutely fantastic. A striker who would chase every single lost cause, plough a lone furrow up top and provide a real focal point, run centre halves ragged, link play and provide a fair goal threat of his own. The injury which struck him down in August 2015 was a cruel blow and sadly, we might not ever get that player back again. The effort levels are still there, he’s certainly still quick enough – the club assure us that he’s at the same or better levels in that regard post-injury – but there’s something missing. A hesitancy in front of goal, the wrong decision when he pulls wide, an undefinable dynamism…it’s like watching a Nouha Dicko impressionist, and not an especially good one. Like if Alistair McGowan decided to have a go. Perhaps it all could have been different if he’d scored the chance he was handed on a plate on his return at home to Norwich…but maybe we should take the fact that he managed to hit the keeper from six yards out, under no real pressure, as a bit of a portent to what he is now. It’s not exactly the only glaring miss that he’s managed this season. There have been odd good moments and his performances against Leeds, Derby and Preston towards the end of the season were certainly more like it, but there has to be serious scepticism as to whether we’ve already seen the best of him. We’d all like to see the real Dicko back because he’d be a serious asset for any team in this league, and Lambert is still subscribing to the theory that he needs a proper pre-season before he can be playing to his full potential. The jury is very much out on that one. What we do know is that the kind of goal return he’s produced this year just isn’t sustainable.
Appearances: 12 (11)
We signed Joe Mason almost 18 months ago. I’m still none the wiser what it is he actually offers. He can’t play as the main striker in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 system, he’s too lightweight, no good in the air, not quick and doesn’t run the channels. He can’t play as a number 10 as he doesn’t really create anything. He can sort of fill in as a wide forward, without being someone who can beat a full back or deliver crosses from those areas to any kind of effect. His one-on-one finishing is as bad as I’ve seen from any regular Wolves forward, to the point where I wouldn’t expect him to score that kind of opportunity. Sure, he sometimes takes up nice enough positions, his touch isn’t bad, occasionally he’ll come up with a neat bit of play which makes you think there’s something there and of course he scored a legitimate belter at Birmingham (after squandering a couple of glorious first half chances, naturally). But for £3m? You want a bit more than that flimsy kind of output. He has of course been hampered by a niggling hernia injury this season which has meant his opportunities to change my mind have been limited, and perversely it’s that which may save him in the short term as Lambert hasn’t really had the chance to assess him properly. You wonder how we could actually employ him though; perhaps as a second striker if we moved to two dedicated forwards, but surely if we were going down that road, we’d just be signing better than Mason anyway. If we were to get any kind of reasonable bid for him in the summer, it would probably be best to just let him go. It’s hard to see how he’s ever going to be much more than a 10-12 goal a season man, at absolute best. We probably don’t need someone who’s a bit inferior to how Andy Keogh was.
Appearances: 1 (1)
For all the stick that I doled out to Kenny Jackett during 2015/16 (and there was plenty, and he’s lucky I wasn’t writing this blog then), he did undoubtedly have bad fortune at times. One such time being when Graham was seriously injured following a month and a half of sustained impact where he looked a continual danger. We have been understandably cautious with his recovery and with a couple of small set backs along the way, this has meant he has only appeared at the fag end of the season, though his quality remains apparent. On the final day against Preston he was a constant threat down the left hand side, his skill and quality delivery still intact and he will surely be a major factor in Lambert’s thinking for 2017/18. Being disciplined prior to the home game vs Birmingham was a low point; Lambert was Villa manager when Graham was sold, partly due to attitude issues, and he must remain focused to ensure that he can become the best he can possibly be. The wide areas are likely to be highly competitive (and crucial) next season and while we know he is good enough to produce consistently at this level, he won’t have unlimited chances.
An old fashioned ODI massacre as a massively outclassed Ireland team were beaten before the lunch interval.
In more words
It’s a reflection of how reactive the ICC can tend to be that the opportunity for Ireland in top level international cricket appears to have passed. Between 2007 and 2013 they were far and away the best Associate team, genuinely competing with those at the lower end of the ODI rankings, yet overtures to join the top table remained elusive. There is now seemingly a chance for them to join those echelons and eventually gain Test status…but that team has gone now. What we’re left with is the remnants of the golden days, now past their best and increasingly no longer playing in county cricket (with some of their erstwhile team mates now retired), and a smattering of players coming through who have yet to experience the necessary exposure to high class bowling in particular. Expansion of cricket across the world is an absolute necessity and in years to come the governing bodies should reflect on how they missed the boat with Irish cricket; especially when they come to consider how to progress with Afghanistan’s fledgling team.
As for today, Ireland actually started reasonably brightly. David Willey failed to find any real swing with the new ball as is his normal method and as a consequence was expensive early on, Ed Joyce and Paul Stirling racking up an opening stack of 40 in decent time. From thereon in, it was one way traffic. Stirling was defeated by the extra pace of Mark Wood – looking sharp at over 90mph at points, we just have to hope his body can stand up to regular cricket – while Joyce swiftly followed him back to the pavilion after somehow missing a 78mph half volley from Willey that should really have been clipped straight to the square leg boundary. This appeared to be a pitch set up for pace bowling and accordingly England had picked four seamers, omitting Moeen Ali in the process; yet it was spin which did the damage. Or more accurately, lack of spin.
Will Porterfield clipped Joe Root to mid-off after a tortuous 13 off 45 balls and what followed was a procession largely to Adil Rashid. This was not a day when the Yorkshireman was ripping balls past the outside edge, more that the Irish batsmen failed to pick his variations and the googly was his main weapon, with both O’Brien brothers and Gary Wilson falling lbw to him. Tailenders Stuart Thompson and Tim “Meat Is” Murtagh perished near the end to give him his first ever five wicket haul in ODIs.
A meagre total of 126 was at least 150 shy of par and the only question was whether England would wrap matters up without the need for a full 45 minute break innings. Jason Roy fell in the first over – he will be disappointed to have missed out, especially having not had much playing time in the IPL, and especially when much like Joyce, he fell to a half volley on middle and leg – but Alex Hales (after some early luck) and Joe Root batted in their usual fashion to keep England at a run rate of around 7 an over to make the outcome a mere formality. Hales fell after one shot too many and allowed Jonny Bairstow to finish the job with his Headingley team mate. Game over by 2.45pm and inside 30 overs of the scheduled finish. Any team can have a bad day, but this looked a serious mismatch from the time that Ireland’s opening pair fell.
Players of the day
Rashid was as excellent as his figures suggested, adapting well to the conditions and recognising the fallibility of his opponents. Of course, the question remains as to whether he can truly bowl to the very best players of spin, and this will be tested in the Champions Trophy. But it augurs well that he bowled very little rubbish today and it is a good early season boost for him. As mentioned previously, Wood’s pace was very much up and it is that explosiveness which will be required (and for which he has been selected) when the tournament comes around. Root did, of course, look in total control while seeing the team home. On the Irish side, Peter Chase looked short of genuine class but did show enough heart to bowl eight overs off the reel and pick up three wickets.
Disappointments of the day
All of Stirling, Joyce and Andy Balbirnie will be devastated to have got starts on a blameless pitch and thrown it away. Balbirnie in particular was playing well and scoring fluently before playing a cut to a delivery which was never in the right area to do so from Jake Ball. Ireland’s fielding was slovenly at best which is disappointing and uncharacteristic of a John Bracewell team; Hales was dropped twice, most glaringly by Niall O’Brien behind the stumps from a regulation legside nick.
David Willey remains reliant on swing in this format and when there is none, as today, he can look highly innocuous. A left arm bowler is an asset in modern ODI cricket, but not if he’s sending down 81mph dreck onto the pads. Roy and captain Eoin Morgan both missed out with lax shots and there will not be the same margin for error against better opponents.
The second and final ODI of this mini-series is on Sunday at Lord’s and it is imperative that Ireland focus on producing an at least competitive display – the eyes of the cricketing world are on them because everyone remembers the near decade struggle of the Bangladesh team to get any kind of foothold in the game. Batterings that see the game completed four hours before the scheduled finish are no good for anyone.
Competition for places in that Champions Trophy XI for England remains high and it is likely that Moeen will return on Sunday, perhaps at the expense of Willey or Liam Plunkett. Every game counts.