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.

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

REACTION: MILLWALL AND BRISTOL CITY (H)

Round-up of this week’s action

Quality of football

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

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

Set piece defending

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

Leo Bonatini

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

Strong Twitter game as well.

Alfred N’Diaye

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

An embarrassment of riches

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

Cough cough.

Refereeing is still poor

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

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

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.

Stears3
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.

Doherty3
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.

Edwards2
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.

Bod1
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.

REACTION: WOLVES 0-2 BRIGHTON

Limp defeat to league leaders

The usual output from the usual suspects

We finished in 14th place with a final tally of 58 points last season. We currently sit in 16th place with 51 points and five games left to play. Given that a lower mid-table finish should never be acceptable in this division for this club, questions should be asked why we’ve had a virtual repeat of the same campaign for two years in a row (disjointed performances, a dismal home record, a small flirtation with relegation and absolutely no hope of challenging the top six); is it the owners? No, we’ve changed them. The manager? We’ve had three of them. So it falls to the players who were here last year and are still here now, inexplicably still getting a regular game. By now it should be evident that:

  • Conor Coady has virtually nothing in terms of technical ability
  • Matt Doherty cannot and never will be able to defend, and perpetually displays the body language of a 13 year old being dragged to Freeman Hardy Willis on the hunt for some sensible shoes
  • Dave Edwards frequently disappears from view for entire 20 minute spells at a time as if he’s allergic to footballs
  • Danny Batth is ponderous to the point of being beaten to loose balls by renowned speed merchants such as Glenn Murray

I can’t pretend to be surprised when any of that happens, as it does far more often than not. Add in a couple of the newer arrivals and their own foibles; Jon Dadi Bodvarsson looking as threatening as Alan Carr would in a sequel to The Football Factory, Andy Lonergan possessing the same hologram genes as Claudio Bravo…these are players that are not fit for anything other than a lower mid-table Championship slog. A state of affairs that isn’t anywhere near what we expect. If these players remain mainstays then we will keep getting the same results. When you have multi-billionaire owners who don’t mind chucking £20m on a couple of exciting new attacking players, it’s fair to assume that said results are not the limit of our ambition. There’s only one way to fix that state of affairs.

Lonergan2
His hands don’t appear to have holes in them, so I’m not sure how that first goal has gone in today.

Full back woes are a recurring theme

You couldn’t have asked for much more of a contrast between Brighton’s Bruno Saltor and Sebastien Pocognoli, and our full back pair of Coady and Doherty. It’s borderline incomprehensible that we have gone through an entire season and our most used players in those positions are a low skilled midfielder and a terrible right back playing on the wrong side. While Brighton’s pairing provided a constant threat going forward and did their defensive duties with the minimum of fuss, we were treated to a display of regularly ceding possession, failing to track runs, pressing at the wrong time to leave opponents completely open, getting far too narrow and generally looking seriously substandard. Signing full backs shouldn’t be a difficult task. How we’ve gone so long being so undermanned in those areas boggles the mind. Doherty has been playing on the wrong side – he doesn’t have a left foot and he isn’t going to acquire one now – for 16 months. As a stopgap, emergency, “we don’t have anyone at all so this will have to do until we get round to signing someone” option, you might tolerate it. Not an entire season and a half of it. We even tried to sign Nicolai Boilesen last January and Ryan Haynes this year, so we’re well aware there is an issue…but we leave it unchecked. Silvio played 90 minutes in the U23s on Monday and if he is anywhere near match ready then he should be given an opportunity to prove his worth in the final five games; he does at least resemble someone who knows roughly what he’s doing in that position.

Silvio1
If nothing else, he’d improve our Suave Quotient by approximately 600% all on his own.

Romain Saiss is struggling to find a role…

It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that Saiss is comfortably our most accomplished midfielder. Confident on the ball and with a decent range of passing, he offers something that no-one else (in the absence of Connor Ronan) in the squad can give us. And yet…we aren’t really getting much in the way of impact from him. While in his recent substitute appearances he’s pushed a little higher up the park and been used to press the opposition, when we start him (as today) he sits far, far too deep. It might look very nice for him to spread a few crossfield balls but when he’s parked five yards in front of the centre halves, those passes aren’t going to hurt the opposition, they’re going to reach one of our players on about halfway at best. Furthermore, when playing so deep, you would expect that he’d be able to protect the back four…but despite his physical attributes, this doesn’t seem to be an especially strong part of his game. He lacks mobility and the ability to sniff out danger, leading to opposition midfielders and deep-lying forwards running rings around him as he lumbers around in a fairly cumbersome manner. If we were able to employ him 20-30 yards further forward, then we might be able to make something of his ability in distribution. As it is, he remains a man of one or two decent moments a game (to go along with at least one or two casual losses of possession in horrible areas) rather than a player who dominates games. His Wolves career might not have long to run.

Saiss2
It would also help if he could run.

…While Andi Weimann is paying for his versatility

Weimann has started up front against Rotherham, Fulham and Cardiff during his loan spell here…three games, three wins. So it’s a surprise that in the absence of Helder Costa, we’ve shuffled him back out into one of the wider roles. While he is diligent enough when he plays there – his defensive work cannot be criticised – he offers us relatively little in terms of attacking threat. He rarely takes his man on, doesn’t link up enough with the rest of the front line and doesn’t offer anything in terms of delivery from the flanks. He is on record as saying that his preferred position is as a central striker and he is indeed the only player we’ve deployed there all season who looks a credible goal threat. It would therefore surely follow that his status in that role should be sacrosanct and it should be left to others to fill in out wide in Costa’s absence. Morgan Gibbs-White or the returning pair of Jordan Graham and Michal Zyro would certainly be preferable to deploying Bodvarsson there as has been mooted recently, though we do of course hope that Costa returns sooner rather than later (conspiracy theories about his impending sale notwithstanding).

Graham1
Let’s have them back in the team sooner rather than later.

Paul Lambert’s in-game management remains questionable

It would be fair to say that thus far, Lambert’s strength has not been his use of substitutions and in game changes. Frequently any switch is left far too late and is often merely like for like, offering us fresh legs and little else. With us struggling to have any kind of impact going forwards today deep into the second half, it was left until the final 15 minutes before we saw the introduction of Nouha Dicko and Donovan Wilson. As has been the case on previous occasions when we have tried to play two up front in an attempt to chase the game, it didn’t appear that we’d done any work on how to play a different shape from slight variants on the theme of one lone striker supported by two wide forwards. It is an element of his management that requires significant improvement next season; plans aren’t always going to work and it is often the managers who have the ability to spot flaws mid-game and change the tactics around who find the greatest success.

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Just writing down “Shoot” doesn’t count I’m afraid, Paul.

Today illustrated how far we have to go

Chris Hughton’s Brighton are an admirable enough outfit yet for all that, are fairly workmanlike and identikit in terms of Championship promotion teams; a decent keeper, a solid back four with two physically imposing centre halves, one tackler, one passer in midfield, a bit of flair out wide and a collection of handy strikers. It’s a well worn template, underpinned by a manager who can get his team to both dominate games and grind out results; nothing flashy, not a team that grabs the headlines week in week out, but they get the job done. We are so far away from that at the moment that it’s almost embarrassing to compare the two teams. We have gaps all over the squad in terms of quality and depth, we only really have one way of playing which has been proven to work (and it is one that is by definition invalid for the vast majority of home games in this league), we don’t show enough of a reaction when we go a goal down, we miss key opportunities at one end and give away soft goals at the other. Fosun might well have looked at the game at Anfield in January and decided that they fancy a bit of that every week; they’d do well to have a look at Brighton and see just how much work we need to do to match that standard.

PLAYER RATINGS: WOLVES 1-0 NOTTINGHAM FOREST

Fifth straight win and now clear of relegation worries

Andy Lonergan: There’s a hell of a lot wrong with Andy Lonergan’s game. His kicking either from hand or on the ground invariably just about reaches halfway, often sliced out wildly to the left hand side of the pitch. His command of the box is as good as non-existent; not just in terms of claiming crosses (which he fundamentally cannot do and often doesn’t even attempt) but with regard to taking charge of situations where he can see the whole picture – this failing nearly costing us a goal at 0-0 (more on which later). And yet, what he can do from time to time is pull off an exceptional save. To pay us back for Saturday’s horror show for Cardiff’s goal – an error which ended up costing us nothing in the grand scheme of things – he saved two points for us with a great stop from an effort arrowing into the bottom corner from around six yards out. Never going to be good enough and who knows, this might even turn out to be his final ever game in a Wolves shirt if Carl Ikeme is fit to play at the weekend and for the remainder of the season. Not a bad way to go out if that does turn out to be the case.

Conor Coady: Continues to show steady progress at right back, at present a succession of highly rated wide players are struggling to get the better of him at any stage. Going forward his impact is always going to be limited although now we have a fluid front four ahead of him, we’re less reliant on our full backs providing quite so much attacking threat so it becomes less of a factor. There’s only one thing he’s going to be remembered for from this game though and it’s that goal line clearance. He had no right at all to get back and save us there and it’s a neat microcosm of him as a player. As we look to next season, would I seriously consider him as a permanent member of the back four? Not really. But if a squad player is willing to show that level of commitment and heart, then he’ll do for me as a reliable back up option.

Danny Batth: No repeat of Saturday’s goalscoring heroics but handled Assombalonga with relative ease, looks to be working his way back into some decent form. Whether it’s direction from the coaching staff or a reaction to being dropped a few weeks ago, his use of the ball has improved of late. In truth it’s long overdue that he no longer be treated as an automatic choice; he needs to continue these standards to be a first team player here.

Kortney Hause: My Man of the Match as he continues to improve week on week; he shows more faith in his own physicality to deal with forwards in tight situations and like Batth, is looking far better on the ball at present than he was earlier in the season. He’s now very much the primary option at centre half, as has always been the case, the raw ability is there – we’re starting to see the results.

Matt Doherty: The standard mixed bag from my favourite bearded trundler. Managed to let a ball run under his foot in the first half while under no pressure whatsoever. Went on a foray forwards in the second half, then when we lost the ball managed to make it just inside our own half as he ambled back while others filled his position and did his job for him. But, to his credit, popped up high up the park (in the #10 position somehow) as we broke after Coady’s clearance and played a good part in the goal. When he puts his mind to it, he can actually offer a reasonable amount on the ball. He’s never going to be able to defend though. Doesn’t have the ability or application to do that. So nothing has changed really.

Dave Edwards: It was apparent very early on that Forest were intent on playing from the back so unsurprisingly we allocated much of the chasing duties to Dave. He did it fairly well, winning the ball enough times to put the opposition back under pressure, although these efforts told in the end and he was visibly running on fumes towards the end. As ever, not much to say about his impact in possession.

Lee Evans: A quieter game than on Saturday. Neat and tidy enough on the ball but didn’t produce much in the way of damaging passes to the attacking players ahead of him. We’re still short of the right balance in midfield – it’s always going to be the case that if Edwards is one of the deeper two in there (and let’s be fair, he has more than merited that spot this season, whatever the limitations of his game), the onus is very much on his partner to create from there. It remains unclear whether Evans can be that man. He probably is a better option than anyone else we have at the moment and he’s started all of the five wins, so at present it’s not much of a choice. In the longer term it’s an issue that still need to be addressed.

Ben Marshall: He is to the Championship what James Henry was to League One; a steady, consistent outlet out wide who can offer plenty of threat despite a lack of pace. Credit has to be given to Paul Lambert on this one as many would have wanted us to wait until the summer before trying to nab him on a free transfer (if indeed they wanted us to sign him at all); as it is, we’ve needed his output. Came extremely close with a free kick in the second half, Forest’s iffy keeper was getting nowhere near it.

Ivan Cavaleiro: Bright in the first half, Forest were clearly wary of him around the box and he probably should have scored shortly before half time when he put a shot into the side netting. Took a bit of a whack early on in the second half and was replaced shortly afterwards, although not before producing a manful effort to cover when Forest broke for their big chance at 0-0 (it is odd that we had a 30 second spell of play where Ivan was covering round for our centre halves and being the last line of defence while Doherty then popped up in the pocket of space behind the striker, Rinus Michels eat your heart out).

Andi Weimann: Amazing work rate as ever, the late injury to Helder Costa resulted in him playing a mix of out wide and behind the striker which would seem to be his secondary role in an ideal world. Gave it absolutely everything though, supplied an excellent cross for the winner and probably would have had a goal of his own had the right decision been made to pass to him. At present it seems a no brainer to sign him permanently in the summer at what we believe to be a relatively low, pre-agreed fee.

Nouha Dicko: It can’t have been easy for him to be thrown into the starting line-up around 10 minutes before kick off. He did well enough though. Had what seemed to me to be a stonewall penalty appeal turned down before half time and was in the right place to tuck away his goal. Lambert said after the game that he believes Nouha needs a solid, hard pre-season under his belt to get back to his best and it’s hard to disagree; we’d all like to see a return of the player we had in 2014/15. It’s been a disappointing season for him but the goodwill remains.

Morgan Gibbs-White: The faith Lambert has in the 17 year old is shown by him continuing to be a part of the matchday squads even when we were seriously threatened by relegation and he brought him on here at a critical stage of the game. Long term I would say his future definitely lies in central midfield but it is easy to see why the manager chose to use him out wide here and utilise his speed on the break. Horribly chopped down by Fox at the end leading to the Forest man’s dismissal.

Romain Saiss: Did a similar job to Saturday; came on, shut down some growing threat, allowed us to see out the game. It’s a hell of a luxury to have to use that quality of player in that very specific bit part role. We still need to work out how to use him best, he is definitely playing higher up the park than he was earlier in the season and this seems to produce better results. We don’t need him (or anyone) standing right in front of the centre halves.

Jon Dadi Bodvarsson: Oh Bod. Bod, Bod, Bod. I know you want a goal more than anything at the moment. Anxiety is normal in these circumstances. But when we have a two on one, heading into injury time, and it’s Andi Weimann who’s wide open on the edge of the box, you pass the ball to him. If you don’t, then you make sure you score. Not sidefoot the ball straight at the keeper. He did ok apart from that, a couple of his trademark dribbles where it looks like it should be impossible that he beats anyone one on one but he does it anyway. I’m sure he’ll know he did the wrong thing last night.

REACTION: LIVERPOOL 1-2 WOLVES

Quite simply one of the best performances we’ve pulled off in decades

Remember how we played at the back end of November in Paul Lambert’s first home game against Sheffield Wednesday? If you’d told anyone that a few short weeks later, we’d managed to beat Stoke, Aston Villa and Liverpool all inside a month and deserve to do so on each occasion, we’d have seen some Peep Show style sectioning on the cards. But that is the scale of the improvement that we’ve shown in a short space of time. Some notes on today’s game – I won’t do individual player ratings for this one as everyone is going to get 9/10 or more and no-one likes reading anything that saccharine.

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But they will read guff like this. The world’s gone mad.

A tactical masterclass from Lambert

Lambert really did get everything spot on today. From his selection – retaining faith in some of those fringe players who got the job done at Stoke in the previous round – through to his instructions to press extremely high and force mistakes out of a shaky looking back four and for us to break with purpose whenever we won the ball back. It’s no exaggeration to say that we could have won this by three or four clear goals. It is a novelty to see a Wolves manager vary his approach from game to game depending on the qualities of the opposition – and not in a Dean Saunders way of “I’ll do something absolutely batshit mental in the hope that the other team are driven delirious by my obvious and contagious insanity”. We’ve played this style today and our second goal – breaking from just outside our own box to the ball being in the back of the Liverpool net in about six seconds – is endemic of a style which many Wolves fans will be very happy to see going forward, fast, ruthless attacking play. It’s been done today with Bright Enobakhare unused on the bench, Ivan Cavaleiro not in the squad at all (Andi Weimann did a superb job in his stead on his full debut) and with Jordan Graham and Michal Zyro to return eventually. If we carry on in this vein, there are exciting times ahead. We certainly won’t be dull to watch.

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Deano hears that I might soon have to pay everyone in this blog by the mention. He’d be coining it in from yours truly. Probably pick up more than that time he made up a story about Brian Clough’s alcoholism on national radio for a cheap laugh and a few paltry quid. The fucking maggot.

Helder Costa is worth every penny

News has broken this evening courtesy of Tim Spiers that we are set to complete a permanent deal for Helder in the region of £13,000,000. And who am I to doubt Tim. Crazy money you might think for a Championship club – especially one that has a less than 1% chance of promotion this season – but he genuinely is worth it. In this market, where Crystal Palace have just spent a combined £26,000,000 on Jeff Schlupp and Patrick van Aanholt (two footballers who don’t have a quarter of a brain between them), that fee is daylight robbery on our part. He is every inch a Premier League player. His ball carrying ability is of a standard I have never seen from any Wolves player as long as I’ve been watching – dare I say it, there is a hint of Gareth Bale about him when he flies at defences. He has noticeably bulked up over the course of the season to the point where it’s now very hard to shrug him off the ball, even allowing for his diminutive stature. His record for involvement in goals is absolutely top drawer by any standards. At very least, even if his stay in here is only a relatively short one of between six and eighteen months, we stand to make a hefty profit on him. In an ideal world, he’ll stay here for longer. I’ve rarely been so excited to watch someone in a gold shirt, not even Bakary Sako hit these heights so consistently and so thrillingly.

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Football genius.

Everything but the goal

The struggles of both Nouha Dicko and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson in finding the net are well documented. Clearly, it’s not sustainable for any first choice striker to be going 20+ games without a goal. However, both are providing so much in terms of general play that it’s tough to be too hard on them. Dicko’s pace – not in any way diminished, no matter what has been at times rumoured – is invaluable to us in stretching defences and working down the channels, and Bodvarsson’s hold up play and baffling ability to seemingly miscontrol the ball out of play only to retrieve it and beat a defender out of nowhere are frequently a source of great discomfort for defences late on in games. It’s true, both need to stick a few away between now and May, we cannot go into next season with forwards who simply don’t score. But there really is so much to recommend about the two of them as footballers, hopefully one or both can get off the mark soon and start to go on a run. It’s testament to their work rate and genuine affinity for the club that despite such a long barren streak, neither are attracting much by way of overt criticism from the stands.

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This pair only had a couple of major hits and everyone still liked them.

George Saville is doing his best to extend his Molineux stay

It would be fair to say that George Saville’s impact since arriving from Chelsea two and a half years ago has been limited in a Wolves shirt. There was a brief run of goals last spring but otherwise he’s been largely consigned to the sidelines and then was horribly miscast as a left sided midfielder in the very early Lambert days. It should be remembered though that we have rarely played him in a deep lying midfield role which is broadly where he played through his Academy years. In 2017, he has made two starts there against Stoke and Liverpool as well as a brief cameo in that position against Aston Villa and done very well on each occasion. Full of willingness to make tackles, a renewed energy in his closing down and simple use of possession that rarely goes to waste. Helder Costa was my Man of the Match today but Saville was genuinely not far behind. It is never likely that he’s going to be a fans’ favourite at Molineux, but if he continues this improved form and can finally nail down what kind of midfielder he actually is, it’s not out of the question that he’ll get a fresh contract when the current one expires in the summer.

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I’m even willing to overlook his scarecut for now.

The kids are alright

As I’ve said previously, it is of critical importance that we use our Academy properly and don’t let the better players in our youth teams have their development stunted and eventually see them drift out of the club without them getting a proper opportunity. Like so many managers, Lambert expressed his desire to play youth when he was appointed as manager. Unlike so many managers, he wasn’t merely paying lip service to the idea in attempt to curry easy favour with the fans. How many managers, entering a high stakes cup tie at the team currently 4th in the Premier League, at one of the most hallowed stadiums in the country, would have played Harry Burgoyne (2 career appearances) ahead of Andy Lonergan (almost 400 career appearances)? It would have been very easy to leave at least one of Connor Ronan, Morgan Gibbs-White or Bright Enobakhare out of the matchday squad in favour of more experience, but Lambert decided it was better for them to take in the feel of a big game atmosphere. The message from both him and the club is now clear to any aspiring talented players; not only do we have top class training facilities here, if you are good enough then you will play. It’s as simple as that. I would very much hope that Christian Herc, Conor Johnson and (subject to fitness) Niall Ennis also get some first team football this season – no longer should we see decent players farmed out on endless loan spells to lower league clubs and going nowhere from a promising start.

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I can’t pretend I’m *that* thrilled that we now have someone playing for us who was born in 2000, but I’ll have to get used to it. Just like policemen will start looking younger and all music will start sounding like old stuff.

The cup can provide a feel-good factor of its own

Today was the first time we had participated in a Fourth Round FA Cup tie since 2011. Our Fifth Round tie next month will be the first time we have reached that stage since 2008. You have to go back to 2003 for our last appearance in the quarter finals. For far too long we have disregarded the FA Cup and treated it as an inconvenience more often than not, with predictably awful results. However, you can sense the uplift in mood amongst the fans from the victories against both Stoke and Liverpool, and it is widely acknowledged that our run in 2002/3 was the catalyst to our superb second half of the season run which pushed us into the playoffs. When we talk specifically about this season, it is clear that the cup is now our only serious focus – we have too much talent and are playing too well (we have now won five of our last eight games in all competitions, and should really have beaten both Sheffield Wednesday and Queens Park Rangers in that sequence too) to be in any serious danger of relegation, and we are way too far back to make a tilt at the top six. In future years, we should remember how special victories like today are and continue to make a proper effort in the premier cup competition (I will accept that the League Cup is an increasing irrelevance) – there is no reason why a club of our size cannot challenge on two fronts.

WOLVES 0-2 SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY: SHORT, ANGRY REACTION

Short and angry about sums me up at the moment. I’ll go deeper into this malaise later in the week but for now this is my brief reaction to yesterday’s game. Apart from “Christ this is bad”.

What did I say in the week? We’ve averaged marginally over a point a game for the whole of 2016 with the British/Irish core of players, they aren’t very good. They are poor Championship players at a real push, keep picking them as the heartbeat of your team and you’ll get relegated or very close to it. Not happy at all with Lambert’s selection, doing that once as a makeshift “get a 0-0 away from home” team in your first game is just about ok. Not at home when you’ve been making noises about playing from the front foot. Aside from the opening 10 minutes where we outworked Wednesday (and not much else), we giftwrapped these three points for them. They didn’t have to do anything. Didn’t get out of second gear. I said to the guys in the pub before and after the game, I could have done Carvalhal’s team talk for them. It’s easy. Here it goes.

“Hunt and Wallace, you boys down the right have got nothing to worry about defensively so just play your own game. They’ve got a fat, shite right back who’ll only ever cut inside and a crap central midfielder down there. Fill your boots. Back line, step up 5-10 yards from where you normally stand, they’ve got no-one to run in behind. Midfield, again don’t worry about them, no creativity, they’ll run around but they’ll let you play. Their defence will make a mistake or two so just bide your time. They won’t try to keep the ball at all so just bide your time for possession, no need to press too hard. Enjoy.”

We’re in a relegation fight now, make no mistake about that. And the answer is not picking these shitehawks or playing for 0-0s.

Lonergan: Kicks like a 4 year old. Couldn’t do much about the goals but he is what he always has been, a poor Championship keeper with a highlight reel. 3

Iorfa: What has happened here? Put us in the shit for the second goal with a woeful five yard pass and nearly repeated the trick in the second half. I like the guy but that doesn’t mean I can’t see when he’s had a shocker and it’s happening all the time at the moment. 2

Stearman: We absolutely mugged Fulham last August to get £2m for him. He goes there and they concede 78 goals…so we bring him back. His one asset of being quick on the turn has gone, he can’t do it any more. So what you’re left with is a casual bastard who strolls around stroking his mullet. Awful. Don’t ever pick him again. 2

Hause: Did at least stand up to the physical presence of Lucas Joao but distribution was awful and lucky not to give away at least one penalty. 3

Doherty: Just wow. This awful, awful cunt would not get a game for Bilston Town. He’s not a footballer. Overweight, stinking attitude, horribly one footed, no defensive ability whatsoever, can’t run, can’t turn, can’t tackle, can’t mark, can’t jump, isn’t even any good going forward and we have him contracted until 2019. I’ve said it before about him, he was a £100k Irish league player when we bought him and he’s an Irish league player now. He is a total liability, he will constantly cost you goals at this level. Hate is a strong word. I fucking hate Matt Doherty. Rip his contract up, I never want to see him ever again. 0

Price: Tries hard, really though he’s just a neat and tidy cog in a wheel. Stick a dominant presence like an on form McDonald or what I think Saiss could be, and he’d probably look ok. In this team he looks like a little boy lost. 4

Coady: Did a bit of Dennis Bergkamp skill to engineer our only first half chance…followed it up with a Dennis Pearce finish. Rubbish footballer, £2m for that? I’ve seen more accomplished players down the park. Can’t play as a defensive midfielder, can’t attack so what really is he doing? 3

Saville: Newsflash everyone, George Saville can’t play on the left wing. This was a shocking selection by Lambert because you’re completely negating any threat down that side and he isn’t even that good at tracking back. I tell you what, I’m not going to rate him. I wouldn’t rate Olly Murs on his DIY skills or Gordon Ramsey on his ability to drive an F1 car. N/A

Costa: The only one in the first half who looked to do anything, he had a couple of runs which came to nothing. Basically he’s our only attacking outlet and in the process doesn’t have that much end product. I feel sorry for him, I bet he wants to leave. 4

Edwards: Played more or less up front in the first half. Played sort of on the right in the second half. Was crap at both. We all know he’s a great pro but he wasn’t good enough years ago and nothing has changed. If he’s going to be the fulcrum of a Lambert team then I’m not sure I want to see it. 2

Bodvarsson: Yeah, the service to him is dreck. But he really isn’t offering anything at all to us at the moment. Maybe he might in a genuine front two, maybe he might if we played a bit more football (we played none yesterday). At the moment he may as well not be on the pitch, he’s playing like Sig did last season without the stick from the crowd. 2

Subs: Dicko gave us a bit of impetus, gave us an outball down the channels, tried one shot from a silly angle when he should have crossed or waited for support. Teixeira came on with seemingly no instructions, played nowhere and might have got sent off on another day. Cavaleiro missed a sitter but the game was gone by then. A collective for effort alone.

I’m not happy.

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.

ROTHERHAM 2-2 WOLVES: SIX KNEEJERKS

Zenga’s men fight back after appalling start

First up, a 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 away games, you get these. That’s the deal. Right, now that’s out of the way, here we go:

Chunks of this team are just not good enough

There’s no escaping that this was a truly abysmal start to the game. 2-0 down after 20 minutes, barely able to string three passes together, it served to show the players left by Kenny Jackett to be a ragged bunch low on technical ability and short on coherence. Slack marking from a set piece, a player not closed down properly to have a shot from range, Carl Ikeme beaten from distance (it might be that he had no chance with this one…but he doesn’t regularly concede from outside the box by accident), a lack of meaningful attacks and being bossed by pretty poor opposition. This was all of the worst parts of last season in microcosm. With Guo Guangchang in attendance, this should have made it plain that we are carrying far too many players who have no business playing for any team with serious aspirations at this level. Ask yourselves what sort of clubs would be likely to be bidding on Ikeme, Matt Doherty, Dave Edwards and James Henry if we put them up for sale. We can’t even hold on to many of these and hope they can fill a squad berth, they just aren’t viable options for us. A degree of ruthlessness is required and these players need to be jettisoned, there isn’t any room in the new Wolves era for passengers.

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Rumours that this is James Henry’s personal pre-match track of choice are almost certainly unfounded.

Do George Saville’s goals make up for his overall lack of quality?

Since returning from his loan spell at Millwall in January, George Saville has made 20 appearances for Wolves and scored six goals; a very healthy return from a central midfielder which compares extremely favourably with Dave Edwards, often lauded for his supposed goalscoring ability yet currently sitting with one goal in his last 21 games. However, we know that Saville is not particularly strong in possession, his passing can be extremely loose, he frequently picks up soft bookings and tends to flit around the edges of games rather than strongly influencing them. As we look to the development of our team, is that scoring rate sustainable and would he be suitable should we evolve into a more possession based team, as seems likely as we bring in players from Portugal in particular? Realistically at very least the choice should be between Saville or Edwards, not picking both as each have similar weaknesses. At the moment only one of them is showing anything like consistent displays of what is their key strength.

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Probably best to leave the Hollywood balls to someone else.

In the absence of Nouha Dicko, our strikers need support

Our rise to the top of the Championship at the start of November 2014 was built around using Nouha Dicko as a lone forward, a role in which he excels and is arguably one of the very best such players outside the Premier League. Quick enough to stretch defences, strong enough to deal with the attentions of multiple defenders, astute and technically able enough to bring others into play, offering serious goal threat of his own. Whenever he’s been unavailable, we’ve tried numerous forwards in the same role and we’ve seen more or less exclusive failure. Jackett was clear shortly after signing Joe Mason that he needed to play with a partner (which begs the question why you would spend £3m on someone who doesn’t fit into the system you predominantly play…but I digress), early signs from today’s first half were that Jon Dadi Bodvarsson was isolated and ineffectual in the starting 4-3-3 shape with James Henry and Jed Wallace nominally supporting him from wide areas. The Icelander looked impressive in a basic 4-4-2 shape for his national team in the summer, but leading the line alone is an entirely different proposition. Until Dicko returns – we hope sooner rather than later – we have to find a way to get Bodvarsson and Mason (or a new signing) in the same team as they just aren’t going to be effective as a lone striker.

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Looks a player, but needs help.

Joe Mason’s finishing is a concern

An excellent comeback today was almost capped by snatching a late winner. Unfortunately given a clear sight of goal, Mason fluffed his lines and allowed Lee Camp to make a comfortable save from a very good position. This is not the first time that the former Cardiff man has missed a presentable chance, and while we would hope that we will become a lot more creative than last year and not relying on sticking away virtually all of our clear cut opportunities, very few teams ever have the luxury of constantly missing chances. Mason’s finishing does not seem to be especially strong, which is of course borne out in his career goal record. He may have cost a hefty fee, but he’s very much a signing belonging to the old regime – if he can’t improve in the area where strikers are most expected to perform then it’s hard to see a future for him in the starting line up.

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One of the great double signings.

The new signings made an immediate mark

Once we changed our shape to give Bodvarsson some much needed support as noted earlier, he had a very impressive second half, full of running and garnished with an excellent equalising goal. The goal was set up by Joao Teixeira with his very first contribution from the bench and he has attracted superb early reviews, his ability to carry the ball from midfield being picked out as a real highlight of his play. These are very encouraging signs from the two new recruits who saw serious gametime today, if Silvio and Helder Costa (restricted to a very late sub appearance for a spent Bodvarsson) are of similar quality and further new signings are of similar calibre, this signifies extremely promising signs for our recruitment policy. Always worth considering that many a player has started well at Molineux only to fade away (as happens at every club up and down the land), but these two players already seem to have the fans onside and look ready to make an impact on the division. We just need to put the right quality around them.

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Swoon

‘The ball is never out and the game is never finished’

They were Walter Zenga’s words at his introductory press conference and he stuck to that ethos today. It would have been hard to see the 2016 version of Kenny Jackett inspiring a comeback from two goals down, or committing to attacking Rotherham while down to 10 men and even chasing a winner. We continued to play in a positive fashion through the second half and the fans will support any team that opts to approach games in that way. We’ve had our fill of needless caution and low ambition. Enterprising substitutions, looking to play off the front foot, never giving in, fighting to the last even in adversity, if this is the Zenga way then we can all be positive about what’s to come.