Wolves 2 Derby County 0

Now we’re cooking.

Celebrating Derby

And make no mistake about it folks, Wolves are contenders.

A wonderful win against an impressive and determined Derby outfit is proof positive Kenny Jackett and co are going the distance.

Fears they might simply be eased out in the scrum dissipated amidst another glorious night under the Molineux floodlights.

Steve McClaren will correctly rue one moment of refereeing madness that saw Batth escape punishment, but there was much more to the game than one controversial incident.

End to end would be a fair assessment up until Nouha Dicko’s well engineered opener, but much like Sheffield Wednesday three nights earlier, Derby struggled throughout to contain the pace of our forward line.

Afobe had the two clearest chances of the evening either side of Dicko’s goal and by his lofty standards, England’s top scorer should have done better.

The Derby tiki-taka was impressive but only ever seemed to culminate in shots from distance, which were kept out by goalkeeper and woodwork.

Wolves retreated and rode their luck at times, but when blocks and interceptions were needed, someone always came up with the goods.

Lee Grant’s moment of charity was gratefully received on an evening where both goalies opted to punch when a catch seemed easier.

Still, for all his circus juggling Tomasz Kuszczak kept everything out and that is the name of the game. You just have to go with it.

Sako was superb and drained the life out of Derby as they chased the game, using his strength and considerable portfolio of tricks to ride challenges and play some lovely passes.

His late dribble and dash warranted a better finish, but the slaloming run itself was worthy of the ticket price. I wonder whether all Wolves fans appreciate just how good he is?

But it wasn’t a night for individuals. It was a night to savour just how far the team have come under Kenny Jackett.

And a night to wonder just how far they might go.

The gaffer

Wolves Vs Derby County Preview

There wasn’t a single positive to take from the hammering Derby handed out to us back in November.

Derby

Individually and collectively, Wolves were simply brushed aside in what had to be the worst performance we’ve seen under Kenny Jackett.

Quite a few players (Clarke, Saville, Ricketts, McAlinden and Rowe) involved that day have since disappeared from the picture completely.

Those that have returned or come in to replace them are unquestionably an improvement, meaning the Wolves that Derby face tomorrow are a very different animal.

Hopefully that will reflect in a very different scoreline.

Derby

derby logoThe Rams are wobbling. They haven’t won any of their last five matches meaning even a play-off position is far from certain.

Injuries have been piling up, which is the kind of luck Steve McClaren could do without in the final sprint to the finish line.

The loss of strikers Chris Martin and Darren Bent has been particularly vexing, with goals suddenly in short supply. They’ve only managed three in their five game slump.

You get the sense they just have to dig in to get a result from his fixture and hope the cavalry return after the two week break.

A win could put them back in the frame for a top two finish. Defeat would see them reeled in by the play-off chasers, including Wolves. It’s beautifully poised.

Wolves

It’s a major boost to see Richard Stearman back in contention after being stretchered off in midweek. His experience is vital in big fixtures like this.

Team for Derby copy

I’ll be surprised if the above eleven isn’t the team that starts. Kenny Jackett revealed he hooked van La Parra for not tracking back so he’ll probably have similar concerns about the Dutchman facing the likes of Tom Ince and Jesse Lingard.

James Henry also did his prospects little harm with a hand in Afobe’s goal and a wonderful solo strike of his own. Another player who has looked back to his best in recent times is Matt Doherty. His marauding runs forward are a real asset.

The gaffer

Predictions

It’s time for Wolves to come to the party in a big fixture. We couldn’t do it against Bournemouth and we couldn’t get over the line against Watford, so now has to be the moment.

Given Derby’s woes and our recent home form, there’s nothing to be afraid of. In fact, we should probably be considered marginal favourites.

If Kenny can get the lads fired up, which shouldn’t be a problem considering what happened in the reverse fixture, and the team are anywhere near their best, I think they’ll do it.

3-1.

Up The Wolves.

Wolves 3 Sheffield Wednesday 0

It’s a shame the season didn’t start in January.

Sako penalty

Because since the beginning of 2015, Wolves have rediscovered the potency that saw them engage cruise control in last year’s League One run in.

Four goals against Huddersfield, five against Rotherham, three against Fulham and another treble last night against one of the meanest defences in the Championship are testament to the fact.

And much like last season, it’s so often the Sako Dicko axis spearheading the push.

Dicko, correctly recalled to the team by Kenny Jackett got things moving last night with a powerful run that drew the all important foul and allowed his compatriot to convert his good work into a vital early goal.

But even the Mali men are being overshadowed of late by the performances and goals of Benik Afobe.

That’s now eight in twelve appearances from a striker who doesn’t seem to lack any of the attributes required to play at the very highest level.

His inch perfect volley last night was probably the pick of the bunch, but the variety of goals he’s already plundered demonstrate what a versatile talent he is.

James Henry played a key role in Afobe’s big moment before proceeding to pip the former Arsenal man for goal of the evening.

Save of the evening (and possibly the season) goes to Tomasz Kuszczak for clawing out a goal bound header to preserve Wolves’ one goal lead.

The Pole sets nerves jangling with his unorthodox approach but saves like that one and a similar stop against Rotherham show why he was once considered good enough for the very top.

All over the pitch, nobody had a poor performance, which shouldn’t be a surprise because there are no bad players in this Wolves team.

Each and every component needed to be successful at Championship level is present and accounted for.

The manager and the team just need to put it all together for a concerted run of games.

But they’ve left it late, so it’s now or never.

Highlights

Wolves Vs Sheffield Wednesday Preview

Leon Clarke’s late winner at Hillsborough in December reignited Wolves’ season.

Wolves Wednesday

That crucial win up in Yorkshire simultaneously ended a five game losing streak and kicked off an eight game undefeated run.

It’s been hit and miss since, but we’ve just about clung onto the coat tails of the leading pack.

Wednesday weren’t quite able to last the pace and nine points back on Wolves with just nine games left to play, another year of Championship football beckons.

Hopefully they’ll be polite enough not to drag us down into midtable tomorrow.

Sheffield Wednesday

Sheffield_Wednesday.svgOnly Middlesbrough have conceded less goals than the Owls, but only Millwall and Blackpool have scored less. The problem is pretty obvious.

Still, to average comfortably less than a goal a game and not be anywhere near the bottom three is some achievement and testament to a well organised defensive unit.

Worryingly for Wolves, Stuart Gray’s mean machine are far more effective away from Hillsborough and have already wracked up eight wins on the road.

They pinned a lot of hopes on Stevie May being the man to carry the goal scoring burden, but the Scot has only managed 7 league goals so far in his debut season in English football.

Wolves

Kenny Jackett has been talking this week about the need to find the right combinations in the final third, but I think any combination should include Nouha Dicko.

Wolves team Bournemouth

An early goal is needed as Wolves have a frustrating propensity for running out of gas in the second half.

That should mean a recall for Dicko who, like Afobe, can run in behind and move around what will probably be a stubborn defence.

Teams that have come to Molineux and parked up have generally done pretty well, so hopefully Wednesday will show a bit more ambition.

Predictions

Four points from these two home matches is the minimum requirement. This looks the more winnable on paper and we’ve generally done well against the Owls in recent times.

Hopefully Wolves can rely on their attacking talents to lead the charge and make a mockery of the opposition’s defensive record.

It’s probably a tad ambitious, but I’m going for 2-0.

Up The Wolves.

Brighton & Hove Albion 1 Wolves 1

It’s tough to know whether this was a valuable point gained or a missed opportunity.

Afobe Brighton

We’ll only know for definite in May.

Still, with Ipswich spanked and Brentford turned over by Cardiff, Wolves have at least scraped back a tiny bit of ground on the two sides they can realistically hope to surpass.

It looked like ground would be lost after Brighton made the seemingly decisive breakthrough in a scrappy old end-to-end affair.

Rajiv van La Parra’s persistence mixed with a dollop of fortune and some questionable goalkeeping tied things up and solely on the basis of clear chances created, Wolves should probably have won.

Had Benik Afobe been as clinical in front of goal as he has been in recent weeks, which is to say scoring every chance he gets, his team would have been ahead in the first half.

Bakary Sako was then denied at the death as David Stockdale sandwiched the error that gifted Wolves an equaliser with two impressive interventions.

Kenny Jackett said afterwards that he thought Nouha Dicko looked back to his best in a second half cameo. I hope that suggests the punchy forward will be back in the side on Tuesday.

The ‘James Henry as Number 10′ experiment was worth investigation but has proved inconclusive at best. If we’re really ‘going for it’ then Dicko must play.

Similar could be said of Scott Golbourne, another forward thinking player capable of building attacks from the back and channeling the ball to Bakary Sako.

Those thoughts will no doubt be at the forefront of the manager’s mind as Sheffield Wednesday, boasting the second best defensive record in the Championship, arrive at Molineux on Tuesday.

I hope they are anyway. With the clock ticking down we don’t to rue any missed opportunities.

Highlights

Brighton & Hove Albion Vs Wolves Preview

You need only look back to our last game at the Amex Stadium to appreciate just how far Wolves have come under Kenny Jackett.

Brighton Wolves

That dismal afternoon on the south coast, which confirmed relegation to League one, turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it resulted in the kind of top to bottom changes that were very much required.

Just under two years later we’re back at the seaside, reborn and ready to try and gatecrash the top six.

Brighton have long been a bogey side so a decent result against the Seagulls is long, long overdue.

Brighton

1024px-Brighton_&_Hove_Albion_logo.svgYou never got the sense it was going to work for Sami Hyypia, so it was little surprise he was replaced after the 1-1 draw at Molineux back in December.

Getting Chris Hughton was a bit of coup in my opinion and he’s since guided them well away from the bottom three. There’s a nine point buffer with 10 games left so it seems unlikely they’ll have much to worry about in May.

Over the last 10 matches, they’ve actually accumulated just one point less than Wolves, which demonstrates this game will likely be a lot closer than the league table suggests.

The Amex hasn’t been much of a fortress this season. Six wins, six draws and six defeats suggests consistent inconsistency, which is the story of their season.

Considering Brighton have only conceded one less and scored nine fewer than Wolves, it’s amazing that there’s an 18 point difference between the sides. It just shows how narrow the margins are in Championship football.

Wolves

Common sense prevailed and Sako is back in the picture tomorrow. I still firmly believe the number of games he can influence between now and the end of the season will dictate how close we come to the play-offs.

Wolves team Bournemouth

Don’t know why I bother with the above graphic these days as I haven’t the foggiest who Kenny Jackett will select. The only safe bets these days are the goalkeeper, the central defenders, McDonald, Afobe and Sako. Everything else is interchangeable.

I didn’t think the James Henry experiment worked particularly well against Watford. He was largely ineffective playing in behind Afobe. Edwards or Dicko would be a better shout in that position for me.

The gaffer

Predictions

This is one of the more winnable remaining fixtures on paper, but the Championship seldom goes to plan.

Wolves played well in patches against Watford but then spluttered out again towards the end.

Hopefully if they can edge themselves in front, as they did twice last weekend, they can see it through against a team with less firepower.

I’m going for a narrow away win.

1-0

Up The Wolves!