ASSESSING AUGUST

Looking back over the first month of the season

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

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

Results

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

“Another one nailed off the ball! Get in”

The New Arrivals

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

Two top notch signings.

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

The System

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

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

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

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

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

The End of Edwards

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

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

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

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

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

The Striker Shortage

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

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

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

This is where just signing anyone gets you.

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

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

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2016/17: PLAYER-BY-PLAYER RATINGS: PART ONE

Mediocrity unparalleled since The Kings of Leon’s second album

Carl Ikeme

Appearances: 31 (0)

Goals: 0

Now into his early 30s, you would think Ikeme should be approaching his theoretical peak as a goalkeeper. If this really is as good as it gets for him, then it’s nowhere near good enough for us. He’s definitely the best option of any of the keepers currently at the club and by some distance too, but that’s rather like picking out Menswear as a better band than Northern Uproar and Starsailor. The same old flaws remain; vulnerable from range, extremely prone to injuries – he’s had three separate absences this season – not really commanding, poor and extremely slow distribution and a tendency to pull out at least a couple of outright howlers a season. More than anything else, he doesn’t do anything exceptional; he invariably won’t keep you in a match with a string of saves, in fact we concede at a reasonable rate without really facing too many shots per game. He won’t pull off incredible stops where you wonder how on earth he got there. He’ll let in a lot of goals that you wouldn’t say are a goalkeeping error per se, but you’d certainly fancy a better keeper to make more of a fist of. It was a vast improvement on last season which really isn’t saying much, given there were around a dozen goals in 2015/16 you could exclusively chalk down to him. Paul Lambert has talked of ending the culture of mediocrity around the club; it’s the likes of Ikeme that he needs to be looking at. He’s simply nowhere near good enough to be first choice for any team with serious designs on the top six. If he could ever stop picking up injuries, he’d be a fine number two at this level – in that you wouldn’t have kittens if he had to play half a dozen games here and there, he’s got plenty of experience, he isn’t good enough to get tempted away by anyone else. It’s a demotion which needs to happen.

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It should also be remembered that Carl ended up being partly responsible for a) a Gianfranco Zola win and b) Blues staying up. Unforgivable.

Matt Doherty

Appearances: 45 (2)

Goals: 5

I really do spend far too much of my life writing about Matt Doherty. Maybe when the shock has worn off that someone with that level of ability and commitment has made some kind of a career in second tier football, I can get over it. He finished 2015/16 reasonably strongly in an otherwise deathly dull spell for the team and somehow picked up the Player of the Year award, despite making a massive three league starts before mid-December (note to the club: don’t ever let our fans vote on anything, ever). This season started in a similar vein, with some decent enough performances in August including a well struck goal at home to Reading. It was pretty much downhill from there. The problem with so many of these long-standing players is that you know exactly what you’re going to get from them. In Doherty’s case that means an inability to clear the ball, mark, tackle, cover the back post or stand in even vaguely the right position. As a defender, he genuinely is close to as bad as it gets. All of that is exacerbated by an attitude which seems to be that chasing back is one of those things that other people to do, leaving him frequently ambling back while others have to do his job for him. He obviously has designs on being an attacking full back which is fine in itself, but your primary job is to defend. Quite clearly, he can’t do it and doesn’t want to. Chuck in his own share of shockers – Leeds at home, Bristol City away – a lamentable attitude to fitness (I can only assume his spare tyre is an homage to the days when we were sponsored by Goodyear), sulking like a 9 year old when things are going against him and you’re left with a complete liability. Now, it isn’t his fault that we’ve left the left back area criminally neglected ever since we sold Scott Golbourne, he has largely been in the team by default ever since then. He does contribute something going forward as when he puts his mind to it, he can pass and shoot (although his impact is greatly lessened by it being painfully obvious that he’s going to cut inside every time he gets the ball). But it’s one of the most positive portents at this stage that Lambert has said that he doesn’t see him as a left back. We are absolutely desperate for a proper option there. As I’ve said before, I’d be amazed if a penniless League Two club persisted for 17 months with an out of shape, lazy, right back who can’t defend as their undisputed first choice at left back, let alone a well-established Championship club who for a chunk of that 17 months have been owned by a conglomerate worth billions of pounds. Although if any penniless League Two clubs are reading, I recommend you sign Doherty. It might mean he’s finally found his level. Don’t worry about the money, a pipe of Pringles will suffice.

Pringles1
Better facial hair than Doherty, just as mobile and I’m sure we could trust the pipe to stay wherever we put it.

Silvio

Appearances: 5 (0)

Goals: 0

You don’t often get former Atletico Madrid and Portugal full backs in their late 20s offered to you on a free transfer. There has to be a catch. In Silvio’s case, unfortunately that catch is that he is made of biscuits. He arrived here having made just 40 league appearances in the previous five seasons and also with a hip injury which precluded him from the early fixtures. A brief smattering of appearances in September and October were then followed up by a broken foot in training which ruled him out for over four months. For a man only tied down to a one year deal, it’s not the greatest of fortune to have. It’s a shame because everything we have seen from him has been impressive; excellent technical ability, good link up play with the winger ahead of him, positional responsibility, calmness in possession…basically everything we’ve been missing in that area for well, 17 months. If it were merely a question of ability, then retaining him would be a no brainer. Ultimately though, we can’t realistically hold on to someone with that kind of track record for availability.

Silvio1
We should just keep him for sex appeal alone. Think of the demographic we could attract.

Dave Edwards

Appearances: 44 (5)

Goals: 10

Ten goals from midfield is no mean feat and for that Dave Edwards deserves great credit. His character remains first class and his effort levels can never be questioned. Without those goals – principally scored in the very early days of Lambert’s tenure, with us hovering just above the bottom three – we would have found ourselves in very real trouble. And yet. Yet. It’s not enough, is it. As ever, Dave scores in little bursts which are great while they’re happening but he’s now on a run of 1 goal in 19 games to follow the run of 1 goal in 31 games which he went on between November 2015 and October 2016. And when he isn’t scoring…you have to question what he’s actually doing. After going on a run of 8 goals in 15 games, largely from a deeper role allowing him to make runs into the box unchecked, Lambert bizarrely chose to switch him to the number 10 role at the start of February, totally unprompted. We then went on to lose every single game that month. Stats around that time indicated that Edwards was attempting (less still completing) fewer than 30 passes a game, at home, from a pivotal area. We know he creates nothing in attacking areas. We know he doesn’t link play. We know he rarely shows for the ball. Without the goals, you’re left with someone who basically chases the ball around without really ever threatening to win it. None of which has prevented him being an automatic choice under Lambert as he has started every game bar one (Stoke in the FA Cup) for which he has been available, and been substituted just once (against Aston Villa at home, when he had a head injury). This is the crux of the issue; not many people would object to Edwards being at the club, as he obviously cares and from time to time, does have something to offer. It’s that he’s continually placed into the team by default – and this is under multiple managers, not just Lambert – even when he isn’t contributing anything. We are not and are not going to be any time soon, good enough to carry someone who might start a run of goals one day and is a nice guy. If he’s playing well enough to be in the team on merit – and he definitely was, between October and January, that spell being the best I’ve ever seen from him in a Wolves shirt – then great. If not then leave him out. I appreciate this is a complex line of thinking, but then this is what football managers are paid for.

Edwards3
Dave applauds me being vaguely positive towards him. It’s only taken nine and a half years.

Richard Stearman

Appearances: 19 (0)

Goals: 1

When you sell a defender for £2m for avowed “footballing reasons”, he goes on to play for a team who concede 79 goals in a year and then finds himself out of the picture within a year of the move, it wouldn’t seem conventional to bring him back. Of course we now know that Richard Stearman’s move to Fulham was prompted by the downsizing of ambition from the soon-to-depart Steve Morgan and rumours of a personality clash with Kenny Jackett also persist. As we saw attempts to sign Alfie Mawson and Luisao flounder (astonishing really that the latter preferred Champions League nights at Estadio da Luz rather than a midweek schlep to Portman Road, but it takes all sorts), we went with a tried and trusted option, someone we knew, someone we knew was available and would come. That of course being the issue in itself; we know Richard Stearman. Only two things have changed since we originally signed him in 2008; his haircut, which has gone from boyband shock blonde to a straggly mullet, and he can no longer use his pace to recover on the turn, being as he can’t really run any more. Everything else: the slack marking, the complacency on the ball, the inability to lead a defence, the poor positioning leading to a display of flinging himself around like a ragdoll to rectify the initial error, the hamfisted error…that’s all still there. He can fist pump and chest beat all he likes, but it’s all window dressing. It’s “passion” for the sake of it, because we don’t really see that level of commitment in his actual defending; real defensive leaders, real lionhearts, don’t pass on responsibility like Stearman does, week after week after week. Being in and out of a team that has yet to find a convincing centre half partnership says it all and there isn’t any chance we should consider retaining him. Thanks for the goal at Anfield Stears, and goodbye. For good this time.

Stears4
Feel the passion! Ignore the positional play!

Danny Batth

Appearances: 41 (0)

Goals: 4

It’s been quite a downfall in status for Captain Danny. From the terrace hero of 2013/14 to the target of endless (and let’s face it, largely witless) abuse on social media. Which is odd as nothing has really changed other than we’re in the Championship now and we were in League One then. For Batth is yet another player who hasn’t really moved on in the last four years. Everything is the same. He still doesn’t like getting pulled into channels, there are times when his marking leaves a lot to be desired, he gives forwards too much space inside the box at times, his heading has a tendency to go straight back to the opposition, we know there’s a real problem if he’s caught up the pitch and needs to have a footrace with a forward, he isn’t as powerful as he should be given his build and he’s not exactly David Luiz on the ball (although he has improved marginally in this regard this season). As a captain, he does excellent work on behalf of the club in the community but he’s not a great on-pitch leader. There’s no way that he’s the liability that he’s often painted as, but nor should he have been handed a four year deal or that he should be considered as a permanent fixture in the team (thankfully, Lambert does at least seem to be subjecting Batth to the crazy policy of “you only play if you’re actually performing”). He probably won’t ever develop from what he is, which is a fairly bog standard, mid-table level Championship centre half who’ll have some good games, some bad. Which really would be ideal for a backup centre half for us while we’re in this catastrophe of a division. Time will tell if we actually make that a reality.

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He has at least stopped fannying around with his hair in the middle of a game.

James Henry

Appearances: 3 (1)

Goals: 0

In the team more or less by default at the very start of the season when we were still trying to piece a squad together and swiftly shifted out as soon as we had actual capable performers in place. Inexplicably we saw fit to hand Henry a near three year deal last season even though he’d failed to make a consistent impact at Championship level, and he hasn’t pulled up any trees at Bolton in his loan spell there, so he’ll be looking for a move again this summer as he enters the final season of his Wolves deal, or we’ll simply end up paying him off.

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See, he did play for us this season. Really.

George Saville

Appearances: 20 (9)

Goals: 1

A goal and an assist to kick off the season against Rotherham and Reading but that was as good as it got in terms of end product for the Bill from Bill & Ted lookalike. That brief run of goals at the end of last season (following into this one) turned out to be the exception to the rule and it’s telling that after three years here, he hasn’t managed to nail down any kind of role in the centre of midfield. Occasionally used wide on the left where he looks about as comfortable as Theresa May eating chips, he actually produced some halfway reasonable performances at left back, though perhaps that’s just me comparing him to who’s normally there rather than a true reflection of how he did. As a midfielder it’s hard to work out what he actually excels at; his passing is below average, he does try to tackle but his tally of 16 yellow cards across a Wolves career which has included just 43 starts tells its own story, he isn’t really ever going to be a consistent goal or creative threat, he isn’t quick or particularly energetic and we still haven’t worked out where it is that you’re supposed to play him. We don’t really have room for a utility player that does a 5/10 job at best wherever you put him and with his contract running out this summer, there seems little benefit in extending his stay. You can’t keep players forever in case they suddenly turn good. He’ll probably end up doing well for a League One team.

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George schooling some mug in the art of chest control. And looking a bit camp.

Nouha Dicko

Appearances: 20 (12)

Goals: 3

The Nouha Dicko that we had between January 2014 and May 2015 was absolutely fantastic. A striker who would chase every single lost cause, plough a lone furrow up top and provide a real focal point, run centre halves ragged, link play and provide a fair goal threat of his own. The injury which struck him down in August 2015 was a cruel blow and sadly, we might not ever get that player back again. The effort levels are still there, he’s certainly still quick enough – the club assure us that he’s at the same or better levels in that regard post-injury – but there’s something missing. A hesitancy in front of goal, the wrong decision when he pulls wide, an undefinable dynamism…it’s like watching a Nouha Dicko impressionist, and not an especially good one. Like if Alistair McGowan decided to have a go. Perhaps it all could have been different if he’d scored the chance he was handed on a plate on his return at home to Norwich…but maybe we should take the fact that he managed to hit the keeper from six yards out, under no real pressure, as a bit of a portent to what he is now. It’s not exactly the only glaring miss that he’s managed this season. There have been odd good moments and his performances against Leeds, Derby and Preston towards the end of the season were certainly more like it, but there has to be serious scepticism as to whether we’ve already seen the best of him. We’d all like to see the real Dicko back because he’d be a serious asset for any team in this league, and Lambert is still subscribing to the theory that he needs a proper pre-season before he can be playing to his full potential. The jury is very much out on that one. What we do know is that the kind of goal return he’s produced this year just isn’t sustainable.

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Make or break time.

Joe Mason

Appearances: 12 (11)

Goals: 4

We signed Joe Mason almost 18 months ago. I’m still none the wiser what it is he actually offers. He can’t play as the main striker in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 system, he’s too lightweight, no good in the air, not quick and doesn’t run the channels. He can’t play as a number 10 as he doesn’t really create anything. He can sort of fill in as a wide forward, without being someone who can beat a full back or deliver crosses from those areas to any kind of effect. His one-on-one finishing is as bad as I’ve seen from any regular Wolves forward, to the point where I wouldn’t expect him to score that kind of opportunity. Sure, he sometimes takes up nice enough positions, his touch isn’t bad, occasionally he’ll come up with a neat bit of play which makes you think there’s something there and of course he scored a legitimate belter at Birmingham (after squandering a couple of glorious first half chances, naturally). But for £3m? You want a bit more than that flimsy kind of output. He has of course been hampered by a niggling hernia injury this season which has meant his opportunities to change my mind have been limited, and perversely it’s that which may save him in the short term as Lambert hasn’t really had the chance to assess him properly. You wonder how we could actually employ him though; perhaps as a second striker if we moved to two dedicated forwards, but surely if we were going down that road, we’d just be signing better than Mason anyway. If we were to get any kind of reasonable bid for him in the summer, it would probably be best to just let him go. It’s hard to see how he’s ever going to be much more than a 10-12 goal a season man, at absolute best. We probably don’t need someone who’s a bit inferior to how Andy Keogh was.

Mason1
Oh, he did score against Villa too. Fair enough, I enjoyed that one.

Jordan Graham

Appearances: 1 (1)

Goals: 0

For all the stick that I doled out to Kenny Jackett during 2015/16 (and there was plenty, and he’s lucky I wasn’t writing this blog then), he did undoubtedly have bad fortune at times. One such time being when Graham was seriously injured following a month and a half of sustained impact where he looked a continual danger. We have been understandably cautious with his recovery and with a couple of small set backs along the way, this has meant he has only appeared at the fag end of the season, though his quality remains apparent. On the final day against Preston he was a constant threat down the left hand side, his skill and quality delivery still intact and he will surely be a major factor in Lambert’s thinking for 2017/18. Being disciplined prior to the home game vs Birmingham was a low point; Lambert was Villa manager when Graham was sold, partly due to attitude issues, and he must remain focused to ensure that he can become the best he can possibly be. The wide areas are likely to be highly competitive (and crucial) next season and while we know he is good enough to produce consistently at this level, he won’t have unlimited chances.

Graham2
Serious baller.

Part two will be up on Wednesday 10 May…

PLAYER RATINGS: WOLVES 0-1 HUDDERSFIELD TOWN

Deadwood Central

Harry Burgoyne: Well, he isn’t ready for Championship football. Maybe never will be. There’s a serious lack of command of his area – nothing to do with size as he’s comfortably physically imposing enough to be a presence if he chose to be – and even in his handful of appearances so far, there are a number of goals where you suspect he might have done better, last night being another as he made the ground to cover Izzy Brown’s shot but only managed to push it into the net. But he isn’t Andy Lonergan. There is that consolation. It’s circumstances that have led to him playing in the first team this season when he was at best, fifth choice last season, what it does illustrate is that the goalkeeping department is one of many that needs seriously looking at over the summer. Carl Ikeme is bang average on a good day and always picks up injuries over a season. Lonergan is pretty much as bad as it gets, outwith short term loanees who didn’t hang around long then I’m not sure I’ve seen a worse Wolves keeper (so yes, worse than Paul Jones’ second spell and worse than Tony Lange). Then it’s kids. For a club that for 30 years or so has prided itself on having excellent keepers, this isn’t acceptable.

Dominic Iorfa: Brought back in from the cold for his first start at home in over four months. It didn’t go especially well. When he first came into the team in 2014/15, it was exceedingly rare that any winger would manage to beat him for either skill or pace. Last night, he got burned on three or four occasions in the first half alone by Molineux favourite Rajiv van La Parra. Fortunately good old Raj still can’t cross a ball. Iorfa is far too good to let his career slip away from him, we all know what he can do at his best, but those reports of Premier League interest are a distant memory at present.

Danny Batth: Back in the team after a two match absence and we got what we generally get from him. Won some stuff in the air, made a couple of good challenges…but it’s not enough. We’ve seen him for three full seasons at this level now. We know that his use of the ball is below par, we know that he’s cumbersome on the turn, we know that he can’t organise or lead a defence…and none of this is going to improve now. Like so many of our players, you could tolerate him as a fringe option just playing every now and then. Not an automatic choice.

Richard Stearman: People normally associate Richard Stearman with “passion”. He has multiple flaws as a defender but theoretically makes up for some of them with absolute commitment and a never-say-die attitude. It’s all a facade. If you watch him closely, he constantly passes on responsibility in ludicrous areas, lets his man go through nothing other than casualness, shirks challenges that should be in his favour…you can beat your chest and thump the ground all you like Richard, but it’s about as convincing as Sean Connery is as a Russian submarine commander. I actually have no idea why he’s in the team at the moment as there must be next to no chance of him being here next season.

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Stears points the way to where he’s let a centre forward run into his channel and let someone else deal with it.

Silvio: Things I saw from our left back last night; ability to consistently control and pass the ball, positional responsibility, diligence to chase back when we lost possession and he’d gone upfield, a proper link with the wide man ahead of him, general calmness on the ball and an overall reassuring presence. And no sight of a ludicrous beard or personalised gloves. It’s been ooh, 16 months since we’ve been anywhere near close to that. It’s a shame that his fitness record across his career is so poor because it’ll probably cost him the chance of a contract here. If we could get this kind of display out of him 35+ times a season, it’d be a no brainer. I suppose I’ll just have to appreciate the novelty of seeing an actual left back at left back, because we know full well which chancer will be playing there come August.

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Chinstrapped wonder or a Portuguese international? I wonder. Matt isn’t going to pass for a matinee idol either unlike Silvio.

Jack Price: Neat and tidy in possession without ever looking like he was able to control the game or have any great influence on proceedings. Did at least show for the ball constantly unlike his partner. Silly booking early on for a needless foul which then impacted on his ability to make challenges later on. One dreadful shot. I could have written that verdict for about 90 of Jack Price’s 100+ Wolves appearances. Another one who has plateaued and is pretty unlikely to improve from here, the reality is that if we persist with the likes of him then we’ll carry on with sub-60 points totals and finishes of around 15th place.

Dave Edwards: Let’s get this out of the way; Dave Edwards hasn’t had a bad season at all in the grand scheme of things. He’s got into double figures for goals, which I never thought he had in him, and there have been times when he’s genuinely merited his place. He’ll probably end up coming in the top three when it comes to the Player of the Season votes and deservedly so (although you could argue that’s more of an indictment of the lack of candidates…). However – it’s been a long time since he was playing well, or scoring. He’s always scored in bursts before going on a dry spell and is now on a sequence of one goal in 17 games. He did have our best chance last night, but failed to strike early enough while the goal was gaping, got the ball semi-stuck under his feet and ended up hitting the post. Because basically, he isn’t that good a finisher. And if he isn’t scoring, then he isn’t doing much. Was it possible to forget he was on the pitch for 20 odd minutes last night? Absolutely. Did the opposition midfielders make him look like a Year 6 kid chasing his school books around as the bigger boys chucked them to each other? For sure. Did he give the ball away for the goal when under no serious pressure then let his man run right off him? Of course. Should he be a first choice player? Hell no.

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Dave leads the wild celebrations after he passes the “40 attempted passes” mark in a home game for the first time since 2008.

Ben Marshall: Played on both wings and as an ersatz left back last night. Didn’t really excel in any of those roles. When he’s in a front three or four where there’s genuine pace and direct threat alongside him, he’s a good asset to us as his passing from central areas and delivery from wide is invariably first class. When we don’t have any of that, then he can look pedestrian and he’s certainly not going to be taking on and beating many full backs.

Morgan Gibbs-White: The first thing I look for in a young attacking player is their ability to be unflustered in possession and play with their head up. Morgan has that in abundance and if we handle his development properly, we should have a serious player on our hands – it is hard to remember at times that he’s not long turned 17. Didn’t get much change out of Huddersfield when played centrally but had more of an impact out wide on the right…and then fell victim to the growing tendency of Paul Lambert to think “I planned to take you off after X minutes and I’m going to stick with that even if you have just had your best 10 minute spell of the game and are looking our most threatening player”. Would surely have been worth keeping him on and trying him in central midfield rather than Edwards who was contributing less than nothing.

Andi Weimann: As per the Brighton game, he has had one solitary decent appearance out wide for us and the rest of the time, has offered very little in that role. He has looked far better when played up front. So of course for the first half we parked him out wide on the right. He actually got injured after about two minutes and despite it clearly impacting on his mobility, we left him on for the entire game. Moved up front in the second half and tried hard but had very little by way of service. We got the ball in the box a fair amount…but he’s never going to be winning headers against the likes of Michael Hefele.

Jon Dadi Bodvarsson: We couldn’t be blunter up front when he’s playing if we had an ex-Army guy singing “You’re Beautiful”. He’s quite obviously running on empty and has been for months. As such, he shouldn’t be anywhere near the team. We aren’t learning anything from playing a guy who blatantly needs a prolonged break, it won’t be doing his confidence any good whatsoever and we aren’t going to be scoring goals when he does play there. I’m far from convinced that he’s actually good enough in the first place, he doesn’t have a fantastic instinct for getting in the right place and his finishing is indifferent at best. But at the moment it’s like judging Mo Farah’s 400m pace right after he’s crossed the finishing line at the London Marathon.

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Send this man to a beach, stat. A real one, not the metaphorical one we’ve been on since we beat Forest.

Joe Mason: One decent enough shot on the turn but otherwise this was another copy-and-paste performance; not a terrible footballer by any means but doesn’t offer a huge amount of goal threat, doesn’t really create much, flits around the edges of games, doesn’t have pace, power or aerial ability, not really a wide player, a number 10 or an out-and-out striker…so what is he and what does he actually bring us? We’re still none the wiser 15 months after we signed him.

Jordan Graham: Great to see him back after a long absence. As you would expect, looked ring-rusty. But he was at least positive, taking his full back on as soon as he came on and always looking to work a yard and get a cross in (the delivery wasn’t the best last night, but it will come). Getting the likes of him, Conor Ronan and Michal Zyro in the team next season does at least provide some hope.

Nouha Dicko: Came on near the end, hung around largely on the right wing and did nothing other than run the ball straight out of play once. Lambert says he needs a pre-season…great, I can understand that. So why is he in the team now? It’s not like we don’t have alternatives. Like so much of Lambert’s management, it’s muddled at the moment and as soon as the final whistle blows against Preston a week on Sunday, we need clarity. This lumpen mish-mash with no discernible style and contradictions all over the place can’t carry on into next season.

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN 1-0 WOLVES: SIX KNEEJERKS

Visit to West Yorkshire sees first defeat of Zenga era

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

Dave Edwards’ time is well and truly up

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

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

Zenga’s selections have yet to settle down

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

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The role of likeable Italian tinkerman has already been taken.

Poor starts away from home will eventually prove costly

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

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“Games start at 3pm over here?!”

Helder Costa is starting to make his mark

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

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More of this, please.

Our effort and spirit cannot be questioned

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

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Plenty more of this.

A decent start, plenty of work ahead

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