Leeds United Vs Wolves Preview

Generally speaking, Wolves have done enough in all of their matches this season to get a result.

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No team has outplayed them over 90 minutes or demonstrated qualities that our side are lacking. That has to be seen as a major positive.

In fact, collectively, if not numerically, I would suggest this has been a stronger start than last season’s League One campaign.

It took the manager until Christmas to work out his best eleven then and Kenny is mixing ingredients again this time to find the right formula.

Victory over a decent Middlesbrough side on Tuesday without hitting top form must have pleased him immensely.

Leeds

Leeds_United_LogoEverything about the setup at Elland Road would worry me if I were a Leeds supporter. A madcap chairman, a manager with no experience of the English game (let alone the Championship) and a mish-mash group of imports that need time to gel.

I only see disaster and the fact they haven’t won any of the five matches Darko Milanic has been in charge suggests my concerns aren’t without justification.

Still, things change quickly in the Championship and a couple of wins in such a tight league can put a very different slant on things.

A gutsy 1-1 draw against Norwich in the week suggests there’s a decent spirit in their camp and with the phenomenal support they have home and away, they rarely roll over for anyone.

I know little about their current (largely foreign) playing staff, but one familiar name is Billy Sharp who is a proven performer and goal-scorer at this level.

Wolves

Kenny stuck with the back four that I largely condemned against Middlesbrough and it’s tough to argue with a cleansheet and a win. But argue I will:

team for Leeds

Ebanks-Landell did better on Tuesday I thought and he has the raw potential to become a good centre-half. I think there are mistakes in his game though as we saw in a few nervous moments in the first half against Boro.

Tommy Rowe grew into the game and was more effective in the second half, but playing him instead of Scott Golbourne remains baffling. I would love to know Kenny’s reasoning.

Hopefully Sako and Dicko are both fit and available, as we have replacements, but they’re far from like-for-like quality.

The gaffer

Predictions

Well done to everyone who correctly predicted victory in midweek. It was back to winning-ways for most people in the PL table.

As I said prior to Millwall, I really fancy Wolves to cause teams problems away from home.

The passing needs to be better at Elland Road than it was at The Den and assuming it will be, I think we’ll get a result.

Again, defending will be a key issue because I’m certain we’ll score.

2-1 victory.

Up The Wolves!

The kids are alright

A perennial joke between my old man and I would often revolve around the Wolves during the close season, and what activities might be happening behind those big tinted doors down Waterloo Road.

Wolves academy plan

July would follow June. Tick would follow tock and the only stride of any apparent purpose would be made by Sir Billy Wright, high up on his pedestal.

‘They’ve put the ‘closed’ sign up in the window,’ Dad would say. ‘I saw the curtains twitch as they did it,’ he’d chortle, evoking an image of Arkwright and Granville in their dusty corner shop.

We’d be looking in the wrong place these days, as a vibrant hub of activity refuses to stand still a couple of miles down the road.

Wolves’ Compton Academy facilities represent a futuristic nest for youth football, populated by all manner of little buzzing bees whose ability to make honey will be nurtured, not ignored.

Mick McCarthy achieved many things during his time at Molineux, but this multi-million pound facility, featuring space-age dome, jaw dropping technology inside it and vast expanse of 4G pitches might just be his finest legacy – albeit inadvertently.

While Mick wasn’t mentioned by name during my tour of the site during the recent Fans’ Parliament, he may as well have been, as his antiquated philosophies and complete lack of interest in the kids of tomorrow were pretty much laid bare.

The next Mark Davies will not be shunned for yesterday’s Nigel Quashie. Neither will a budding Scott Malone make way for an Eircom Stephen Ward. Not when so much time and effort went into each player’s development in the first place.

Amid such a stunning, vibrant environment, those days are long gone.

Wolves academy

As elite development squad physio Jazz Sodhi told me diplomatically when I asked him about that previous regime:

“Before, we would concentrate on strength and conditioning. Now there’s a bigger onus on functional movement with the kids. I.e. What will they will actually do in a game. We want them to move well and efficiently.”

Academy manager Gareth Prosser offered more evidence that whatever has happened in the past will stay precisely there.

“It is important that our playing philosophy, from Kenny at the top, runs right the way through the club.”

When asked if mobility is the priority, he added: “It is important but there are many things we look for. Are they comfortable on the ball, can they play? Will they get it back quickly? Can they build from the back? Can they counter?”

From the age of under 12s, the boys predominantly play a 4-2-3-1 style in much the same way as the first team and the environment couldn’t be more suitable for their elevation, as and when they’re ready.

Injuries, too, will surely be managed better with risk reduced thanks to all manner of gadgets and gizmos, including some ridiculous special gymnasium flooring which we had to take the club’s word for (it hadn’t been laid when we went)

Lessons appear to have been learned.

As Kenny said in the past seven days or so: “You can get rid of young players too quickly because suddenly they can turn up 18 months or two years down the line and look a completely different player.

“For some young players out there, it’s important for them to see a path through. As Kevin Thelwell would say, they can create their own journey into Wolves’ first team.

“The reason we have this youth policy is we want to produce players of the calibre of Carl Ikeme and Danny Batth.

“That’s what we want to do and is why we’re here.”

As a manager of a little Penn Colts team myself, I can vouch for the academy’s due diligence methods, even at the tender age of seven.

I am blessed to work with a little lad called Harry (amongst others), who continues to amaze me each weekend with his intuitive grasp of so many advanced principles.

He gets it back quickly. He can build from the back. He can counter. He can play!

So when academy coach Dan Bolas invited my team along to play in the very environment I’d been lucky enough to see first-hand the week before, I was desperate to spill the beans beforehand. To tell him about my wonderful number 5 called Harry.

There was no need.

We came, they saw, and they’ve already chosen the lad to conquer for Wolves’ pre-academy team against Brentford this Saturday!

Like the academy facilities themselves and the coaches employed within them, Harry will do us proud.

Wolves 2 Middlesbrough 0

For most fans, a 2-0 victory over the Championship’s form side and a climb up the table to fourth brings about an inner sense of wellbeing and a good night’s sleep – rather than a handful of questions which kept them awake half the night.

Sako boro

I fear I might be in the minority in this case, whilst acknowledging what an encouraging performance the lads deserved great credit for last night.

McDonald gradually asserted his manful presence on proceedings, Ebanks-Landell performed admirably at the back and the Dicko / Sako pivot was a consistent source of menace.

But those questions kept on gnawing at me throughout the game, as I looked at our unquestionably successful manager who is way better placed to ignore them.

Why, for a start, is Tommy Rowe playing out of position as a left back, when we’ve suffered more than enough misery from Stephen Ward doing likewise for years (at the expense of the likes of George Friend funnily enough, who impressed for Middlesbrough last night)?

Rowe struck a chilling resemblance to the Irishman and looked every inch as uncomfortable, as ghosts of right-wing opponents past funneled through my eyeballs, in time for Halloween.

The sight of the tracksuit-clad Yannick Sagbo becomes more and more scary too, after both Dicko and Sako appeared to be in pain when substituted.

What, the Elephant’s Hat, was that signing all about?!

We now face the prospect of one, if not both of our talisman being out for the trip to Leeds, with either Leon Clarke or Sagbo – or even both – filling in.

Also, what became of George Saville, who must invoke similar levels of frustration for Jackett, on the early evidence so far this season?

Has Jack Price not looked far more effective in upping the tempo to the levels we’ve become accustomed to? We did look a wee bit laboured until the penalty was won.

Such questions can wait for the time being, as we eventually overcame ‘Boro with some degree of comfort come the final whistle.

The away team certainly had their moments, not least in the minutes after we scored the opener from a cheeky Sako dink after Dicko was upended in the box.

We did look brittle at the back, which is understandable after our collapse at The Den, but we grew into the game in the second half and looked way more compact when defending as a team, which is exactly what Jackett requested.

When Dicko scored a sublime solo second from a fine McDonald pass, it felt like that elusive winning feeling was finally being embraced. Maybe Hurricane Gonzalo blew away some cobwebs.

McDonald kissed the woodwork with a wonderful long range effort, while Dave Edwards missed the biggest headed sitter I can remember from all of three yards after a fine James Henry cross.

From here, we move on to Elland Road, just three points off the top of the table.

If I’m struggling to get to sleep later tonight, I shall bear this fact in mind!

The gaffer

Wolves Vs Middlesbrough Preview

It says everything you need to know about the Championship that Wolves are four games without a win but only three points outside the top two.

Boro

Watford and Derby are the latest duo to attempt a break from the pack, but the opportunity exists for any team who can put together a run of victories.

Middlesbrough are upwardly mobile, unbeaten in seven league matches and looking strong again after several seasons of mediocrity.

I always used to look at this fixture as a home banker (and it often has been in recent times) but their away form this season suggests a tougher challenge.

Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough_crest_oldAny manager that worked under Jose Mourinho for three years at Real Madrid must have learned a thing or two. In that sense Aitor Karanka always looked a shrewd appointment.

Some cash has also been splashed at the Riverside, chiefly on forward Kike who cost close to £3 million. With the likes of Lee Tomlin, Albert Adomah and Patrick Bamford knocking around too, they have good options in the attacking third.

However, it’s defensively where they’ve excelled so far, conceding just nine goals to boast the Championship’s best defensive record.

Kenny Jackett believes they’ll sit off Wolves tonight and look to break quickly. It will be interesting to see if that proves the case.

Wolves

In the same interview (video below) the gaffer suggests he made changes to Saturday’s defence to combat a perceived physical threat from Millwall. Personally, I hope he reverts to type for this one:

Wolves team for Boro

Stearman and Golbourne are the best players we have for their respective positions so must play. I was glad to see Ebanks-Landell given a chance in the center of defence, which is where I think his future lies, but Stearman brings much needed experience. I don’t need to make any argument for Golbourne.

Further forward, I would like to see Michael Jacobs given a start. Perhaps Dave Edwards engine could be deployed deeper to help out our struggling defence? Just an idea.

The gaffer

Predictions

Hard to believe nobody said 3-3 for a second consecutive away game isn’t it? Well done to everyone who picked up a point for correctly guessing the draw though.

Tonight will be about defences.

Can Wolves firm up again and rediscover the shape that has been so effective over the last 12 months? Equally, can Boro keep up their outstanding record?

I’m going to back us to just edge it.

2-1.

Up The Wolves

Millwall 3 Wolves 3

It’s difficult to know what’s more frustrating.

Batth Millwall

Hardly scoring but rarely conceding or watching the net bulge regularly at both ends of the pitch?

The former scenario certainly delivered a greater points return so Kenny Jackett might reevaluate priorities ahead of Middlesbrough’s visit on Tuesday night.

Wolves had this contest won without exiting first gear but swiftly entered reverse to allow Millwall back in.

Truth be told, the visitors barely merited the three goal lead they muddled into after a trio of set pieces were dispatched amongst questionable defending from the home side.

Danny Batth deserves plaudits for a smart hooked finish to open the scoring and with Bakary Sako and James Henry on the pitch, Wolves will always hurt opposition with good delivery, as proven by goals two and three.

However, individual and collective mistakes littered the defensive performance throughout, despite wholesale changes in personnel.

Questions were asked of Richard Stearman so it was no shock to see Ethan Ebanks-Landell handed a start alongside Danny Batth. But dropping Scott Golbourne for the supposedly versatile Tommy Rowe was a strange and unnecessary move.

Rowe hasn’t dazzled in any of the positions he’s occupied thus far and yesterday was his weakest showing yet. Far too many passes went astray and positionally the former Posh man struggled to cope when Millwall threw the kitchen sink.

He wasn’t the root of the problem though. Basic organisation and understanding along the line were obvious failings, which is always a risk when half of a settled back four is wiped out.

A strong showing from the skipper would have helped, but apart from his goal, Batth was unconvincing. It was far too easy for their forward to get the wrong side of the big defender for Millwall’s first goal, which ignited the fightback.

Further forward, the midfielders didn’t keep the ball anywhere near well enough. At three goals to the good, nobody, including the ever-reliable Kevin McDonald, managed to calm things down and slow the opposition’s tempo.

Rather than getting compact and seeing out the game, Wolves were content to go blow-for-blow, which played into the hands of a typical hell for leather Ian Holloway approach.

Ricardo Fuller profited with two classy finishes and after Lee Evans late surge towards goal was abruptly halted with a cynical lunge, two points had vanished in a puff of smoke.

Sloppy, avoidable but more than anything, frustrating.

Highlights

Millwall Vs Wolves Preview

The last international break interrupted a flying start to the season.

Holloway

This time, Wolves were more thankful for a breather.

Eight goals conceded and just two points accumulated from three bruising Championship encounters certainly wasn’t the return anyone hoped for.

Questionable defending and niggling injuries to key personnel is something we’ve not encountered under Kenny Jackett, so I’m sure the boss was appreciative of the respite to aid recovery and iron out glitches in the system.

That said, I thought we did more than enough to beat Wigan last time out, which would have put a much different slant on both our perceptions of the team and the table itself.

Millwall

Millwall_FC_logoTen points from their first four matches suggested Millwall could be this season’s surprise package under Ian Holloway. But consistency has since eluded them and the Lions haven’t won since August.

They have shutout both Derby and Forest to claim well earned points, but got turned over by Birmingham and Huddersfield in-between. Like most teams in this league then, they’re tough to quantify.

Some familiar names litter their squad, like journeyman striker Ricardo Fuller, heavyweight defender Danny Shittu and Wolves academy graduate Scott Malone.

It will be a feisty game at The Den, as they always are and the extra spice of Kenny Jackett returning to his former club is sure to give the contest an added edge.

Wolves

Bakary Sako has been clocking up the air miles playing for Mali so there’s every chance he won’t start this one. If not, someone has to step up to fill a considerable void.

Wolves team for Millwall

Michael Jacobs has barely had a kick this season, which is baffling when you consider the impact he made last term.

Kenny Jackett made a comment about the need to be physically strong in the Championship when referring to Jack Price and I wonder if Jacobs is being similarly singled out because of his slight stature?

Either way, if Sako doesn’t make it back, that would be my preferred XI with Lee Evans dropping back in at the expense of Tommy Rowe.

Predictions

As is the case with most draws, not many people picked up points after the Wigan game, but well done to the handful who did profit.

I’m going for an overdue away victory this time.

The Wolves setup should be well suited to getting results on the road and against a struggling Millwall side, this is a good opportunity to do just that.

2-1

Up The Wolves