NO REGRETS: THEY TELL ME I’M DOING FINE

One of my infrequent progress reports

It’s Saturday evening. We’re in the Bohemian (very swish, by Wolverhampton standards). We’re basking in the glory of a Wolves victory, albeit it’s only Barnsley, and albeit that we only grabbed it right it at the death. Conversation has somehow turned to my site. Don’t ask me how. I rarely if ever bring it up, I don’t like talking about it at any length. After a while, a good friend of mine says:

What you’ve got to know about Dan is…he doesn’t take praise well”

He’s absolutely right as well. I don’t. It doesn’t matter how many people tell me that my writing is good or whatever platitude they send my way, I can’t take it seriously. It’s not me being ungrateful or anything; quite the opposite. I can’t quite believe that people have actually donated money towards this venture (if I haven’t already thanked you individually, I really am grateful and I will get round to sending you something personal very soon), I don’t quite get that so many people actually want to read it. Unfortunately for all the various improvements I’ve made over the last four and a bit years, my self-esteem hasn’t really followed. It’s still something I badly need to work on and I know that. I don’t have the answer as to how that’s going to happen, but it does need to happen. I can’t go through the rest of my life feeling like I’m useless at everything, can I.

The point is that sadly, despite my best efforts, this hasn’t been a great couple of months since I last updated this section. It might be helpful at this point just to correct a few common misconceptions about what I mean when I say that:

  1. Being depressed or having a bad time doesn’t mean that I walk around 24/7 like Matt Doherty when he’s been asked to chase a ball 30 yards in front of him (sorry Matt. But it’s been a while since I dug you out. And you deserve it after the weekend. Console yourself with your new four year contract). I don’t have a permanent sulk on, I’m not bursting into tears all the time. Even if I were minded to do that, I’d hide it away. Many’s the time when I’ve been having an internal shocker but I’ve bluffed it out publicly. So you can’t really tell from just looking at me how I’m feeling.

  2. There isn’t necessarily any reason why I’m feeling like that. There doesn’t have to be a trigger. Sometimes there is; obviously the more bad things happen, the more likely it is that I’ll get upset, and in turn it’ll trigger my condition. But in general that isn’t how it works. There isn’t any reason – at least not that I can identify – why I can go from operating at 70-80% one day and then it’s 20-30% the next. It’s not an illness that discriminates based on circumstance. Look at the number of top-end athletes who have suffered from depression. They have, on the face of it, everything you could want; riches, doing something they invariably love, stardom, being at the absolute top of their respective game…and yet if it’s not right, it’s not right.

  3. Sometimes there isn’t anything you, I or anyone can do about it. Sure, you can be supportive and I really do appreciate that. But just because you make me laugh, or give me a hug, or remind me of a great time we’ve shared, that isn’t going to make it all go away. Believe me, if I could just snap my fingers and make it end, I would. I don’t wallow in this for effect. It’s fucking horrible. And sometimes we just have to wait for it to pass.

  4. I’m depressed, not suicidal. Not lately anyway. I don’t want to die or disappear. I just want to get better.

  5. Which leads me to this final point; I don’t think there is an immediate end to this, I’m afraid. It’s not something that’s necessarily totally curable. I’ve got a load better since 2013 and I continue down that path. But I don’t currently see it being something that I’ll ever be totally free from. It’s a condition to manage rather than eradicate. This is tough, you know. I don’t want to forever be that guy who’s depressed and a bit flaky. There’s no fun in that. For now though, I just have to accept it.

The upshot of all this – and I’d say it’s probably been about 50:50 in terms of good/bad days since say, July – is that of late I haven’t really felt like writing very much. I’ve tried, but I’m well aware it’s not been my best work and nor have I managed to put out sufficient volumes of it. I’ve definitely put too much pressure on myself to try to match the reach and impact of my piece on Financial Fair Play when realistically, that just isn’t viable when you’re writing reaction pieces to one specific match, for instance. I’ve sat there thinking that I can’t write at all and this has all been a folly of a project, which I know deep down isn’t true, even allowing for the low opinion I have of my own work a lot of the time. I’m trying to put that behind me and get back to it now, as best I can anyway.

The daft thing really is that if my mind allowed me to take feedback on board properly…I should be on top of the world now. As I say, every time I begrudgingly have to talk about what I do, there’s a load of praise. Everyone tells me how far I’ve come in the last few years, from rock bottom (as detailed in my last piece in this section) to now. I’ve got an amazing network of friends and if I were that terrible, then they wouldn’t hang around, would they. I know all this. I’m by instinct quite a logical person. But there’s a part of my mind that just can’t process all of that. When that manifests itself, it doesn’t matter what has been said or what evidence is there that everything is ok, it all turns negative.

One thing I’m conscious that I need to stop doing is to get away from dwelling on past mistakes. First up, there’s nothing I can do to change them. Secondly, they were all pretty much a long time ago, so much so that is may as well be ancient history. Thirdly, anyone who matters recognises that I’ve moved on from there and I’ve done my best to get back to being a decent person (at least, I like to think I am). So there’s no point in beating myself up over bad choices I made that were years and years ago.  I really am going to try to move away from that.

I’m also going to try to have a bit more faith in my own output. It’s not easy – I have a pretty terrible combination of long-standing ultra-low self-esteem to go along with a history where I went through a stage of someone constantly criticising my every walking move – but when people say it’s good, I have to believe them. I sure as shit wouldn’t have any problem taking on board feedback that said it was all a load of rubbish…so if I’m getting kind words, I have to try to take them in the faith in which they’re given. People aren’t just saying nice things to make me feel good. I don’t think so anyway.

One positive thing I have managed to maintain is to get myself out of the house pretty much every day and keep up an exercise regime which has meant I’ve lost a fair amount of weight and no longer resemble the Bluetones in the video for Marblehead Johnson. Now I live on my own and not really especially near any of my friends it would be easy for me to get a bit isolated; I need to keep getting out and about to avoid that.

I know that in the grand scheme of things, I’m doing pretty well. Everything is heading more or less in the right direction and the difference from where I was in the early part of the decade is night and day. It’s just that setbacks hurt me and I’m at a stage now where I’ve got so far and don’t seem to be able to climb that next little bit. Maybe I never will be able to do that. It won’t be for the want of trying though.

I’ll leave it to Liam to close it out. I think he says it more succinctly than I can. Thanks for reading, as always. I’ll get back to wittering on about football later in the week.

Oscillating Wildly is a “pay-as-you-feel” website. The content will never disappear behind a paywall. However, if you enjoy my work and would like to help me continue to write – as this is essentially my main focus now – please consider making a small donation via the button near the top of the page. If you want to and can, that’s great. If not, then no worries.

PLAYER RATINGS: WOLVES 1-0 BRISTOL ROVERS (AET)

Through to the last 16…just

Will Norris

It pretty much tells its own story when your keeper is easily Man of the Match. Of the 10 shots on target that he faced, some were routine saves, a tip on to the post was superb, a late save to turn a long range effort over the top was spectacular, and he rode his luck a little when saving immediately after we took the lead with the ball ricocheting off him and onto the bar. But you make your own luck. Other than that was commanding and his distribution was both quick and accurate. He’s yet to concede a goal in competitive football for us. Essentially, if any of last season’s keepers had been playing last night, we’d have lost that game. We’re lucky to have such an accomplished backup with plenty of scope to improve even further. Whisper it in certain quarters, but this might even be one where Kevin Thelwell has to take some credit.

Danny Batth

Not an entirely comfortable night for him, one particularly odd instance in the first half where he seemed preoccupied with blocking his man rather than attacking the ball and ending up allowing a free header on goal. Improved as the game went on though the surprising amount of threat that Rovers offered meant it was never a quiet night at the office for any of the centre halves.

Conor Coady

Our best outfield player last night by some distance. In fact it was the standard Coady performance that we’ve come to expect this season; swept up danger, won plenty of tackles and produced a couple of those raking long range passes. Who does he think he is, Ruben Neves? In all seriousness, it’s been an incredible transformation from where he was a year or so ago where I wouldn’t have trusted him to pass the ball five yards with any regularity (or control it less than five yards, for that matter). It’s a credit to him and the coaching staff.

Roderick Miranda

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it is, but something about Miranda doesn’t entirely convince at this stage. Sometimes you feel he should look to be a bit more ambitious with his passing, especially in the absence of Willy Boly…and then he presents the ball straight to the opposition 30 yards out. He generally looks ok physically and then out of nowhere will get buffeted out of the way. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not hopeless and compared to our old friend Richard Stearman…well there is no comparison. It’s just at this point, you’d have to question whether he gets in our strongest team, especially when Kortney Hause eventually returns. Did nearly score right near the end of normal time with a flick which hit the bar.

Oskar Buur

A surprise debut and the young Dane certainly didn’t let himself down. He looks more of an orthodox right back than a wing back and so although he has the engine to get up and down the flank, his play was a little conservative in the final third (though then again, as is often the case, we don’t get numbers into the box especially quickly so crossing the ball continually is fairly pointless). Only really came unstuck defensively once and there seems to be a fair amount of promise there.

Just a note here regarding the guy I was sat next to last night (I had a change of scenery to the Billy Wright Upper owing to the top tier of the North Bank being closed); it gets incredibly irritating when you make an assessment of a 19 year old kid making his debut in English football and repeat it for over two fucking hours. “He only ever passes the ball back” was the refrain…apart from all the times he didn’t. “He’s out of his depth” he whined, in his voice that sounded like a more nasal version of Bob Willis, except Buur didn’t look out of his depth. In any case, anyone is free to hold their opinion on any player. Hey, look at the amount of stick I gave the majority of our lot last season. But that’s on here. I didn’t spend 90 minutes last season shouting that Joe Mason is a lightweight nonentity every time he touched the ball. At the game, maybe try supporting the players, eh? Especially someone in his first match. Thank God I don’t have anyone like that near me in my regular seat.

Sylvain Deslandes

I was a little surprised when we announced that we’d retained the services of Deslandes towards the end of last season because after all, he couldn’t get a game for a pretty poor Bury team in League One in his loan spell there and he’s rarely shown anything in U23 fixtures to suggest he’s a serious answer. He is at least fairly powerful these days and has a physical presence which would be adequate for Championship football. What he is emphatically not is a left wing back. He simply doesn’t possess anything like the quality required as neatly epitomised by his final contribution being to lamp a cross into the South Bank. You might, maybe, get away with him as a left sided centre half if we were really in a pinch. But then when everyone’s fit, he’d be well down the pecking order for that position. Seems a pleasant enough chap and all, but I’m not entirely sure why he’s still here.

Jack Price

A reasonable game in his first outing since the last round of this competition. Passing was generally decent and looked to find the wingbacks quite often rather than simply laying it off five yards as he’s been guilty of in the past. Indeed, it was his excellent ball to Barry Douglas which led to our goal. You wouldn’t think he’s ever going to seriously compete for a first team spot in the league now; he’s more there as extra insurance should we suffer an injury crisis. But worth having him around for now. Oddly, since looking more than decent on set pieces at the Birmingham away game last season, I don’t think I’ve seen him take a single corner or free kick.

Alfred N’Diaye

A bit of a backward step here after his encouraging start to his Wolves career. Did fairly well in the first half, one little flurry of skill in particular showing what he can do, but faded thereafter and didn’t influence the game much. I’d like to see him run with the ball a little more as he definitely has the capability to do it. Still, minutes under the belt.

Ben Marshall

Probably the biggest disappointment of the night. We know from last season that he’s a good footballer who makes up for his lack of pace with his passing and crossing abilities. However, in the first half in particular, so many moves broke down with a slack ball from Marshall in the final third, and his set pieces were woeful throughout. Not good when that’s one of your major selling points. It does appear that he takes a long time to get up to speed following an injury lay-off and with that in mind, it was good for him to at least get some further time on the pitch. He needs to pick up from this standard though, and quickly. It’s a little strange that we haven’t tried him at any stage as the right wing back as you would think that when Helder Costa returns, this is his most likely route into the team (and also where Matt Doherty – who is actually performing fairly well at the moment, hold the front page – has very little competition or cover).

Bright Enobakhare

Over two years since his last first team goal, it was vital that he got off the mark for this campaign because as we all know, his range of skills are not going to be of much use to us if there is no end product to speak of. Should have put us 1-0 up within the 90 minutes only to see a slightly casual volley well saved by the Rovers keeper. Tracked back diligently at times and was the pick of our attacking players on the night, not that it was an especially high bar.

Michal Zyro

Above all, it was just good to see Zyro back on the pitch after that awful injury resulting from the assault (I can’t say tackle, because it wasn’t) from Antony Kay 18 months or so ago. Started brightly enough with two efforts flying just over…but there wasn’t a great deal else to speak of. There’s a fair way to go before he can be considered ready to play with any kind of regularity. Even when he does get fit, it’s not apparent where he’s going to fit in; in most of his appearances here he’s been used as a central striker and while he tries hard and does have power on his side, his mobility isn’t really up to the mark and he’s no kind of focal point to play off. As for playing out wide…well he isn’t really comparable to the players we regularly use out there (or as inside forwards, as they are now). There isn’t much that he has in common with Diogo Jota, for instance.

Barry Douglas

On for the uninspiring Deslandes on the hour and having not featured for a month, the runout will have done him good. Looked understandably rusty early on but did grow into the game a little and it was he who set up the winner with a neat pull back. Good to see him back and the battle between him and Ruben Vinagre for the left wing back spot will be intriguing to watch. Great to have two quality options there.

Connor Ronan

On for Marshall and for the remainder of normal time was used in the same inside forward position where I’m reliably informed he impressed at Southampton. He was busy enough here without really getting on the ball that much. For extra time was switched to right wing back and it’s fair to say that he will not play too many further games there. Did his level best, but was an easy target as Bristol hit diagonals in his direction and he simply isn’t equipped to play there. Let’s chalk that one down as a failed experiment.

Ivan Cavaleiro

I’ve mentioned before how tiresome it’s becoming to hear audible, mass groaning whenever Bright Enobakhare delays a pass or gives the ball away. More so because those same standards don’t seem to apply to other players. Cav came on here and for the first 10 minutes or so that he was on the park he was appalling. Like, pub player level. Didn’t get anything right. Have a guess how much stick he got from the stands. It’s the same amount of Mercury Prizes that Northern Uproar have. He did improve from there in fairness and even put in some useful defensive work near the end.

Donovan Wilson

Our first ever fourth sub, fact fans. Had three opportunities to use that pace of his to trouble the visitors’ defence; the first two came to nothing but the third saw him neatly spin his man and find himself clean through, 35 yards out or so…and was pulled back. The ensuing red card was scant consolation as it would have been better all round if he could have gone on to score.

Oscillating Wildly is a “pay-as-you-feel” website. The content will never disappear behind a paywall. However, if you enjoy my work and would like to help me continue to write – as this is essentially my main focus now – please consider making a small donation via the button near the top of the page. If you want to and can, that’s great. If not, then no worries.

REACTION: MILLWALL AND BRISTOL CITY (H)

Round-up of this week’s action

Quality of football

Seven games into the season and we remain committed to playing our football on the deck, with none of the aimless hoofball that we’ve been forced to endure over the last couple of years. The upshot of this is that we spend large periods of games in full control with the opposition simply unable to disrupt us other than through repetitive fouling. We had 70% possession against Millwall and the opening half hour of last night’s game against Bristol City should have seen us further than one goal in front. This is a team which is still learning how to play in what is an alien formation to many and in the case of the new arrivals from overseas, settling into English football as a whole. With further coaching and games under their belt we should only get better from here; encouraging stuff. There’s a definite plan in place from the management and one that’s been properly thought through with players signed and utilised to match what we’re trying to do. This is not the way Wolves normally operate. I’ll have to get used to it.

See Glenn, you can keep the ball AND attack. Who knew.

Set piece defending

The vast majority of the goals we’ve conceded under Nuno – going back to pre-season – have come from set piece situations. Last night we firstly failed to clear a ball from a corner despite having a couple of opportunities to do so and then neglected to mark up properly or react to an effort off the post. We continue to employ a zonal marking system which personally I’m never going to get on board with; for one thing, it allows attackers to get a run on the ball while it’s in the air which puts you at a natural disadvantage as a defender. Also, when something goes wrong, it’s much more difficult to work out who specifically is to blame and where improvements need to be made. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that approach (and it does tend to be a personal thing whether you do or don’t side with it), it’s pretty clear that it’s a current weakness of ours. This remains a fairly low quality league but if there’s one thing that many of the teams can do, it’s to exploit frailties from dead balls. Change the system, make sure the current setup works better, whatever. We won’t get away with being vulnerable in this area.

Leo Bonatini

Three goals already (matching the entire output of each of Nouha Dicko, Joe Mason and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson from last season) having arrived in the country around 48 hours before the start of the season and having had practically no pre-season to speak of. Excellent link up play which allows the likes of Diogo Jota and Ivan Cavaleiro to thrive. A physical presence capable of dealing with multiple defenders at once. And yet…he’s still becoming a target for some criticism. The demands continue for the mythical “20 goal a season striker” as if we could have just popped down to the Big Championship Supermarket and picked one up off the shelf (I believe they’re located next to the “Paul Ince type” midfielder aisle). For the record, I don’t think Leo was the absolute best striker we could have signed and I don’t expect him to top 20 goals this season. There are aspects to his play which mark him out as slightly imperfect; in a team which has a left wing back in Ruben Vinagre who can carry the ball up the pitch with mind-boggling speed and skill, he does stand out as a little more rustic in that respect. We’ve yet to see him put away a chance which would be considered anything more than meat and drink for a decent striker (though again, with some of the chances our forwards have missed in the last year or so, I’ll take a bit of basic efficiency in this area). But he’s doing very well and he’s pivotal to what we do. It’s true that last night there were a number of balls across the six yard box that say, a peak Sylvan Ebanks-Blake would have feasted on. But we aren’t asking our central striker to basically goal hang. He plays a role which is fundamentally focused on link up play and often dropping deep to allow the inside forwards free reign to burst towards goal. He isn’t always going to be in there. That’s our system. The worry is that every time he misses a chance – and he should have had another goal last night having worked the opportunity to get a shot off – or God forbid, doesn’t score at all, the complaints will begin about how we should have signed another forward (we should have, but we got stiffed on one target and couldn’t find an adequate alternative) or how he isn’t going to score enough goals. He’s doing well and we need him to carry on doing well. Time to get off his back a bit.

Strong Twitter game as well.

Alfred N’Diaye

With all the Twitter-based kerfuffle over our failure to land another striker on deadline day, the signing of N’Diaye went somewhat under the radar. As I mentioned in my last article, reports from his previous adventures in English football at Sunderland and Hull were mixed to say the least and so I approached the transfer with some caution. It’s with pleasure that I’m happy to report that early signs are very good indeed. Strong, committed, actually using his size to his advantage (which again, should really be a given, but then I spent years watching Seyi Olofinjana) and with a surprising turn of pace and willingness to get forward. It seems that Sunderland in particular played him purely as a holding midfielder with a pure brief to sit in front of the back four and break up play, but that really isn’t his game. He’s much more of an all-rounder as shown with his part in our first goal last night. He did fade a little as the game went on – a probable consequence of a lack of recent action – and it’s fair to point out that we’ve seen strong early performances in the past from other midfielders who’ve gone on to descend into absolute nothingness (I’m talking to you here, Segundo Castillo). However thus far, this looks like another astute piece of transfer business.

An embarrassment of riches

Last night was Ivan Cavaleiro’s first league start of the season and he was outstanding – the only blot on the copybook being a failure to get himself on the scoresheet having had a couple of good chances. We gave N’Diaye his full debut and in the process left out Romain Saiss who had, before last night’s round of fixtures, completed more passes than anyone else in the division and had a 95% pass success rate against Millwall. Kortney Hause, Helder Costa and Morgan Gibbs-White are yet to play a single minute this season as they recover from injury while Michal Zyro and Connor Ronan remain largely on the fringes. Danny Batth and Ruben Vinagre have both had two successive excellent displays in these games…yet would still probably drop out for Willy Boly and Barry Douglas respectively when they return to action. Will Norris is as good a backup keeper as you’re likely to find at this level. It’s refreshing to think that when everyone is available, the question will now be who we’re going to leave out, rather than having to compromise and pick players who obviously aren’t good enough because there’s simply no alternative.

Cough cough.

Refereeing is still poor

Debate will rage around the penalty award against Vinagre from last night – personally I think he was far too close to the ball for a spot kick to be awarded, and the linesman with an unimpeded view from no more than 10 yards away signalled for a corner – but really my problem is with how many routine decisions referees at this level get wrong. For the avoidance of doubt, Bristol City were also on the receiving end of some dubious calls from Steve Martin, who continued his 100% record of never making me laugh. Blaming referees for results is a folly and the realm of the likes of Steve Bruce who doesn’t want to make excuses but will anyway…that said, the standard of officiating is really, really poor from what we’ve seen this season. It shouldn’t be too much to ask for referees to get the basics right and keep an eye on the treatment meted out to Jota in particular. I won’t hold my breath on anything changing.

Oscillating Wildly is a “pay-as-you-feel” website. The content will never disappear behind a paywall. However, if you enjoy my work and would like to help me continue to write – as this is essentially my main focus now – please consider making a small donation via the button near the top of the page. If you want to and can, that’s great. If not, then no worries.

ASSESSING AUGUST

Looking back over the first month of the season

First up, my apologies that there’s been no content of late. I just needed a bit of a break and then it made little sense to publish this piece before the transfer window closed. But anyway, I’m back now. May the world rejoice.

So, let’s break down how we’ve started the campaign:

Results

You can’t really complain about running at two points a game. It takes a fairly freakish set of circumstances for that not to be top two form over the course of a season. It’s even more impressive when you consider who it is we’ve played; most would have Middlesbrough, Derby, Hull and Brentford pegged as top 10 teams at least, and Cardiff have won every single game to date somehow (as much as I dislike Neil Warnock, he deserves great credit for what he’s done in South Wales. The knob). Faced with a tough start, we’ve come up with the goods so far. Cardiff was deeply disappointing – it’s fair to point out that the refereeing in that game was criminally poor, but that’s not what cost us the game – but every other result has been a good one. Brentford may be struggling at the moment but in time I believe that will be seen as a decent point. We’ve also beaten yet another Premier League team away from home with literally a reserve team. Even allowing for the excitement surrounding our new signings, it’s been a better start than many could have envisaged.

“Another one nailed off the ball! Get in”

The New Arrivals

What has been encouraging is that the vast majority of the new signings have fitted in straight away. Ruben Neves is a magician and has no business playing at this level; the same applies to Diogo Jota who will light up this league. Leo Bonatini looks to be a solid striker with a technical base that will allow us to play off and around him. Willy Boly is a man mountain at the back, although does have a slight penchant for the odd girly flick to put us in trouble, while John Ruddy looks like the keeper we’ve needed for the last five years and will be pushed hard by the very promising Will Norris. Barry Douglas is an actual left back and again, has strong competition from the exciting Ruben Vinagre. You might slightly quibble that Roderick Miranda has occasionally looked a little uneasy (although he’s been fairly decent overall), reports from his previous clubs on last minute arrival Alfred N’Diaye are mixed, Ryan Bennett looks…clunky to say the least, and we’re yet to see anything from Phil Ofosu-Ayeh who arrived with a slightly iffy injury record and is apparently yet to join full training. Overall though, this window represents exceptional incoming business with far from a huge outlay by current standards. By and large, they look players willing to accept what the Championship has to offer and to face that challenge head on. Admittedly we might need to wait until the temperature drops below 10 degrees to see what they’re really made of. Except Glasgow-born Douglas of course.

Two top notch signings.

Credit is also due to the club in bringing in £8.5m for a raft of unwanted and unsuitable players, a figure well above what anyone could have envisaged when the 2016/17 campaign drew to a close. If nothing else, you’d hope it would end any flapping about Financial Fair Play for now (to reiterate, we aren’t in any danger of breaching that at all).

The System

As we all know, we’ve shifted to a 3-4-2-1 system this season with Conor Coady at the heart of the back three, wingbacks pushed high up the pitch and two inside forwards playing behind a lone central striker. As we have seen, results and performances have generally been good so far. I do, however, have some concerns about the current set-up:

  1. While this may be a vision of Nuno’s that he’s had for some time, he has never played three at the back with any regularity at any of his previous clubs. Indeed his past experience of playing this formation extends to one league game and two cup games at Valencia. Furthermore, very few of our players have much, if any, prior experience of playing in such a shape. This means that everyone is learning on the job as we go, in a division where three at the back predominantly tends to be an early season experiment which gets ditched before the leaves have started falling. It’s not to say that it won’t work, and early signs aren’t bad at all. But what we don’t have here is a situation where a manager has come in and decided to play in a way that he has stuck to for years at all his previous clubs; this is an experiment on his part.

  2. Even in the past two seasons when we’ve been absolutely diabolical at Molineux, plenty of bottom half teams have come here and set up for a point. Now that we have upgraded our squad to the point where we should be expecting a top six place as a bare minimum, this is going to apply even more. With that in mind, do we really need three centre halves, two career full backs (no matter how much they are pushed on – and Matt Doherty is not a proper attacking option on the right hand side in any case) and two central midfielders who by inclination will tend to sit rather than push into the attacking third? That’s seven players who you could nominally describe as defensively minded. I certainly have no problem with clean sheets being a highly valued currency – and five inside a calendar month is encouraging – and I wouldn’t expect us to be ripping teams apart 4-0 and 5-0 with any regularity. However, when the onus is on us to attack, it does seem a little like defensive overkill in terms of balance. We may well need some flexibility in this respect and Saturday’s match at home to Millwall will be a good test of how we approach a game against opponents who won’t be looking to go at us from the off.

    Not that I believe that the seasons will follow the same path (and we certainly have a far better squad and manager than we did then) but we ended August 2005 with a league record of P6 W3 D2 L1, playing possession heavy football with a new formation and looking well set for a promotion push. Then the rest of the season happened. Now, Nuno isn’t Glenn Hoddle. He isn’t relying on the current day equivalent of Darren Anderton to be our creative force. Nor is he that likely to stick Bonatini on the left wing. But the point is that if we set up in this way, we have to be very careful that we’re not easily nullified. Allowing for the fact that we have played one heavily fancied team and one team with a 100% record so far, we have not created much at all in our two home league games to date. If that pattern were to continue, then there would be cause for concern.

  3. This leads in to the worry that the formation doesn’t allow us to get all of our attacking players on the pitch at the same time. There are three spots and when everyone is fit, all of Leo Bonatini, Helder Costa, Diogo Jota, Ivan Cavaleiro, Bright Enobakhare, Ben Marshall (if he is not employed in the right wing back role), Michal Zyro and Donovan Wilson will be vying to fill them. Of course, none of those players are going to play every game and having the likes of Cavaleiro waiting in the wings represents strong strength in depth. You do wonder, however, if there might be certain games where we’re better off ditching a superfluous defender in favour of getting an extra attacking option on the pitch. Jota in particular seems to have the skillset to flourish as a number 10 just as much as he’s an incredibly exciting option from slightly wider. We’ve already felt compelled to send Jordan Graham out on loan as he’s unlikely to get games in one of the inside forward positions; we could do without others becoming disenchanted because the preferred shape doesn’t allow them enough game time.

The End of Edwards

So finally, it’s over. Almost ten years of watching Dave Edwards has come to a close. Let’s get a few things out of the way first up; no-one at all would ever criticise Edwards’ effort, desire, ability to get the absolute maximum from his ability or affinity to the club. He’s clearly a very, very nice guy who does some fantastic work off the pitch and would never have caused a minute’s trouble for anyone even if he’d been forced into a peripheral role this season. He probably does deserve a testimonial despite falling just short of a decade’s worth of service. It’s nice to have that kind of character in football. All of that is inarguable.

Unfortunately, none of that in itself wins you any points at all over the course of a season. Not only did Edwards have no role whatsoever fit for him with the way we are set up to play under Nuno, but he didn’t even fulfil the brief given to him under much more traditional and prosaically “Championship” managers that we’ve had here. The Express & Star’s piece on his departure took a snipe at fans who “wouldn’t ignore what he couldn’t do”’; I’m not sure how we’re supposed to ignore the fact that a central midfielder can’t pass or tackle. The official site ran a saccharine-infused piece describing him as a “special player in a workmanlike McCarthy team” despite him averaging fewer than 20 starts a season under McCarthy and that team containing some of the best attacking players I’ve ever seen play for us in my 30 seasons of attendance. He didn’t have the ability to play in central midfield as his work in possession was so poor. It’s no coincidence that results slumped under Paul Lambert when he inexplicably restored Edwards to the number 10 role in February of this year. His infrequent runs of goalscoring were welcome, but there were at least an equal number of runs where he’d score at a rate of around 1 in 20 and contribute nothing else.

Had we been more brutal and ruthless in terms of squad management in the McCarthy days, his time would have been up upon promotion to the Premier League, or at very latest following our first season at that level. There have been many, many games where his deficiencies have cost us, no matter how much running he did. Most teams put their most creative and technically skilled player at number 10; we put our least creative player there, month after month under both Jackett and Lambert. This was a day which should have come long ago and the surprise is not that Nuno – unencumbered by existing staff members who might have sung Edwards’ praises – had no use for him, but that it’s Reading who have signed him despite playing perhaps the most possession heavy style of any team in the entire division. But that really is their problem, not ours.

He’s a great guy. I can easily name you 50 Wolves players I’ve disliked more and double that number who’d have had better careers here if they’d adopted Dave’s work ethic. I wish him every success, except when he’s in direct competition with us. But please, spare me the rose-tinted stuff. I didn’t enjoy watching him play and nor did thousands of others.

Captain, Leader, Pointer. I’m sure we’ll survive without him.

The Striker Shortage

Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, Paul Gladon, Andreas Weimann, Joe Mason, Nouha Dicko. All first team strikers for us at various points last season, all no longer at the club. After a season in which not one of them scored more than three goals for us, it would be fair to say that a clearout was necessary. Of course, everyone hoped that we would sign more than one dedicated central striker to replace them, but our bid to bring in PSV’s Jürgen Locadia fell through at the last minute and any secondary targets failed to arrive.

The club don’t escape criticism here. Locadia was by no means the only player in the world that we could have signed and to leave the signing of a player in such a key position so late in the window always had an element of playing with fire about it – while accepting that strikers do tend to be the most difficult players to sign. We had ample opportunity to bring someone in and failed to do so.

Some of the criticism however is wide of the mark. Of those players listed above, surely only Dicko would class as someone who fans would actually still want at the club. Dicko himself had shown this season that he was a deeply imperfect fit for the role required from the central striker now and his inability to hold the ball almost contributed to us dropping points against Middlesbrough. He has rarely looked anything like the player he was before his devastating injury two years ago and picking up £3.5m for a striker who has scored four goals since May 2015 is not to be sniffed at. It doesn’t seem that likely that he’s going to be back to his best any time soon and the manager clearly didn’t fancy him as a serious option. His judgement has to be trusted. It is also better for us to stick with what we have than just sign anyone to be seen to be doing something. Every time Jordan Hugill was mentioned as a potential target, a chill ran down my spine in a manner I’ve not experienced since I saw Steve Corica’s name on the teamsheet every week. Dwight Gayle and Jordan Rhodes are fine goalscorers at this level but are they really equipped to do what we would need them to do? I would suggest not.

This is where just signing anyone gets you.

Of course, we are now crossing our fingers that Bonatini can build on his promising start and stay fit. There is some scope for Cavaleiro being able to play centrally, but at the moment we’re guessing whether he will or won’t be able to perform effectively there. It’s a state of affairs which could end up costing us dearly and I reiterate, a situation the club should not have allowed us to get into. But time will tell. If we are indeed loitering around 9th place come Christmas, it won’t be because we sold Nouha Dicko.

On we go to two eminently winnable home fixtures against Millwall and Bristol City; check back here next week for reaction to both games.

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