PLAYER RATINGS: WOLVES 2-2 NORWICH CITY

Last-minute disappointment

John Ruddy: Let’s make this clear from the outset. John Ruddy has been a fantastic signing for us this season. We are conceding well under a goal per game, have 17 clean sheets and his ability to step up and make big saves despite being frequently underworked has already earned us points this season. But there’s no hiding place as a keeper; and when a last minute 35 yarder goes in, costing us two points and it really should have been saved, fingers will be pointed. It’s not squirmed through his arms, he’s not fumbled it in à la Emi Martinez vs QPR and it did rear up in front of him. Has to save it though. No questions. He made the ground and it’s still evaded him. He’ll know that as well. Premature to call for his replacement, yet the claims of Will Norris for a run in the team will inevitably strengthen for every error that the incumbent makes.

Ryan Bennett: Outstanding against his former club. Plenty of strong tackles and good work in the air. Hard to see him relinquishing that spot on the right hand side of the back three for the rest of the season.

Conor Coady: Standard stuff from the skipper who extricated himself well from some tricky situations and showed some much needed calmness on the ball.

Willy Boly: Just allowing the odd error to creep into his game among the usual elite standard defending. On this occasion a lapse in concentration let Harrison Reed in one-on-one early on and he should really have put us behind. Not a huge concern and still a huge asset to us, but it’d be nice if he could tighten that up.

Matt Doherty: Had a decent first half but when we switched to what was more a 3-5-2 shape after the break, the onus of defending was placed more on the wingbacks as they had no-one directly in front of them to offer support. And as we all know, defending is not Doherty’s forté. Bailed out more than once by Bennett and in the final 10-15 minutes, allowed far too many crosses to come in from Josh Murphy, ramping up further the pressure on our goal. It’s not that hard to get close enough to your man and stop him from having free reign to swing the ball over. Pretty basic.

Barry Douglas: An improved showing and a 10th assist of the season with a trademark near post corner. Was not overly threatened defensively as Norwich placed Reed wide on the right for much of the game and decent footballer that he is, he’s as likely to beat a man as Alan Pardew is to impose an effective curfew. Still doesn’t quite get forward to the same effect as he did early on in the season; rarely do we see him pushing right into the final third from open play.

Alfred N’Diaye: Another mixed bag from the big man. Got his goal (partly thanks to some atrocious Norwich marking) and on occasion did help us drive forward from midfield. However, it was his own slack marking which allowed Christopher Zimmermann to pull a goal back and his inconsistency in passing does impact on our control of the game from time to time.

Ruben Neves: Always seemed unlikely that he would reach mid-March without receiving a 10th booking of the season and he was rightly pulled up for a rash tackle in the middle of the pitch. Of course, we will miss him greatly against Fulham and Reading. We can’t replace him anything approaching like-for-like. Shouldn’t escape criticism for giving away a very soft free kick in a dangerous area for Norwich’s first goal, but otherwise was very good indeed. At least we now know he’ll be available at Villa Park.

Helder Costa: Produced a couple of dazzling runs and looked the most dangerous of the front three…and yet was replaced at half time. Even if he were injured, the change in shape didn’t appear to make much sense; as it turns out, it was a purely tactical decision. Strange one.

Ivan Cavaleiro: Probably the quietest game he’s had for months. Didn’t do a great deal wrong per se, we just struggled to get the ball to him and as a result there were few of the fireworks we’ve been accustomed to seeing since the autumn. Possibly should have hit the target from a Doherty cutback in the second half.

Diogo Jota: Wonderful spin away from Zimmermann for our opening goal (which I’m sure he’ll feel he should have put away himself). Tried hard but not a great deal else came off for him. On a couple of occasions should have pulled the trigger from the edge of the box but looked for a layoff and the move broke down. As great a work of artistry as his goal against Sheffield United was, sometimes it’s better just to have a dig.

Romain Saiss: On for Costa at half-time as we decided for some reason that we needed an extra man in midfield. It didn’t really work out. The balance of the three in there never quite looked right and Saiss didn’t impose himself on the game as we know he can. Possibly a slight question mark on whether he could have got closer to Nelson Oliveira before he fired home.

Benik Afobe: I had my doubts about his signing right from the time that we were inevitably linked with him. While his application and endeavour aren’t in question, there remain serious concerns as to whether he can ever fit into this team. He still cannot hold the ball up. At all. Doesn’t even attempt to do it on occasions and the frequent concession of possession after his introduction played a large part in Norwich’s ascendancy. His presence seems to make us look to go far more direct, which is not really our game and doesn’t look to be a likely route of success. Hampered by a knock (after we had used all our substitutions) but it was still disappointing that he didn’t back up Morgan Gibbs-White when he attempted to run the ball into the corner late on. It sounds harsh, but the clock is already ticking on his chances of earning a permanent deal here. You won’t get a £10m+ move if you aren’t scoring any goals or contributing much in the way of general play.

Morgan Gibbs-White: Another superb showing from the bench with an array of tricks, remarkable confidence for an 18 year old and further evidence that he is going to be a serious player. But with one quibble; he really should have squared the ball to Jota having done some great work to get into the box. Outside chance of a start at Craven Cottage this weekend.

Nuno Espirito Santo: I haven’t bothered giving the manager a write-up in most verdicts this season, because there’s little point. Endlessly repeating “got it spot on, everything went right, we won again, he’s a genius” isn’t of much value. He did get it wrong last night. There was no call for us to change formation and it’s hard to see why he viewed it necessary to deviate from what has served us well all season. We sat off Norwich too much and allowed them back into the game when it was ours for the taking. As detailed, he hasn’t come close to finding a role for Afobe as yet (though this is a two way street and Ben needs to do much better in his own right too). So, a bad night at the office for the gaffer. A very rare one. I don’t expect there to be many more between now and May. He is the man who has put us in this incredibly strong position and while it’s fair to criticise him when he does make mistakes, he’s more than earned a bit of leeway. He is not Dave Jones. We are not going to mess this up. A bit of faith required.

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.

JANUARY TRANSFER WINDOW: ROUND-UP

Assessing our business in the post-Christmas bunfight

INS

Rafa Mir (c.£1.5m from Valencia)

Amazing how opinion can turn so quickly on a player. An hour or so before kickoff against Brentford at the start of the month, reports emerged that we were close to signing Mir and in the process beating Real Madrid to secure his services. As you do. Cue much excitement, especially when he was handed the number 9 shirt. After 104 minutes of football, he’s been written off in some quarters as “not ready” and “we need better”. It’s more than a trifle harsh. He came within inches of scoring on his debut at home to Swansea, put in a reasonable showing off the bench at Barnsley and was given the last 12 minutes in a desperate cause at home to Nottingham Forest (at which point we stopped crossing the ball, which we’d persevered with for the previous 78 minutes. Football teams are odd sometimes). I didn’t see his sole start at Swansea, where by all accounts he struggled to get into the game and his touch was found wanting, and I’ll have to trust those reports. But that seems scant reasoning to more or less discount him having any kind of impact for us. Early impressions are that he’s mobile enough for a 6’3” forward, could provide an aerial option of sorts if we adapted our overall game to suit and his general technique looks fairly sound. He’ll need time, he’s clearly not the finished article and is only just making his way in senior football, let alone in English football. A bit of patience would be nice.

Andreas Sondergaard (Undisclosed from Odense)

The arrival of the Denmark U17 keeper would seem to signal the impending end to the Wolves careers of Jon Flatt (who is 24 in September and has played precious little first team football at any level given his age) and Harry Burgoyne (who’ll always have Anfield, much like Darren Roberts will always have St Andrews). Hopefully whoever spotted Will Norris in the inexplicable semi-obscurity of a mid-table League Two team is the same person who has recommended Sondergaard. He doesn’t have too much to do to break into the upper echelons of Danish Wolves players; there’s not much to beat between Allan Nielsen, Jorgen Nielsen, Jacob Laursen, Mikkel Bischoff, Jan Budtz and Oskar Buur Rasmussen.

I like Jan Budtz and I cannot lie.

Diogo Jota (Reported €14m from Atletico Madrid, to go through on 1 July)

The big one. I don’t need to wax lyrical about his quality; that much is obvious. He’s an obscenely talented player and has only just turned 21. For us to tie up a permanent deal for him is superb work on the part of the club. The option to sign him was always written into the agreement made with Atletico in the summer, but had he decided that the bright lights of the Penn Road weren’t for him, there would have been nothing that we could have done. Undoubtedly he is good enough to play for genuine top level clubs across Europe even at this stage and yet he’s ours, properly ours, from the start of July. It doesn’t seem real. And to think that what we paid for him wouldn’t have got you the dream team strike partnership of Gary Madine and Jordan Hugill yesterday.

Gary and Jordan congratulate each other on their big moves.

Reimao Nogueira (Unattached, previously at Fiorentina)

Transfermarkt reliably informs me that he’s spent spells at Sporting CP, Chelsea and Fiorentina before pitching up here, which is a decent enough CV. Then again, Fabio Borini has somehow managed to get Chelsea, Roma, Liverpool and AC Milan to sign him and he’s absolutely pap. We’re in the slightly odd position of being short on bodies for the U23 team given how many players we’ve loaned out from that group, so he should get a chance to make an impression between now and the end of the season.

Ben Stevenson (Undisclosed from Coventry, loaned to Colchester)

A bright debut season at Coventry has been followed by a campaign where he’s struggled for minutes, so it may seem odd for a team bound for the Premier League to be signing someone who is the on the fringes of a League Two outfit. That said, he has been extremely highly rated through age group football – with favourable comparisons to James Maddison at different stages – and it will be interesting to see how he progresses. Presumably Colchester have promised him first team football which is preferable to loaning him straight back to the Sky Blues only for him to sit on the sidelines. We’ve had issues in recent times in getting highly rated players from U23 football to progress fully, so Stevenson could end up being a test case for our future ability in this area.

Benik Afobe (Loan for c.£1m from Bournemouth)

There’s no point in denying it, I was one of the minority who wasn’t really in favour of taking Benik back. This isn’t on the part of some long-standing grudge (not that I’m above such things, I still haven’t forgiven Michael McIndoe for that penalty against Blues in 2007). I don’t agree with the theory that he downed tools during his first spell here; despite some truly abysmal football around him and the worst service this side of a Little Chef, he put in the effort right to the end, even when hopelessly isolated and reduced to feeding off what weren’t even scraps. I also don’t blame him for leaving in the first place. Although it isn’t really on to say that you want to put down roots at a club then angle to leave a few months later, we were, let’s face it, in a right old mess. We’d gone from a team showing top 3-4 form in his first four months here to one that was showing all the hallmarks of a lower mid-table outfit at best. The club was up for sale with seemingly no imminent prospect of anything happening (we know now that early negotiations were ongoing, but it’s doubtful the players were any more aware of this than the fans were at this stage). The squad had been shorn of quality and the style of play was one which would disencourage any forward worth his salt. A Premier League club came in and that was that. No problem there at all.

No, my issue with the signing was twofold; firstly, it’s disingenuous to state that we needed another forward to secure promotion. As detailed in Sunday’s article, we’re now in such a position that we require a paltry amount of points to secure a top two spot at worst. We simply won’t fail to do that, with or without Afobe. If the transfer was going to be a costly one, then it simply wouldn’t have been worth the outlay to guarantee something that is already as good as guaranteed – fortunately we seem to have got the deal done entirely on our terms, which is a nice mark of the negotiating ability of those at the helm. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, I’m not convinced at this point that he’s quite the right fit for us. When he was here previously, we didn’t use him in any way as a linkman. He played right on the shoulder of the last defender and picked up bits and pieces in the box, while Nouha Dicko did the hard yards in running the channels and holding the ball up. Afobe’s self-imposed spell as a number 10 was frankly, a shambles as he lacked the creativity to open up defences and the positional sense to pick the ball up in the right areas. Now, with defences invariably sitting ultra-deep against us, is he going to have the space to showcase his pace and finishing ability? Is he going to be able to play a meaningful role outside the box? Was that 1 in 6 record for Bournemouth due to an unfortunate set of circumstances or will we end up concluding that he falls into the same bracket as Sylvan Ebanks-Blake; deadly in the second tier, not quite rounded enough to make it in the Premier League? We shall see. What we can say is that the manager – in whom we must have the utmost faith – has seen enough of him to want to give it a go, and it is entirely in Benik’s interest to make this work. We all wish him the very best. He’ll get a hell of a lot of goodwill from the crowd. He’ll never, ever, ever play in a better Championship team than this. Down to him.

I promise to have an amnesty on calling him “Badge Kissing Ben” until the end of the season. I can’t say fairer than that.

OUTS

Jack Price (Undisclosed to Colorado Rapids)

This day was always going to come. We all knew that the club was rapidly moving on and it would leave the likes of Price behind at some point. Still, it’s a shame when someone who has been here since the age of 8 has to leave for the sake of their career. Rarely did he let us down, but ultimately his game just didn’t progress quite enough to ever suggest that he was a bona fide option for a team chasing the top six, let alone the levels we’ve reached this season. It’s fairly rare that a player leaves the club and they get almost universal goodwill; moving to Colorado certainly beats joining QPR or Barnsley. The plus point is that I no longer have to write the exact same verdict for every game that he plays.

One of the good guys.

Lee Evans (c.£750k to Sheffield United)

It’s a mark of the slightly confusing Paul Lambert period that Evans was handed a new long term deal as recently as February of last year, and now he’s departed from the club having first being sent out on loan to Wigan in the summer. In truth, he never quite convinced at this level. There’s little doubt that on his day, he can look like a decent performer and his passing ability with a little refinement could end up being a significant asset. He never really addressed his issues with consistency or mobility and exactly where you position him in midfield – he’s not really one to have sitting in front of the back four, doesn’t have the engine to get up and down the park and doesn’t offer enough to play in an advanced role – remains a mystery. The move to Sheffield United probably represents his final chance for now to make an impact in the second tier; another spell of flattering to deceive and he can probably look forward to further spells in League One (where he has always looked more than decent). His departure means the title of “best haircut at Wolves” is currently vacant.

Immaculate sweep.

Prince Oniangué (Loan to Angers)

Poor old Prince. Seems like a genuinely nice chap. It just hasn’t happened for him here at all. It was a surprise that there were no takers for him in the summer as he was evidently available on either a temporary or permanent basis, and his spell at Bastia seemed to go reasonably well notwithstanding their relegation. He’s spent the last few months doing not much other than turning up to training and having a rogue game as a right back for the U23s. Hopefully he can do enough to earn a decent transfer at the end of the season, though Angers are mired in a relegation battle and have won the joint fewest games in Ligue Un.

Connor Ronan (Loan to Portsmouth)

Impressed sufficiently against Manchester City for Kevin de Bruyne to seek him out to swap shirts post-match. Played no minutes whatsoever after that. It’s very tough to break into our team at present, and currently it’s unclear whether Nuno sees him as suitable for a central midfield role as most of his cameo appearances this season came in the inside forward position. For now he needs football and we will have to trust dear old Ken to use him properly. This means not playing him as an orthodox touchline-hugging winger, because that isn’t his game, and not leaving him on the bench for no reason. Both of which he’s done already. Ah.

Aaron Collins (Loan to Newport)

Sent back from whence he came two years ago after a brief pre-Christmas spell at Maidstone. To date he’s been named on the bench four times without making an appearance. The landscape has changed significantly since early 2016 and whatever purpose we signed him for then no longer exists, so this is an opportunity for him to impress someone else (if he ever ends up playing). Out of contract in the summer and there would seem little point in extending his stay here.

Donovan Wilson (Loan to Port Vale)

19 goals in 28 U23 appearances over the course of the last two seasons earned Donovan a new deal to 2020 and a loan move to Burslem. One of those things is nicer than the other. Vale have improved since getting rid of mid-2000s thug Michael Brown as manager and his game should be well suited to developing in League Two.

Sylvain Deslandes (Loan to Portsmouth)

Young Sylvain once again gets the joy of Ken pronouncing his surname as “Des Landez”. Lucky boy. We signed him as an orthodox left back and he isn’t really suitable to play there; he had a go at playing at left wing back against Bristol Rovers in September and looked well short of the quality required. You might possibly get away with him as a left sided centre half in League Two at present with the scope to push on from there; essentially we won’t have any cause to use him again. Another one who is out of contract in the summer and doesn’t really have any business being here any longer than that.

Jack Ruddy (Loan to Ayr)

The loan spell to Oldham didn’t go well with 14 goals conceded in his five appearances, the last of which came in late October. He remains highly rated and we seem to think that he is above playing U23 football, so a spell back in Scotland at top of the third tier Ayr has been set up. It’s nice to have a stable of good keepers, but for Ruddy it’s bad news; a year or so ago it wasn’t inconceivable that he’d be making his first team debut in the near future as we struggled for reliability in that department. With John Ruddy and Will Norris now at the club, it’s going to be hard for him to break in.

Duckens Nazon (Loan to Oldham)

Six goals for Coventry and some eye catching displays led to us moving him up to a higher level for the remainder of the season. With his late development in mind (he’s 24 before the season ends), it’s for everyone’s benefit that we find out as quickly as possible just how high up the pyramid he can play – staying in League Two wouldn’t really have told anyone a great deal. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll have much of an impact on our first team, but he was signed as a freebie punt having spent his career to that point in the amateur tiers of French football and with a brief spell in India. To be able to make any kind of impression in senior English football with that background is impressive on his part.

Feed the Duck and he will score.

Ryan Leak (Loan to AFC Telford)

After spending time with The New Saints pre-Christmas, Ryan has continued his mini-tour of Shropshire by joining up with Rob Edwards’ Telford. Our ex-caretaker manager has failed to make much of an impression at what is now our de facto feeder club with some very uneven results all season, and Leak’s first two games have been a 3-0 defeat at Salford and a 5-3 loss at home to York. 20 this month and does need to be making bigger strides fairly soon, though he does still have a further year to run on his contract at Molineux.

Christian Herc (Loan to Dunajska Strada)

Herc has long since been seen as one of the leading lights in our U23 team with his ability to drive from central midfield and chip in with goals; we have decided at this point that he needs to play some senior football and with it being understandably difficult to find a deal for a youngster who hasn’t as much as made a matchday squad as yet, he has been sent back to his homeland of Slovakia for the remainder of the season. DAC are a top flight outfit and it will be interesting to see if Herc can break into the team despite his lack of experience. Those who enjoy following the murky exploits of ex-Wolves Academy players will be interested to know that he’ll be linking up with Kristian Kostrna who has made 12 appearances so far this season. Ok, maybe not interested.

Michal Zyro (Loan to Charlton)

Football is a strange old world at times. Dave Jones used to sign players for Wolves, never use them, possibly even publicly belittle them…and then sign them for another club a few years later. And the players would willingly join him. Here we have a situation whereby Zyro’s career has been ruined by one of the worst challenges I have ever seen, insult added to considerable injury as the opposition manager on the day totally failed to apologise or even show any concern towards the stricken player. That manager was human Tellytubby Karl Robinson who has now signed Zyro for Charlton. Personally I’d have told him to get bent, but that’s probably why I’m not charged with sorting out loan deals for players who are trying to rebuild their professional life. Sadly at this point I’m far from convinced that the affable Pole will be able to play at any serious level to any great effect again; that injury was just so horrific that he’s done well to even get back on a training pitch, let alone playing games. I hope I’m wrong and that he does really well down there. Then signs for someone else in the summer and tells Robinson to bike it.

Seriously, FFS.

Dan Armstrong (Loan to Dunfermline)

Playoff chasing Dunfermline are the destination for dodgy-barneted Dan who has shown encouraging signs this year in the U23 team. We’re never particularly clear on the exact status of youth contracts, but he will probably earn a year’s extension to his current deal which runs out in June, if only so we can sell him on at some point.

Aaron Simpson (Loan to Kilmarnock)

Scottish football takes a bit of a kicking these days. With Celtic guaranteed to win the title before a ball’s kicked and Rangers getting papped out of Europe by part-timers from Luxembourg, the stock of their league is not high. It isn’t going to be enhanced by a Premier League team signing a right back who was struggling to hold down a place in the Conference North a few weeks ago. Mind you, Ross County had Jamie Reckord playing regular football for them a couple of years ago and he’s now with Solihull Moors, so this isn’t a new thing. Simpson will probably be released in a few months regardless of how well this spell goes.

Ben Marshall (Loan to Millwall)

For some time it was felt that Marshall would offer an option to fill the right wing back slot in our first team. With defensive responsibilities at a minimum, attacking qualities are more important in that area and as Matt Doherty is at least nominally a career defender, Marshall should have had a shout at showcasing his delivery from that position. However, he never got any football whatsoever there. Whether his lack of an engine was what dissuaded Nuno from giving it a go, who knows. His fleeting appearances higher up the pitch didn’t produce much other than some well-meaning effort and a solitary assist against Bristol City, along with a reminder that he lacks genuine pace and ability to beat a man. When you’re competing with Ivan Cavaleiro and Helder Costa for a spot, the game’s probably up. Doubtless he’ll do well for Millwall and their merry band of ex-Wolves. He’s a perfectly decent footballer at this level. We’ve just moved on. Expect to hear that statement more and more in a few months when we’re signing players in the summer.

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.

CRISIS, WHAT CRISIS?

Perhaps everyone can settle down a little bit now…

For those of us who enjoy the inherent silliness of football managers – except when it’s happening to your own club and a Welshman with an IQ of 27 is banging on about chucking cheeseburgers up the wall and going on the X Factor – Steve Bruce has been a bit of a goldmine this season. When he’s not heftily slapping himself on the back for loaning youngsters from Manchester United and Tottenham (thus blocking Aston Villa’s own Academy products), making up stats about how many foreign players Wolves use, talking about “balancing wor books” while he has over £20m worth of players that he himself signed sat on the bench and having at least 4,183 senior right backs in the squad at any one time, he’s often talked about the “mass hysteria” that he faces whenever Villa have a negative result.

Steve reacts to being asked to use wor computer to look at wor Twitter reaction.

Now, as ever with everyone’s favourite early 2000s crime writer, he’s being more than a bit disingenuous when he says this. Villa fans tend to understandably get a bit twitchy when they get to Boxing Day and they’re outside the playoff places despite having an extremely expensively assembled squad under the charge of a purported promotion specialist. They tend to react badly to runs of five games without a win, as happened through December, or starts to the season which involve one win in seven. It is also tends to be Steve Bruce’s fault when Villa do go on such runs, which is why he cops the flak. It’s not “mass hysteria”. It’s “a fair reaction to a reasonably prolonged run of severe underperformance”. Which I’ll grant you, isn’t as catchy. No, an example of mass hysteria would be the reaction of Wolves fans through January. A draw and a defeat in the league and a cup exit to a Premier League team somehow translated into us inevitably throwing away our position at the top of the division and being condemned to “blowing it again”. Which is a little like waking up one morning to find someone’s swiped your newspaper and immediately declaring the neighbourhood to have turned into late 1970s New York.

Let’s examine the current situation in terms of pure numbers. We currently sit on 65 points from 29 games, running at 2.24 points per game (no other team in the division is currently exceeding 2 PPG). In the last 30 years, only one team (Sunderland in 1997/8) has ever failed to finish in the top two having attained 90 points. So, as it’s a fair bet that 90 will be enough – all of Middlesbrough, Watford, Cardiff, Hull, Reading, Southampton, QPR and Norwich have won automatic promotion this decade without reaching that mark – we require 25 points from 17 games to almost certainly get over the line. That equates to 1.47 PPG for the remainder of the season, which is slightly below what 11th placed Preston have achieved throughout the campaign so far. Over the last 10 games we have picked up 21 points (2.10 PPG). Even through our supposed “blip” during January, we kept four clean sheets in our six games in all competitions. Paul Lambert was sacked due to our results post-Anfield being totally unacceptable. In his final 17 games, we gained 23 points. This includes us embarking on a five game losing streak and a separate run where we lost four of our final seven games. Even mirroring the results of a man who literally lost his job because of a weak showing in the final third of the season would be very likely to get us in that top two. I think most people would expect Nuno to perform a fair way better than Paul Lambert. In pure mathematical and probability terms, the chances of us falling apart are close to nil. The best price you can get for us to win the league – let alone finish in the top two – is 10/1 on. And as the aforementioned Welshman with an IQ of 27 will tell you, the bookies don’t often get it wrong.

Dean can currently be found on TalkSPORT insisting that aeroplanes run on regular petrol. Call him up and tell him he’s an idiot.

Etched on everyone’s memory is, of course, our collapse from a seemingly impregnable position in 2001/2. Harrowing as it might have been, comparing that situation to where we are now is a fairly flimsy argument. We were not the best team in the division that season and bar a scorching early season run of form, rarely looked as much – Manchester City were the standout outfit, boasting higher first XI quality and superior squad depth to us. After 29 games of that season, we had 55 points; a very decent return indeed and one which you would expect would have you competing at the very top end of the league, as indeed we were. But it’s a full 10 points fewer than we have now. Our manager at the time was, of course, vastly inferior to the man we have in charge now and our first choice team back in January 2002 contains few who would contend for a starting spot were they Marty McFlyed all the way to 2018 (Joleon Lescott and Alex Rae may have a shout, but there’s not much more than that). In fact how a team containing Mo Camara as the starting left back got so close is a mystery in itself. Back then, as City galloped to the title, it only required one team to overhaul us. This time, two teams will need to somehow pull an amazing run out of somewhere, as well as us totally collapsing beyond all comprehension and in the face of all available evidence. One of them will probably have to be Villa, which would involve them putting together a prolonged run of form that they have never shown since they were relegated to this level. Besides which, this episode was a full sixteen years ago. It’s probably time to let it go. There hasn’t really been a similar instance since of us throwing away a good position, so the label of “serial bottlers” can’t be thrown at us, nor is the current squad mentally scarred by any such recent failings. History can teach us much in football (as in life generally), but it helps if a reasonably fair comparison is being drawn in the first place.

Dave regales us with the tale of how he once literally said that formations don’t matter.

Of course, any kind of negative results in January tend to lead to widespread clamour for new signings to be brought in. We’re in an odd kind of position currently; any player that we bring in for a significant outlay has to be both better than what we already have (and we have, as we have established, the best team in the division by some significant margin) and be capable of making the step up to the Premier League. As fatalistic as some of our supporters are, logic and reason dictates that we don’t need anyone else to secure promotion. Therefore buying players who are fit only for the second tier serves very, very little purpose. What we require is very difficult to pull off in January (even allowing for the fact that we can attract players that virtually any other second tier club would find completely out of reach); the selling club has limited time to replace whoever it is we’re tempting away, and this year we have the added complication of everyone in the Premier League from Everton (9th place) downwards nervously looking over their shoulder and facing a possible relegation battle. As much as I wish it were otherwise, other clubs aren’t obliged to hand over good players to us just because we want them.

With Leo Bonatini struggling for goals of late, attention has turned to our striking department and inevitably the name of Benik Afobe has cropped up. We all have some good memories of his time here (well, his first four months here) but when you assess him in the context of the above criteria…it’s not a signing that would appear to make much sense. Bournemouth would look to at least recoup the £10m that they paid us in January 2016; indeed, given the inflation in the transfer market in the intervening period, they may even wish to make a profit on him. We would be looking at an eight figure sum for a man who has scored 10 goals in 63 league appearances over the last two years and last scored a league goal in April of last year. Nothing about Afobe currently suggests that he would be particularly likely to be a success story in the top flight; he’s still young enough to find form elsewhere, but he is currently fourth or fifth choice for Bournemouth for a good reason. Added to which, in his spell at Molineux he was best used as an off-the-shoulder striker who used his pace to great effect. Whenever he was tasked with linking play he was largely incapable of doing so, and yet our current system tasks the striker with work outside the box more than anything else. Lest we forget his ego-driven trip into playing as a number 10, which invariably led to him running around in circles somewhere near the halfway line. Dennis Bergkamp he ain’t.

The master of kissing a badge then demanding a move less than three months later.

At this point, we have no need to make such a high cost signing where the evidence to date points to him possibly being a player who would need replacing in just four months. To look further at Bournemouth, in January 2015 they signed their own former player in Lewis Grabban for £7m from Norwich after he had failed to make an impact in the Premier League for the Canaries. 0 league goals and multiple loan spells later, Grabban is still on the books at Dean Court. It can be very easy to get lumbered with unwanted players, no matter if they were quite good a few years ago. It’s also unfair at this stage for Rafa Mir to be written off as he has been in some quarters; at just 20 years of age and with less than two hours’ worth of football in a Wolves shirt, he should be given more time. Early signs are at least that he isn’t some Frank Nouble/Yannick Sagbo-esque clown who doesn’t understand the concept of trapping a ball, and given the hit ratio of the club in the market since the summer, perhaps it’s best to give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

It is of course only right that fans criticise when we perform poorly or where the strategic direction of the club seems lacking. Relentless praise and positivity regardless of context or events is as useless as morbid pessimism. We were indeed well below par against Nottingham Forest with an odd tendency to funnel all of our attacking play out in wide areas, which has not been our most profitable route to goal this season (some praise should be due to professional dullard Aitor Karanka for at least partly forcing us in this direction, though I would say that the result was more down to our own failings than any tactical masterclass on his part). Some performances since early December have been a touch laboured, though that said, anyone expecting regular repeats of the displays that we saw against Leeds and Bolton needs to take a reality check; notice how the rate of thrashings that Man City dole out has steadily declined over the season as opposition teams look for damage limitation rather than a positive result. It would be fair to question why Ivan Cavaleiro had a run of games on the bench when he was frequently looking our most dangerous player. It should be recognised that Nuno is not infallible, he is not a Christ-like figure and he is still making his way in coaching as a whole as well as continually learning about English football. He will make mistakes, very good manager that he may be. Finally, it would seem to be a needless risk for us to go through the entire season with only one option at right wing-back, especially when it is such a pivotal position for us (it was good to see Matt Doherty bounce back with a goal yesterday after his horror show against Forest); however, we shall see what the next few days bring before the transfer window closes.

All of those are valid criticisms. There may be others. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out where the club have gone wrong or might be going wrong. This isn’t a quest to paint Wolverhampton Wanderers as the most perfect club in the world. Bloody hell, we all need something to moan about and it can’t all be on Steve Daley’s This Is Your Life style half-time interviews. But really, people should be enjoying this ride. The most talented squad many of us will have seen in our lifetimes. A manager that would be coveted by many other clubs across Europe. Miles clear at the top. Everything in our favour, at least for the next few months. A packed ground, a city full of buzz pre-match. Cherish it, you don’t know when it’ll come round again.

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 3-0 BRENTFORD

Warning – this report contains far too much positivity

John Ruddy: Once again, was barely tested. As in the Ipswich game, his biggest challenge was dealing with a heavy backpass which almost put him in trouble, but pulling out the old Stearman dragback saved the day. One routine save from distance in the first half which for some reason, hasn’t shown up as a shot on target on the BBC website. For the second successive game, kicking was below par with several attempted balls to the wingbacks flying straight out of play. It was windy out there, mind.

Ryan Bennett: I wasn’t exactly enthused about Bennett’s signing in the summer – it appeared to be a legacy deal tied up in the days of Paul Lambert and totally at odds with what we were trying to do – and as recently as three months ago it was hard to see how he’d make any kind of impact here as he seemed to be well down the pecking order. However, since being given his chance at former club Norwich at the end of October, he’s barely looked back. His defending is steady and robust and his use of the ball has definitely improved during his run in the side; we’re seeing far fewer aimless hoofs forward and he’s now even beginning to pass the ball nicely into midfield from time to time. Sailed through this game.

Conor Coady: Same old, same old from our on-pitch leader. When there was danger he mopped it up with the minimum of fuss, on the ball he produced a few of those now trademark crossfield passes to stretch the play. A revelation this season. Evidently loving his football here and a big character as well as a top performer.

Willy Boly: It’s extremely rare indeed for overseas season-long loan deals for which the club has paid a fee to include a break clause midway through the season. As such, speculation that Porto will recall Boly in order to sell him and raise funds for one of their own targets should be treated with the same credibility as you’d grant Steve Cotterill if he tried to lecture you on the Expected Goals metric. Much like Coady, this was standard stuff from him; never got out of second gear, defended magnificently when required, a ridiculous through ball in the first half that deserved a goal and simply far too good for this division. Booked late on for an Oscar Ruggeri-style block on Florian Jozefzoon.

Matt Doherty: When Matt Doherty is pulling a 50 yard ball out of the sky and proceeding to flick it over an opponent’s head – on purpose, and everything – then you know something special’s going on. Of the many, many things I’ve criticised him for in the past, the key areas that he’s worked on this season are his fitness and workrate. The two go hand in hand of course; because he’s now lacking a spare tyre round his mid-section, he’s physically able to get up and down the pitch all game…the workrate then becomes a case of attitude, which has definitely improved as he now actually bothers chasing back if we lose the ball and he’s upfield. Scenes. Probably should have done better with his one-on-one chance in the first half (albeit that Dan Bentley spread himself well and was out quickly) and that crossing still needs work – out of six or so good opportunities to deliver last night, only one was a genuinely good ball in.

Barry Douglas: Clearly irked by temporarily missing out on free kick duty so responded by absolutely crashing home a goal with his right foot. Treat ’em mean, Nuno. That’s four goals and eight assists now for him which means he’s significantly improved on the output of any striker we fielded last season. This is an uncapped career left back who’s spent the last four years at nondescript clubs in Poland and Turkey. Whoever had him on their radar deserves a hefty pat on the back. At the minute there can’t be any question over his place, even allowing for the presence of the obscenely talented Ruben Vinagre.

Ruben Neves: Outstanding. Simply outstanding. The complete package in midfield who cannot be matched by anyone in this division. You can’t man mark him, you can’t allow him to carry the ball, you can’t bully him, he doesn’t sit too deep, he doesn’t get caught out of position, you can’t give him room to spread the play…you just have to accept that this guy is way too good and hope that he doesn’t hurt you too much. Fine strike for the free kick (which was definitely the right angle for a right footer) although if I am nitpicking – and I like to – then Bentley’s positioning wasn’t the best. One delicious spin away from his man late on. Small concern would be the amount of yellow cards he racks up, often for innocuous enough offences that he doesn’t need to commit – a little shirt pull in the middle of the park when Brentford weren’t even threatening to break in any great numbers earned him his eighth card of the season and he’s now two away from another ban.

Romain Saiss: Unglamorous but invaluable stuff on a filthy night. Didn’t get forward too much in comparison to recent games, but always on hand to fill in behind the wingbacks and largely negated the presence of Ryan Woods in the Bees’ midfield. Has comprehensively seen off the threat to his place from Alfred N’Diaye and in stark contrast to this time last year, is now an automatic pick.

Helder Costa: Seems to be the latest target of hyperbole as he’s either “back to his best” or “well below par and worrying”. In reality he was somewhere in between last night. Narrowly failed to make the best of a one-on-one – the ball was always running slightly away from him, and again Bentley was out well – but in general had a perfectly decent game, linking well with Bonatini in particular and getting back to defend when required. Indeed he was slightly unfortunate to be withdrawn, though will likely get yet another start against Swansea on Saturday. Give him time and he’ll be perfectly ok.

Diogo Jota: He’ll end up getting that much-mooted rest now as he won’t feature in the cup and we don’t play for almost a fortnight in the league. Calls for him to be left out have been well wide of the mark; he’s simply far too dangerous to be excluded even if he isn’t at his absolute rampaging best. Caused the visitors problems all night and could have walked away with a hat trick after efforts in the first half were cleared off the line and repelled by Bentley respectively. When he eventually knocked one in…well, let’s just say it won’t be winning our Goal of the Season award.

Leo Bonatini: Here is a man who needed a small rest after leading the line all season despite having a minimal (possibly non-existent) pre-season. By design at Millwall and inadvertently at Bristol City, he got his little break and the benefits showed last night as he was back to his best. So unlucky not to score in the opening two minutes with a shot that hit the inside of the post and almost opened up the second half with an uncharacteristic solo effort almost straight from the kick off. Link up play was excellent and there just seemed more zip about his game than in recent weeks. It’s six without a goal for him now (allowing for limited involvement at The Den and Ashton Gate) but that won’t worry him too much.

Ivan Cavaleiro: Seemed inconceivable that he would be left out after his superb showing on Saturday, but on the bench he remained. As stated, Costa did little wrong but on current form Cav is simply devastating. Straight away his direct running had Brentford on the back foot and he provided the cross for Douglas’ goal. As transfer values have escalated over the last 12 months, that £7m we paid for his services is looking like a snip.

Bright Enobakhare: Decent enough cameo with the game won. Looks to have worked on releasing the ball more quickly and playing the simple pass when necessary. If the rumoured signing of Rafa Mir comes to pass, it may be that Bright’s immediate future is out on loan but for now he’s shown steady improvement over the course of the season.

Kortney Hause: A first league appearance of the season and though it was only a 10 minute or so runout, looked like he’d never been away. Used the ball well and put a couple of good tackles in. He’s unfortunate in as much as the only position he can conceivably play to decent effect is on the left hand side of the back three, and if Boly’s fit then no-one is replacing him. However he remains a player with a big future and one that should be realised at Molineux.

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 0-0 SUNDERLAND

Can’t deal with the cold, clearly…

John Ruddy: At around 4.15 yesterday afternoon we witnessed the rare sight of John Ruddy actually having to make a save. Granted, he didn’t really have to move and it was a fairly weak Lewis Grabban effort from close to 30 yards out, but a save nonetheless. It’s the only effort he’s had to field in the last 180 minutes of football. Sunderland proved to be more negative than the Amazon reviews for Nick Knowles’ album as that was their only shot in the entire match, on or off target. His role in the last two games has been more akin to a cricketer posted to field at third man than a goalkeeper.

Ryan Bennett: Essentially we got what we have come to expect from Bennett; anything he was asked to do defensively – and there wasn’t much in this game – was performed perfectly comfortably. His passing was safe and risk-free and he continues his excellent personal record of goals conceded when he’s been on the pitch (it currently stands at three from 12 appearances in all competitions). However…this was a situation where we were frequently asking the back three to step into midfield with the visitors sitting so relentlessly deep, and safe and risk-free wasn’t necessarily the best option for us. It’s possible that the superior ball-playing ability of Roderick Miranda would have helped us here, but then again can you really drop a defender who’s playing well and doing his core job more than acceptably? It’s not an easy decision for Nuno to make. Ultimately if we’d scored early here and won to nil, we wouldn’t even be talking about this.

Conor Coady: Normal service for the skipper who used the ball well, covered when needed at the back and did his best to push the team on in the second half. You could perhaps argue that he’s been slightly fortuitous that three at the back has come back into vogue of late – the requirements for where he plays are different to those of a centre half playing in a pair – but he really is excelling this season. Good to see.

Willy Boly: If there was mild surprise that Ruddy was forced into some form of action in the second half, it was downright astonishing that someone (in the form of the lively Lynden Gooch) managed to skip past Boly, one of the first times that anyone has got the better of him since his return from injury at the end of October. Otherwise he was as commanding and serene as ever, though Sunderland did much better than previous opponents at dealing with his threat from set pieces.

Matt Doherty: When you’re up against a team that are playing a genuine back five and a midfield with virtually no attacking intent in front of them, our formation requires the wingbacks to play a key role in stretching the play and providing good service from out wide. There was plenty of endeavour from Doherty who continues to demonstrate far superior work rate than in previous seasons (even allowing for this being an incredibly low bar) and he never hid. The problem is his quality on the ball; that crossing is still well below par as he tends to either wildly overhit the ball or supply a slow, floated delivery that is very easy to defend. Given that especially in home games, he’s largely exclusively tasked with attacking duties, it’s an area he desperately needs to work on.

Barry Douglas: Baz will wake up this morning pleased that by the laws of the gospel according to Steve Cotterill, he had a couple of good efforts on target yesterday. Of course back in the real world, neither shot actually troubled Robbin Ruiter and instead was blocked some distance from goal – in the first case by Romain Saiss and had that goalbound effort found the bottom corner in the opening five minutes…then we have a different game. But it didn’t, and that’s that. Corners were perhaps a little below his normal standard and he was subdued after his yellow card for bringing down Gooch, subsequently being replaced.

Romain Saiss: A small blot on Saiss’ copybook here as this was possibly his poorest display of what has been an overall extremely impressive season. While he was fine defensively, his use of the ball was very poor yesterday with a couple of Olofinjana-style, 30-40 yards away from anyone, “presumably that ball was too intelligent for everyone else on the pitch” passes being particularly notable. Can’t really have too many complaints about being substituted, although perhaps switching him into the back three may have been an alternative option.

Ruben Neves: Back in the team and clearly keen to make up for missing out on the game at St Andrews through suspension. From the outset he was as eager as ever to get on the ball, we saw the usual sumptuous touches and bits of class, but his shooting boots were absent yesterday; a number of long range efforts missed the target by a distance. Nitpicking, but a man of his talent should have more than one goal by now.

Ivan Cavaleiro: Has been in devastating form recently; like so many this was a drop-off from that standard. No shortage of effort and he was always willing to take defenders on, but the end product just wasn’t there yesterday. Crosses were frequently too heavy and he was unable to consistently break into central areas as he has done over the past month and more. Finished the game playing at left wingback, which is not a role I expect he’s ever had to perform previously.

Diogo Jota: That’s now four successive games in which an opposing player has been sent off in an incident involving Jota – Sunderland didn’t go for the outright assault option favoured by Birmingham but he continues to attract fouls as defences at this level cannot deal with him. Savagely hauled down by Marc Wilson in the second half before Lee “waistband up to his nipples” Cattermole was stupid enough to hack him down after his own Sunday League touch in the middle of the park. A couple of uncharacteristic ballooned efforts summed up the day for us in front of goal.

Leo Bonatini: Squandered our best chance late on in the first half as his effort from Cavaleiro’s pull back was horribly skewed nearer the corner flag than the goal. An otherwise fairly quiet outing and some of his normally excellent link up play just didn’t fall our way in this game, with layoffs dropping inches out of reach of team mates on a number of occasions.

Alfred N’Diaye: One raking pass out to the left aside, didn’t have much impact after replacing Saiss. Oddly we didn’t seem to give him the ball much given it would have been useful to have him driving forward as we know he can do.

Helder Costa: Subdued in his 15 minute or so outing. Seemed reticent to take Adam Matthews or Brendan Galloway on or to deliver the ball from out wide. It’s a conundrum for Nuno; Helder isn’t going to get back to his best when he’s never spending more than half an hour on the pitch, but equally he isn’t currently worthy of getting a start.

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 5-1 BOLTON WANDERERS

It’s not quite payback for 1995. But it’ll do for a start…

John Ruddy: There’s a lot that’s easy to take for granted with Ruddy having now seen him at close quarters for nearly half a season. His command of the box, his calming presence, his ability to pull out a quality save despite spending long periods of the game being relatively unoccupied. All of that was on show yesterday, but what we aren’t used to seeing from our keeper is him producing a 70 yard through ball that ends up directly assisting a goal. Quick thinking and unerring accuracy, rightly recognised by his teammates who rushed to celebrate with him. Got to be a good shout for being our best free transfer signing in the last 30 years.

Willy Boly: That’s now two teams inside a month who’ve decided that the best man to leave unmarked, six yards out while waiting for an inswinging ball from the right is a 6’3” centre half. Good work lads. As so often, this was a cruise for the big man. Just strolls through games and always looks like he has another couple of gears to go through if he really needed to. We did just fine without him while he was injured; we’re a much better team with him.

Conor Coady: The St Helens Sammer had another excellent outing and even though he started the season well in his new role, he’s still improving month on month. That range of passing – that he never even hinted at showing while playing in midfield – allows us to switch from defence to attack in a heartbeat and he’s continually on hand to sweep up any danger on the rare occasions that teams do threaten to get in behind us. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a dramatic conversion from deadweight to indispensable in a Wolves player.

Ryan Bennett: It seems a bit churlish to go picking at players when we’ve just won 5-1. Or when we’ve won two home games this week by an aggregate of 9-2. Or to look at a defender when we’ve conceded two goals in five games. I’m going to do it anyway. In terms of basic defending, Bennett hasn’t done a great deal wrong. You could even see why he was in yesterday ahead of Roderick Miranda given the brute physicality of Gary Madine. But we are a footballing team, we simply don’t thump the ball away. We play our way out of danger every time, or at least try to. Unfortunately Bennett isn’t really equipped for this. Any pass over 10 yards is pretty much beyond him and Bolton’s goal was down to his clunky nature on the ball. Indecisive and then ultimately unable to pass the ball into midfield properly. He’s also lucky not to have it registered as an own goal against him as I’m fairly sure he toe-ended it past Ruddy (although I’m not going to blame him for that). If we ask him just to be a fairly rustic Championship level defender then he won’t let us down very often – he won’t get tested all that often for one thing – but we’re already beyond that now, let alone in the future. It’ll be interesting to see what Nuno does after this error as Danny Batth and Miranda were both unceremoniously ditched after their parts in the goals QPR notched against us at Loftus Road.

Matt Doherty: Another decent enough display. You’re only ever going to get so far with improving his defending – not that he’s asked to do a great deal – but there has been noticeable work done on getting him to cover at the back post which previously was a huge weakness. There’s more of a willingness to chase back properly and he does cover a fair amount of ground (amazing what can happen when you choose to be an acceptable weight for a professional footballer). The feeling will persist that we can do better; you simply don’t get a reliable end product from him in the final third. For now though he’s doing fine. I don’t have to shudder when I see his name on the teamsheet at 2pm. I know he’ll actually try. This is progress.

Barry Douglas: Any team that bothers with any kind of analytical work will soon have to conclude that you simply can’t give away free kicks and corners on our right hand side, because Baz’s delivery from there is just lethal. It’s a very high bar, but I’d say that he is at least the equal of Bakary Sako in those positions. His engine is fantastic and he offers us so much going forward. The bonus for us is that he knows he has to continually play at this standard because of the presence of Ruben Vinagre just waiting for an opportunity. I’m still getting used to us having someone competent down that side, let alone a top performer.

Ruben Neves: Much like Boly, this league is just far too easy for him at times. This is, after all, a current full Portuguese international. His consistency is what sets him apart from other players of a similar age; you turn up and you just know what you’re going to get. It’s futile for the opposition to man-mark him because that doesn’t matter to him, he wants the ball regardless, all the time. Passing was, as ever, spot on. Minor blot on the copybook with a needless yellow card which rules him out of the Birmingham game a week on Monday.

Romain Saiss: The dark horse for Player of the Season and another much transformed from last season. With every game that passes, the more perverse it seems that both Walter Zenga and Paul Lambert parked him in front of the back four with a brief to essentially never cross the halfway line. There’s so much more to his game than that. Won the penalty, broke up play, used the ball well…once again, this is what we’ve come to expect from him. Six months ago it was unclear if he had a future in English football at all. It now looks, like so many, that he’s actually playing a level below his ability.

Ivan Cavaleiro: Unquestionably in the form of his Wolves career and must be in with a shout of being nominated for the divisional Player of the Month award (though Leon Clarke will probably pip him to it, the bastard, It’s a fan-voted prize so you all know what to do…). Constantly leaving defenders befuddled at the moment and linking up delightfully with his colleagues. When we were linked with Rafa Silva and Joao Carvalho earlier in the month and debate turned to how we’d fit either in the team, I stated that of the front three Cav was probably under the most pressure as at that point, for all his otherwise good work he wasn’t quite producing the goal return you’d expect from someone so talented. So of course he’s now rattled in four in three. Definitely our best penalty taker too and should be given those duties permanently.

Diogo Jota: I’ve seen him described as the Championship’s Eden Hazard and that’s a more than fair comparison. He gets an absolute battering from defenders, week in week out. It doesn’t stop him though. I would appreciate it if he got a little more protection from referees and they’d do well to properly punish challenges such as the one from David Wheater that merely earned him a yellow card; if you’re going to go in studs up, mid-calf height, from behind with no even attempt to win the ball, then by rights you’re lucky to stay on the pitch. But despite all that, we keep giving Diogo the ball, he keeps giving defenders the runaround. And of course, when he’s clean through on goal, it’s not even a question in my mind. He’s going to score. What a player.

Leo Bonatini: Given that he’ll cost a reported £5m to make his move from Al-Hilal permanent, I would expect that deal to go through within days of the transfer window opening. An incredible bargain for that price. Once more worked tirelessly, followed in well for his goal (yes, it’s an open goal from a couple of yards out, but if you’re not in the right position then nothing will happen) and continues well on his way towards that hallowed 20 goal target. We do need backup for him as having just one senior out-and-out striker isn’t particularly healthy, but it’s hard to see how we can improve on him at this level.

Helder Costa: Another excellent cameo which served to further underline that he’s well and truly on his way back. The difficulty now is getting him into the team as Cavaleiro is undroppable at present. Pounced on a woeful Ben Alnwick clearance to set up our fourth with a raking pass and had time to nutmeg Karl Henry which was unsurprisingly popular. Think about it; we’re seriously in a position where an in-form Helder Costa is struggling to get a start. It’s perverse. It’s not fair really.

Alfred N’Diaye/Ruben Vinagre: No real time for either to make an impact though Big Alf will be favourite to take Neves’ spot at St Andrews.

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.

PAST ENCOUNTERS: READING

New series looking at previous matches down the years

Before we start, just a couple of quick notes; in recognition that content on my site is a little thin from time to time (doing full match previews ends up getting repetitive and time consuming, reacting to away games I haven’t seen seems an exercise in futility and there’s little value in putting up a match verdict for home games when they’ve been televised, so I’m to an extent only feeding back what everyone already knows), I’ve decided to introduce this series which, if this instalment works out, should be in place ahead of most of the remaining away games this season. So hopefully it meets favourably with you…

Secondly, at present I only have team data going back to 1996. This is something I’m working on improving as we speak, but for now I can’t provide that information for any games before the start of the 1996/7 season. But it’s there for the rest of them, so you can marvel out how rubbish our midfield looked year on year.

So without further ado, here we go with a look back at how we’ve performed against Saturday’s opponents Reading:

13 August 1994: Wolves 1-0 Reading

Newly-promoted Reading came to Molineux on the opening day of the season and the expectation, as so often in the 1990s, was that we would brush them aside with our raft of expensively acquired signings. As so often proved to be the case in the 1990s, this was not the reality. After an opening five minutes where Neil Emblen managed to fall over the ball on his debut, we picked up and fellow debutant Steve Froggatt tapped in after 11 minutes after a Darren Ferguson shot was parried away by Shaka Hislop. Steve Bull was injured in the build-up to the goal and replaced by 90s curtains afficionado Lee Mills and our play declined from there. In the end Reading dominated the game and we were indebted to Mike Stowell for a series of saves, including one in the dying moments from future Wolf Simon Osborn.

Goalscorer: Froggatt

More cumbersome than Cedric Roussel.

18 December 1994: Reading 4-2 Wolves

Quite a few notable things from this one, most of which you can see on the video below:

  • Mark McGhee leaving Reading for Leicester in the week preceding this game leading to quite a febrile atmosphere at Elm Park

  • Another future Wolf (there’s a theme here) in Scott Taylor producing a shocking tackle on Steve Froggatt which ruled him out for the rest of the season. As this video is from Reading’s official YouTube channel, they’ve omitted to include it in the highlights. But rest assured, it was terrible

  • Simon Osborn scoring a header. Yes, really. Simon Osborn. A header.

  • Don Goodman having the sheer nerve to claim a goal when he got nowhere near touching it

  • John de Wolf’s lack of mobility being exposed for the first time in a Wolves shirt as Uwe Hartenberger raced away from him

  • Michael Gilkes – guess who he went on to play for – bringing back the days of the playground as he not only robbed Stuart Lovell of a goal, but thundered it in from two inches out

  • Some idiosyncratic co-commentary from Theo Foley

This was our fifth defeat in seven games as our push for the title faltered badly (and we went on to get absolutely thumped in our next game at Boundary Park on Boxing Day).

Goalscorers: Bull, Quinn (OG)

9 March 1996: Wolves 1-1 Reading

McGhee was our manager by this point, giving Reading further incentive to get one over on us. Our results had taken a mild upturn following the arrival of the Scot without seriously threatening to properly bother the top six and this turned out to be a rather drab mid-table draw of little consequence. Ex-Wolf and co-player/manager Mick Gooding gave the visitors the lead after 17 minutes and Premier League winner (yes, it’s still hard to believe) Mark Atkins equalised just before half-time. Worth noting that the attendance for this one in a season that was going nowhere was just under 26,000. Folk were evidently much more easily pleased in the mid 90s.

Goalscorer: Atkins

30 April 1996: Reading 3-0 Wolves

This game was originally due to be played just before Christmas, but was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch at Elm Park. As our season capsized towards the end – we won none of our final eight games and weren’t assured of safety until our penultimate home fixture – this lame capitulation emphasised the need for an overhaul of our squad and thinking. Martin Williams opened the scoring and the result was sealed by a Jimmy Quinn brace. You can get away with being player/manager and picking yourself if you’re still the best player.

5 October 1996: Wolves 0-1 Reading

Having shifted to a 3-5-2 system for the 1996/7 season, the motif for the first half of our campaign was “good away, rubbish at home”. We had only won two of our opening five home games before this fixture with the slight mitigation that we had played heavily fancied QPR, Sheffield United and Bolton at Molineux in that sequence; surely this was a chance to put that home record right? As it turned out, no. This was another disjointed performance and with 20 minutes to go, a shocking error from Dean Richards let in Jamie Lambert who tucked away the only goal of the game. This led to Richards being jeered by sections of the crowd which only goes to serve to prove that Bright Enobakhare shouldn’t get too downhearted, we’ve had a small element of dicks hanging around for well over 20 years.

Team: Stowell; Smith (Romano 59), Atkins, Venus, Richards, Froggatt; Thompson, Ferguson, Corica (Emblen 45); Bull, Roberts (Crowe 45)

Time to change tactics? No, let’s carry on with a bottom six home record.

12 April 1997: Reading 2-1 Wolves

Things were getting tense as we approached the climax of the season with us locked in a battle with Barnsley to take second place behind runaway leaders Bolton. Three away defeats in eight days in mid-March had damaged our prospects but not terminally and we travelled to Berkshire in need of a victory. A prosaic game came to life in the final 15 minutes, Atkins scoring at the near post from a corner and it seemed that a scrappy but vital win would be ours. However, as so often was the case with Wolves in this era, if they could kick you in the teeth, they would. 1-0 up after 89 minutes. Lost 2-1 to two Lovell goals. Sake. 

Team: Stowell; Smith, Law, Curle, Froggatt (Thompson 78); Thomas, Ferguson, Atkins; Goodman, Roberts, Gilkes (Venus 87)

Goalscorer: Atkins

Grim.

14 October 1997: Reading 4-2 Wolves (League Cup)

A seriously indifferent start to 1997/8 (three wins in 11 league games) saw disquiet growing towards McGhee whose natural air of arrogance was beginning to grate with seemingly little to back it up. There was little respite in this League Cup game as despite a Bully brace, we were handsomely beaten and to add insult to injury, new signing Adrian Williams put through his own net on his first return to Reading since joining us in 1996. Of course lame early exits from the League Cup would become a familiar theme over the next couple of decades, but at this stage we weren’t so inured to them.

Team: Stowell; Smith, Williams, Curle, Naylor; Robinson, Ferguson (Keane 54), Atkins, Sanjuan (Foley 64); Bull, Paatelainen

Goalscorer: Bull (2)

20 December 1997: Reading 0-0 Wolves

Results had improved as we approached Christmas and off the back of an impressive win against eventual league champions Nottingham Forest, we were looking to push into the top six. This was a grim stalemate notable only for a red card apiece to Paul Bodin and Paul Simpson and for McGhee continuing his record of failing to beat Reading since he departed the club. Not much to see here.

Team: Stowell; Atkins, Curle, Sedgley, Froggatt; Keane, Robinson, Osborn, Simpson; Goodman, Freedman (Ferguson 48)

18 April 1998: Wolves 3-1 Reading

At last, a win for McGhee over his former employers. Alas, it was meaningless by this stage. Reading were already all but relegated and our season was effectively over after the FA Cup semi-final defeat to Arsenal and no more than a notional mathematical chance of making the playoffs. Items of interest from a virtual dead rubber; Reading’s goalscorer Paul Brayson notched his first goal for the club following what was becoming a trademark error from Hans Segers. It also proved to be his last goal for them, finishing with a record of one goal in 42 appearances (he’d have fitted in well with our 2016/17 crop of forwards). These were Don Goodman’s final goals at Molineux before he departed for Japan at the end of his contract and this was the first sub-20,000 league attendance at home for us since December 1993.

Team: Segers; Muscat, Curle, Sedgley, Naylor; Slater (Bull 57), Robinson (Atkins 57), Osborn, Simpson; Claridge (Keane 64), Goodman

Goalscorers: Muscat, Goodman (2)

21 September 2002: Wolves 0-1 Reading

There were plenty of parallels here with the corresponding fixture in October 1996. A stuttering start to the season after a playoff failure in the previous campaign. A manager whose natural personality defects were starting to become an issue. And as it turned out, the same scoreline. Andy Hughes’ dipping long range effort was the only goal of the game as the Royals walked away with a deserved victory. We also once more saw boos for one of our own players, though Paul Butler had long since contributed to his own downfall in the favour of fans with a series of poor, seemingly uncommitted displays and being visibly overweight – as it turned out, he would shortly lose his place to Northern Irish youngster Mark Clyde before winning it back in the New Year.

Team: Murray; Irwin, Butler (Cooper 64), Lescott, Naylor; Ingimarsson; Newton, Ince, Rae; Ndah (Blake 74), Sturridge

Still, at least he’s sorted out his look now.

12 March 2003: Reading 0-1 Wolves

Form had improved by the time we reached spring and we made our first trip to the Madejski Stadium on a run of just one defeat in 10 league games, albeit we had just been knocked out of the FA Cup at Southampton three days prior to this match. With the home side also chasing a playoff spot, we picked up a vital and well-merited win thanks to the supremely in-form Kenny Miller – this being his 14th goal since the start of 2003.

Team: Murray; Irwin, Butler, Lescott, Naylor; Newton, Rae, Cameron (Clyde 89), Kennedy; Blake (Proudlock 79), Miller (Sturridge 87)

Goalscorer: Miller

10 May 2003: Wolves 2-1 Reading (Playoff Semi-final First Leg)

Having never been successful in the playoffs going back to their introduction in 1986/7, there was significant apprehension that our post-Christmas run of form (two defeats in 21 games) that had propelled us into the top six – lest we forget, the absolute minimum we would have been expected to achieve at the start of the season – would come to nothing. This game had a real Sliding Doors moment – in the opening hour of the game, Reading played us totally off the park with goalscorer Nicky Forster being easily the best player on the pitch. But on the hour mark, Forster went off injured. Had he remained on the field for the entire match, the likelihood was that Reading would have gone on to win. However, shorn of their focal point, the visitors allowed us to come back into the game and a Graeme Murty own goal (from a Shaun Newton shot which was going wide) brought the scores level before the oft-maligned Lee Naylor crashed home a winner six minutes from time. Make no mistake, we profited from good fortune here. Credit to us for keeping going after a very poor first two thirds of the game, but it was more than a bit of a smash and grab.

Team: Murray; Irwin, Butler, Lescott, Naylor (Pollet 89); Ndah (Newton 66), Cameron, Ince, Kennedy; Blake, Miller (Sturridge 86)

Goalscorers: Murty (OG), Naylor

14 May 2003: Reading 0-1 Wolves (Playoff semi-final Second Leg)

The tension around this game was simply incredible. Every Reading attack seemed destined to end in a goal (although in reality, Matt Murray wasn’t unduly troubled throughout the match). We seemed to be hanging on for dear life right from the outset. Dave Jones seemed to have set us up with the explicit aim of picking up a 0-0 draw which was never this team’s forté and the approach seemed fraught with danger. And then, nine minutes from time, there it was. A neat piece of play from Colin Cameron on the edge of the box, into the feet of Alex Rae. A trademark little spin away from his marker to work a yard of space. A drilled finish across Marcus Hahnemann. 1-0 and job done. Word is that a minor hurricane was reported across the Wolverhampton area at around 9:20 that evening as tens of thousands of people exhaled deeply at the exact same time. I suspect that a massive proportion of Wolves fans have at one time or another had Rae’s celebration following that goal as their desktop background.

Team: Murray; Irwin, Butler, Lescott, Naylor; Newton (Cooper 89), Cameron, Ince, Kennedy; Blake (Sturridge 85), Miller (Rae 75)

Goalscorer: Rae

4 December 2004: Wolves 4-1 Reading

Quite the contrast here from the euphoria of our previous encounter with Reading. Our sojourn in the Premier League had lasted just a single season. Dave Jones was gone, sacked after a miserable start to life back in the second tier. We were at this point managerless, with Stuart Gray in temporary charge yet with little prospect of taking the reigns permanently. This turned out to be his penultimate game as caretaker as in a surprising (and as it turned out, awful) move, Glenn Hoddle was appointed in the following week. Gray picked up his third win in five games here which given the weaknesses, imbalances and divisions in the squad, wasn’t bad at all. It was, however, a massively flattering scoreline as Michael Oakes was forced into a string of saves before substitute Leon Clarke cashed in with two late goals. This being the brief period where Leon actually tried in a Wolves shirt. Yes, he did, honest.

Team: Oakes; Lowe, Craddock, Lescott, Kennedy; Cooper, Cameron, Andrews, Olofinjana (Naylor 69); Cort, Sturridge (Clarke 60)

Goalscorers: Cameron, Olofinjana, Clarke (2)

30 April 2005: Reading 1-2 Wolves

Our insane amount of draws under Hoddle put paid to any thoughts of a late push for the top six, although we were unbeaten in 16 games going into our final away game of the season. Reading were still in contention to make the playoffs and took an early lead here through that man Forster. However, from that point we dominated the game. Playing a diamond formation which seemed well-suited to the hotchpotch of central midfielders that we’d somehow acquired, we had the lion’s share of possession and deservedly equalised through Clarke early on in the second half. And then, a moment I can say I was privileged to personally witness. Rohan Ricketts scored. It happened, I saw it with my own eyes. Actually took it quite well too. Never did he score again for us in a subsequent 50 appearances. In fact he never scored again in professional football in England. Quite the record for an attacking midfielder, or playmaker as he styled himself. To add insult to that considerable injury for Reading, this defeat essentially ended their playoff hopes. Ruined by Rohan Ricketts, the sheer indignity of it all.

Team: Oakes; Edwards, Craddock, Lescott, Naylor; Olofinjana, Cameron, Ricketts, Seol; Miller, Clarke (Bischoff 89)

Goalscorers: Clarke, Ricketts

I’m sure it’s not Rohan’s fault that he’s a knobhead. But he is a knobhead.

26 December 2005: Wolves 0-2 Reading

Progress under Hoddle in the following season was limited at best. We still drew far too many games. We’d abandoned the diamond midfield which actually worked and had moved to a front three which invariably involved at least one career striker playing out wide. As he is Glenn Hoddle and was behaving and speaking like Glenn Hoddle, it’s fair to say that opinion of him was mixed at best. Despite all this, we were at least in and around the top six and faced up against the league leaders in a big Boxing Day showdown off the back of a run of seven games unbeaten. This was a chance for us to show that just as in 2002/3, we could turn things around in the second half of the season and really challenge. It’s not a test that we passed. I mentioned that our 4-1 win a year previous to this had been somewhat flattering; this result flattered us too. Reading were far better than a 2-0 scoreline suggests. They totally played us off the park from the first minute and we were never in with any kind of shout of getting anything from the game. It was a game which fundamentally underlined that Hoddle was a man floundering, a footballing pseud who had nothing meaningful to offer, totally outclassed and unable to respond when faced with a challenge. People will still have you believe that he’s some kind of great loss to the game. The only shame in his failure to manage anyone in over a decade is that we’re forced to endure his punditry.

Team: Postma; Edwards, Gyepes (Craddock 73), Lescott, Naylor; Anderton (Ndah 69), Ricketts (Cameron 61), Kennedy; Miller, Ganea, Seol

I haven’t finished with him yet. He’ll get the full treatment next month. Watch this space.

18 March 2006: Reading 1-1 Wolves

Despite the general torpor of Hoddle’s reign, we did occasionally do just enough to suggest that there might be something to work with. Again, we went into this game unbeaten in seven. We were still very much in the hunt for a playoff spot, even if the standard of our football didn’t suggest that we were anything like that good. And this was a creditable result; the soon-to-depart Kenny Miller cancelling out Bobby Convey’s first half opener and a draw being about the right result. Not bad at all against a team who still hold the record for points gained in a season in this division. We subsequently went on to win none of the following five games and having the season (and indeed, Hoddle’s days here) end with a whimper, because of course we did.

Team: Postma; Edwards (Ross 45), Gyepes, Lescott, Naylor; Davies, Ince, Ricketts; Miller (Cort 84), Frankowski, Aliadière

Goalscorer: Miller

30 September 2008: Wolves 0-3 Reading

It’s not often as a Wolves fan that you’re convinced that we’re on to a good thing. However, seven straight league wins speak for themselves and we entered this clash with newly-relegated Reading keen to assert ourselves and put down a bit of a marker that we were the real top dogs in the division. It’s fair to say that fell rather flat. Missing the suspended Chris Iwelumo, we started in the worst possible fashion with a fairly calamitous Wayne Hennessey own goal, looked second best throughout and André Bikey and Kalifa Cissé’s goals in the final 20 minutes were probably a fair reflection of the match. A desperately disappointing evening although as we were to start a further run of seven straight wins in October, it didn’t materially damage us too much.

Team: Hennessey; Foley, Stearman, Collins, Ward (Shackell 77); Kightly (Vokes 40), Henry, Jones, Jarvis (Edwards 77); Ebanks-Blake, Keogh

27 January 2009: Reading 1-0 Wolves

Both teams (along with Birmingham City) had set a frantic pace at the top of the Championship before Christmas but were just starting to falter a touch now; Reading had only won one of their previous four games before this fixture, we had failed to win any of our last four. This proved to be a nightmare evening for Neill Collins; in a fairly drab affair, he scored an own goal after two minutes and was sent off in the final seconds for what I believe the FA formally call “throwing a round of fucks at the linesman”. As it turned out, he never played a league match for us again, which I suppose tells you to beware the wrath of Mick McCarthy. Fortunately for us, Reading’s victory did little for their impetus; they won just four of their remaining 17 games and ended up 13 points adrift of us in 4th place, eventually losing out in the playoffs to Burnley. This game was the first instalment of Nigel Quashie’s legendary “three games, three losses” spell at Wolves which doesn’t really bear thinking about at any length.

Team: Hennessey; Foley, Stearman, Collins, Ward; Kightly, Quashie (Edwards 86), Henry, Jarvis (Vokes 86); Keogh (Iwelumo 63), Ebanks-Blake

One of the great loan signings.

28 September 2014: Reading 3-3 Wolves

After a year in self-inflicted purgatory in League One, our return to the Championship had started well with five wins from our opening eight games and just a solitary defeat. This televised fixture started poorly as we trailed at half time to a Michael Hector goal having barely threatened the Reading goal. A small tactical tweak at half-time by Kenny Jackett in pushing Lee Evans further forward drew rewards as first ex-Royal James Henry and then Evans himself scored in the opening ten minutes of the second half, only for Jake Taylor to immediately peg us back. A Nick Blackman own goal six minutes from time seemed to have given us all three points yet we were undone at the last by a deflected Glenn Murray strike. A familiar trope at the time was that our decision to take a short corner and attempt to retain the ball near the corner flag having gone 3-2 up was our undoing; while it was no means a smart play, Reading didn’t exactly go straight up the other end and score, we had time to make a substitution after that passage and there was a good two and a half minutes between us losing the ball and conceding. As it turned out, this game marked the start of our decline into defensive disarray; having only conceded three goals in our opening eight games, the following four alone (including this one) saw us let in 11 and we kept just two further clean sheets until mid-December.

Team: Ikeme; Doherty, Batth, Stearman, Golbourne; McDonald, Saville (Edwards 77), Evans; Henry (van La Parra 79), Clarke (McAlinden 87), Sako

Goalscorers: Henry, Evans, Blackman (OG)

7 February 2015: Wolves 1-2 Reading

Our woes of November and early December (five straight defeats, 16 goals shipped along the way) had been largely rectified by the time Reading arrived at Molineux in early February and we were on a run of eight games unbeaten as we sought to regain our place in the promotion-chasing pack. Unfortunately on a wet afternoon we were strangely off our game against a moderate Reading outfit; Tomasz Kuszczak’s league debut started horribly as he conceded in the first minute to Pavel Pogrebnyak and though Benik Afobe equalised midway through the first half with his second goal for the club following his January move from Arsenal, a quality strike from Danny Williams with 20 minutes to go saw us end up empty-handed. As we eventually missed out on the playoffs by the narrowest of margins, this turned out to be one of a few games where we would have cause to regret turning in a shoddy performance.

Team: Kuszczak; Doherty, Batth, Stearman, Hause; McDonald; Evans (Dicko 62); van La Parra (Henry 71), Edwards (Price 71), Sako; Afobe

Goalscorer: Afobe

26 December 2015: Wolves 1-0 Reading

These were tough times for Kenny Jackett. We’d won just two of our previous 12 games and had conceded seven goals in back-to-back defeats to Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday leading up to this game. His solution was to stop any pretension at playing football whatsoever. Hammer the ball away if it’s anywhere near you. Don’t bother attacking with any more than three players at any given time. Respect the point that a 0-0 gets you. And hope we hang on. Somehow here, we did. I actually have no idea how we won this game. We were horrendous. Reading weren’t a whole lot better and you do have to wonder why Sky chose it as their flagship Championship Boxing Day fixture, but how we ended up with three points will forever remain a mystery. To make matters even more puzzling, James Henry scored with a header. Some things will just be forever unexplained. Such as why we brought on Grant Holt with a minute to go when we sent him back to Wigan about four days later. Or indeed why we signed Grant Holt.

Team: Ikeme; Iorfa, Batth, Ebanks-Landell, Doherty; Coady, McDonald, Edwards; Henry (Byrne 75), Afobe (Holt 89), Graham

Goalscorer: Henry

Nope, I still don’t know.

6 February 2016: Reading 0-0 Wolves

Neither side had much to play for even with three months of the season to go and as if to prove that yes, it was possible for a game to be worse than the corresponding fixture on Boxing Day, what was served up here cannot be classed as entertainment. Practically nothing of any note happened at either end. Despite us creating nothing and not even threatening to score, Ken left recent signing Joe Mason on the bench for the entire game and made just one substitution. This was our fourth 0-0 draw of the season and we would rack up a further four (all at home) before the campaign ended. These aren’t days I look back on especially fondly.

Team: Ikeme; Iorfa, Batth, Ebanks-Landell, Doherty; Coady, McDonald, Saville; Henry, Sigurdarson, van La Parra (Byrne 79)

13 August 2016: Wolves 2-0 Reading

If ever a game was the epitome of a false dawn, then this was it. Walter Zenga’s first home game saw us totally dominate proceedings, with Joao Teixeira sparkling throughout and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson looking like a genuine threat up front. Matt Doherty had a good game at left back and scored a cracking goal. Joe Mason doubled the lead to give the illusion that he might be a useful option. Reading on the other hand seemed wedded to a style totally at odds with the quality of their squad, frequently losing the ball in their own third and looking for all the world like they were in for a season of struggle, with Jaap Stam’s prospects already looking decidedly dicey. Of course we now know that Zenga only lasted just over a couple of months longer in the job, Teixeira didn’t feature for us after November and his loan was terminated halfway through the season, Bodvarsson scored a whole two more goals for us after this game, Doherty is even by his own admission a rubbish full back and Mason is totally hopeless, while Reading went on to come within a penalty shootout of promotion. It’s odd how things work out. Except for Doherty, we knew he was rubbish anyway.

Team: Ikeme; Coady, Batth, Iorfa, Doherty; Evans, Edwards, Saville (Henry 89); Mason (Price 84), Bodvarsson, Teixeira (Wallace 71)

Goalscorers: Doherty, Mason

Just joshing Doc. You’ve been alright this season. To a point. When not playing as a full back.

4 March 2017: Reading 2-1 Wolves

One thing I will never understand about Paul Lambert is that he choked off his own progress at Wolves. We played genuinely well at points in December and January and it seemed that he was getting somewhere. Then he decided to change things around, restore Dave Edwards to the number 10 role and everything fell apart. We went into this game with Reading flying high and us coming off the back of four straight defeats, three of them being utterly dismal performances. We did actually play a little better here as Ben Marshall quickly equalised Yann Kermorgant’s opener with his first Wolves goal and while it was far from champagne football, we did at least seem to be holding our own. However a Paul McShane header from a poorly defended set piece saw us leave empty-handed, Mike Williamson was sent off for a second bookable offence late on and we slipped further into the relegation mire. This wasn’t part of the brochure when we got big time foreign investment. We did of course turn it round to a point after this game, but all the indications are that it was this run of form which did for Lambert as faith towards him from the board evaporated. He’ll forever have no-one but himself to blame for that.

Team: Ikeme; Iorfa, Williamson, Hause, Saville (Bodvarsson 84); Coady, Saiss (Doherty 89); Marshall, Edwards, Costa; Dicko (Weimann 72)

Goalscorer: Marshall

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REACTION: MANCHESTER CITY 0-0 WOLVES (LOST ON PENS)

So close to the perfect performance…

Never mind the scoreline

You’d think after sitting through two scoreless hours, watching us lose on penalties and ending up getting home at 2.15am, I’d be less than best pleased. While the terrible logistics of exiting Manchester city centre by road and the laughable state of the M6 don’t get off the hook (Richard Branson has never had a better advert for his train company), this was a tremendous game to watch. Tons of action at either end, a tactical battle between an up-and-coming European coach and one of the world’s best, the Championship’s best taking on the best team in the country, a referee who allowed the game to flow and a Wolves team putting absolutely everything on the line. It may have finished 0-0, but you couldn’t take your eyes off it for a second. All of which makes a further mockery of Sky’s decision to show Swansea vs Manchester United – a fixture which they’ve already shown once this season, and which for the second time resulted in a stroll of an away win. Our game would surely have held more interest for the neutral and given the make up of the two teams, was more likely to provide better entertainment.

Sitting on this bloody road is about as entertaining as watching Kenny Jackett’s Wolves circa April 2016.

Wholesale changes worked out well

There appeared to be some consternation towards us making nine changes from Saturday’s victory over Preston with only Danny Batth and Conor Coady retaining their places – and were Willy Boly fully fit, it’s likely one of those would also have dropped out. With City fielding a very strong team including both Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus, our prospects at kick-off did not look good. However, every single one of those players – many of whom have had very limited action this season – did themselves proud. Of course, City had chances. They are, after all, one of the highest scoring teams in Europe. They had spells in possession where we struggled to get the ball back and some of their one touch stuff around the box is mesmerising. But we never looked overawed. It would be a surprise if any of Ryan Bennett, Jack Price or Ben Marshall started many league games this season barring a monumental injury crisis, all of them have their own natural limitations which can’t ever really be overcome, but all stuck to their task and had good games. There was an encouraging cameo from Connor Ronan who is unfortunate not to be getting much gametime given his natural ability. Kortney Hause hadn’t played a senior game since May but slotted back in to the defence and produced a number of critical, impressive interventions. We’re now in the position where we have a squad that can be relied upon – by definition, your back up players aren’t going to be as good as the first choices, yet whoever needs to slot in to this team knows their role and doesn’t look likely to let us down.

Sergio celebrates finally escaping from Danny Batth’s pocket.

Will Norris and Ruben Vinagre

Four months ago, Will Norris was playing for Cambridge United in League Two and Ruben Vinagre had never played a senior game of any description for any club. Last night, I couldn’t split them in a call for Man of the Match away at Manchester City. Norris made two mistakes, both kicking errors, both rectified by himself immediately with a smart save. Beyond that, his distribution was generally good, his command of the box is excellent and decisive and he has showcased the ability to make saves that he has no real right to pull off. Four games for Wolves (plus an extra hour thanks to two lots of extra time), two of them away at Premier League clubs, and he’s yet to concede a goal. Vinagre was up against Danilo, Raheem Sterling and Kyle Walker over the two hours last night. Just the £125m or so’s worth of players there. Not for a second did he look out of his depth. His engine is such that in the 115th minute he was still charging the length of the field to set up an attack for us, his skill is such that he made Walker look a chump as he outwitted him near the corner flag. These two players aren’t in our first choice XI at present; they should both be a big part of our future. Two outstanding talents (in Vinagre’s case, any option to sign him permanently should be taken up as soon as possible).

Time to break out the “sign him up” chant

So near, yet so far for Bright

There hasn’t been much for me to complain about this season; one small grumble has been the tendency of our fans to start groaning at Bright Enobakhare every time he holds on to the ball for a nanosecond too long. His raw talent is apparent, he is just 19 years of age and this was just his 19th start in senior football. Treating a young player like that isn’t called for and isn’t going to help him in his development. So it should be encouraging that he had his best game in a Wolves shirt by some distance. Playing as the central striker in place of the rested Leo Bonatini, his use of the ball was sharper and more intelligent, he dropped into midfield to show a level of responsibility not often sighted from him before, he showed impressive strength and resilience to occupy the two City centre halves and his workrate was top notch. As I say, it should be encouraging. This should have been a watershed night for him. Unfortunately, it will be remembered for him failing to put the final touch on his display as he managed to miss three one-on-one opportunities. He crafted the first two of those two chances himself, and it must be said that the first in particular was no gimme with the angle relatively tight and only a small area of Claudio Bravo’s goal to aim at. Helder Costa’s second half chance was a better opening than that. But the over-elabaration allowing Tosin Adarabioyo to get back and block and hitting the ball straight at Bravo following a run in on goal right down the centre of the pitch…they genuinely were gilt-edged. All the more so with the final chance coming right on 90 minutes. That really was the game, right there. We have to hope that he can build on this display and not dwell too much on the misses; he is clearly a confidence player and the support staff will have to make sure that he concentrates on the multiple positives from last night.

Nuno gets it right…again

The pedigree of Nuno wasn’t in question before he arrived at Molineux. You don’t manage Valencia and Porto in your early 40s if you’re an absolute chancer. However, there are many cases of highly-fancied foreign coaches not being able to implement their ideas in English football and while some of the criticism of his appointment in the summer was ill-informed and even at times xenophobic, some caution was understandable. If anyone still held any doubts whatsoever about him, they should have comprehensively been extinguished last night. This was Manchester City’s form from the beginning of September going into the game: 5-0, 4-0, 6-0, 2-1, 5-0, 2-0, 1-0, 7-2, 2-1, 3-0. It’s fairly ominous, to say the least. Most managers – let alone managers in charge of a Championship team – would have simply parked the bus, setting up a wall of players across the pitch and hoping to keep the scoreline down to a respectable level. This was not how we played. While we did sit deep at times – Ryan Bennett in particular played as more of a conventional right back rather than the normal wing back role that is occupied by Matt Doherty – there was always an attempt to play our own football and an increasing threat on the break. To reiterate – we carved out four clear one-on-one chances. Away from home. At the team who will probably win the Premier League and even have a chance of winning the Champions League. The way we reverted into our shape whenever we lost the ball was incredibly impressive for this is how City often kill teams; by making a turnover of possession become a goal inside seconds. There was little opportunity for them to do that here as no sooner had they got the ball back, all the space had been filled back up by a gold shirt. Our manager completely matched Pep Guardiola last night. That should be an unthinkable thing to say. We had Pep worried to the point where he had to bring on around £200m worth of players in Kevin de Bruyne, Kyle Walker, John Stones and Leroy Sané. For all the many, many, many merits of Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota, Nuno was our best acquisition of the summer and by some distance too. Thankfully he appears to be fully immersed in our project and so the prospects of him leaving for a vacant Premier League job seem, at present, to be remote. We’re very lucky indeed to have him.

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PLAYER RATINGS: WOLVES 3-2 PRESTON NORTH END

Got the job done…just about

John Ruddy: Powerless to prevent either Preston goal, he wasn’t directly tested too much despite us being below par in the first half and firmly on the back foot for the final 20 minutes; one save low to his left from Daniel Johnson was the sum total of efforts on goal that he had to field. Did his usual job of taking pressure off with some good claims near the end.

Danny Batth: Initially did well in dealing with the physical threat of Jordan Hugill but came off second best in that battle after half time, losing the big lump for Preston’s first goal and being beaten in the air more often than he would like. Needs to maintain the high standards he set in September with Willy Boly close to a comeback.

Conor Coady: Probably couldn’t do much to get out of the way for his own goal, though as it turned out there were no Preston players behind him so potentially could have let it go altogether. One good clearing header from near the line and a couple of last ditch blocks as things became frantic in the closing stages.

Roderick Miranda: After last week’s imperious showing against Aston Villa – comfortably his best game for the club – this was a step backwards. There were a couple of excellent tackles and headers but generally was slack in possession – losing the ball twice in the space of a couple of first half minutes not far outside our own box – and this was a rather error-strewn display from him in general. Again, with competition for places strong in this area, can’t afford too many of these performances.

Matt Doherty: Involved in the first two goals although there was an element of luck in how his attempted pass to Ivan Cavaleiro broke to Diogo Jota for the first, and then a questionable penalty award for the second (though credit should be due to him for forcing himself ahead of Josh Harrop following the Preston man’s lapse in control). Not overly tested defensively as much of North End’s threat came on the opposite side.

Barry Douglas: A difficult day. Didn’t look comfortable against the tricky Tom Barkhuizen and was caught out by a quick free kick for Preston’s second goal. Did at least provide the assist for Cavaleiro’s goal with a well placed low cross. Would not be overly surprising if Ruben Vinagre were to take the left wing back spot for the game at Loftus Road next week.

Ruben Neves: Conditions were not the best for playmaking yesterday with high winds affecting the flight of the ball, but Neves still showcased his range of passing at times and dealt well with Preston’s tactics which were clearly designed to niggle away at him and try to put him off his stride. Will feel that he was entitled to more protection from the referee but then we know how Steve Martin operates. Like a bad supply teacher. Move over Mike Jones, there’s a new man in place as the ref I dread taking charge of our games.

Romain Saiss: The game descended into a bit of a scrap as Preston began their fightback and in this respect Saiss wasn’t found wanting. Lost his cool a couple of times but showed that he was up for the battle. What will disappoint him and the manager is that at 3-0, you would expect us to control the game and see it out without much fuss…but we gave the ball away far too often and it’s to Saiss that we often look to retain possession in these circumstances.

Ivan Cavaleiro: A scruffy finish for his goal but they all count. Not at his electrifying best as we struggled to work opportunities to have him isolated against defenders. However, he’s worked himself into a position where he’s currently very much first choice in that right sided role.

Diogo Jota: One of his quietest games for us and yet still had a big hand in two of our goals. This serves to show what a tremendous talent he is – even when he’s not at his best, he still comes up with the goods and terrifies defences. As has become customary, came in for some rough treatment but didn’t let it affect him.

Leo Bonatini: Perhaps with seven goals in 13 appearances, those calls for the mythical “20 goal a season striker” will end. Leo is that man. These weren’t the two most emphatic finishes he’ll ever produce; stuttering run ups for penalties like that always look iffy, and the third goal definitely hit him rather than anything else, but then he had to be in the right place to get that bit of luck. His general play was excellent and we lacked any kind of a focal point when he was surprisingly replaced. If the reported price of £5m to make his move from Al-Hilal is accurate, that will be an absolute steal. Still has the top combined goals/assists record in the division.

Helder Costa: Still working his way back to sharpness and still has a way to go. There was one jinking run which brought back memories of last season, though it was followed with a weak finish straight at the keeper. Worrying scenes when he went down with what looked like an ankle injury, but as Jota was replaced a couple of minutes later with our final substitution we have to assume that there’s no damage. 90 minutes at Manchester City on Tuesday will do him the world of good.

Bright Enobakhare: Deployed centrally and at present this isn’t really the role for him as he rarely looks to hold the ball up. Produced one piece of tenacious play to beat his man, hold him off, wait for a man to run either side of him…and then took a touch too many and wasted the opportunity. Which still happens too often.

Alfred N’Diaye: Played in an advanced role and while he isn’t a natural there, provided a bit of physicality and impetus when we were in danger of throwing the game away. A forceful run brought the red card for Alan Browne, a simple decision which the clueless Martin still managed to make a hash of, fumbling around in his pocket like a man trying to grab a hot dog from a vat of oil and ending up having to call him back onto the pitch to show the red card. Did I mention he was terrible? He was terrible.

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.