AFC Bournemouth 2 Wolves 1

While so much talk has focused on Wolves’ attacking capabilities of late – and rightly so – there remains one glaring fallibility within this team with a much deadlier consequence…

Bournemouth

…Our lack of mental strength.

Sure, the inevitable post-game platitudes will reference half-time coming too soon at Dean Court or the referee making an error, but the stark fact remains that in yet another game where we conceded the opening goal, we’ve lost.

Couple that with Kenny Jackett making the exasperating claim that we were ‘timid’ (despite winning four of our last five games) and you can only draw the conclusion that this team lacks the requisite inner resolve to be serious play-off candidates, no matter what protestations might be given.

Of the 12 games where we’ve conceded first, we’ve taken a meagre six points. That’s six points from a possible 36,  featuring one win (Leeds) three draws (Charlton, Brighton and Reading) and eight defeats (AFC Bournemouth, Rotherham, Ipswich, Norwich, Derby, Notts Forest, Brentford, Reading).

To say this is simply not good enough would be as unfair as it would be misleading when we’ve won 16 games and progressed so much, but to suggest we are serious play-off challengers on the back of these stats could never add up to making sense.

Not least when our manager suggests we were somehow fearful against our no-win-in-five-opponents when we should have been positively bullheaded! There was history between the sides too, after referee Mike Jones inflicted such misery on us all at Molineux.

What we were bashful about I have absolutely no idea, but it smacks of mental fragility.

When we secured promotion in 2003, Messrs Butler, Rae, Blake, Ince, Kennedy would saunter out of the tunnel as if success was their absolute right – despite finishing fifth and being largely responsible for the most painful heartbreak of all in 2002.

Even under the more headmasterly dictatorship of McCarthy, we still had just enough swagger in the likes of Karl Henry, Iwelumo and Ebanks-Blake to believe we were serious about what we were doing.

Yet amongst this lovably grounded 2014/15 group, there is a sense of the deferential with only Stearman’s booming voice audible amongst a pretty deprecating bunch.

After the double-dip relegation and the imposters that blackened the gold shirt, this is in many ways to be applauded. Kenny Jackett’s youth of today could never be as vociferous as Dave Jones’ raucous lot, after all.

But if we could only puff our chests out a little bit and actually believe in our own considerable ability, then we wouldn’t ‘sneak’ into the play-offs apologetically like unsuspecting Lotto winners, but we’d kick the bloody doors down like we mean business…

…Starting on Saturday against Watford at 3pm.

The gaffer

AFC Bournemouth Vs Wolves Preview

Despite the sense of injustice, I was impressed with Bournemouth when they came to Molineux in December.

Wilson

After Wolves went down to 10 they moved the ball superbly and played with a tempo and urgency we simply couldn’t cope with.

That said, prior to Rajiv van La Parra’s dismissal they were far less threatening in a competitive game that the home side were edging.

Confidence was fragile back then of course, but this time Wolves aren’t going into the game on a run of four straight defeats. They’re looking for a fourth straight victory.

Bournemouth

AFC_Bournemouth.svgThe Cherries could do with a victory. They haven’t had any wins in their last five matches, which has seen them drop out of the top two and to within touching distance of the play-off chasers.

In fact, a Wolves win would put them level on points with Bournemouth, which is incredible when you consider where two clubs were at the turn of the year.

There’s no doubting they get the ball down and pass as efficiently as anyone in the league. In the recent defeat at Notts Forest, they enjoyed an astonishing 75% possession.

The consensus seems to be that they’re not playing badly despite the poor run of results, but perhaps aren’t being as cool in the final third.

With eight wins, six draws and three defeats, their home form isn’t as formidable as one might expect. They’ve generally looked more menacing away from Dean Court.

Wolves

When you’ve got pace, you’ve always got a chance and Wolves have it in abundance at present.

Wolves team Bournemouth

Your guess is as good as mine in terms of Kenny Jackett’s team selection. There seem to be four or five positions that are interchangeable between a handful of players.

That’s not a bad thing either, as it means he can freshen things up without dramatically changing the dynamic.

It’s a squad game and I do think it’s a positive that the manager adapts the team to combat the opposition. It shows strength of character too because it leaves him open for criticism in defeat.

The gaffer

Predictions

I’ve predicted wins most of the season because I genuinely have a great deal of confidence in the manager and players.

That’s not going to change despite the fact we’ve now got two tough back-to-back fixtures. Four points from Bournemouth and Watford would be a very good return.

Winning tonight would make a big splash and you know what? I think we’re going to do it.

Sticking with my go-to prediction – 3-1

Up The Wolves.

Cardiff City 0 Wolves 1

Alex Ferguson always used to say the season only really starts after Christmas.

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 17.19.04

Pleasingly for Wolves then, they’re coming on strong down the home stretch.

A third straight cleansheet in three matches and a fourth Bakary Sako goal were enough to see off an average Cardiff side for a third straight league victory.

That’s 20 points from 10 matches, a feat only Watford and the turbo-charged Norwich City can better in the same period.

It’s all coming together nicely for Kenny Jackett then as he prepares to take his team into back-to-back contests against two of the seven sides above Wolves in the table.

The game at Bournemouth on Tuesday could prove season defining with the opportunity there to draw level on points with a team who were not so long ago setting the pace.

That’s how close it is.

Every team inside the top 8 are good, but none of them are that good. All have a chance but all are vulnerable.

Wolves were certainly vulnerable yesterday as Cardiff began throwing high balls into the area for Kenywe Jones to attack.

But in Danny Batth and particularly Richard Stearman the defence has the stature and the character to stand up strong.

The Football League Show trotted out a decent stat last night, pointing out Wolves have kept 40 cleansheets in 80 matches since Kenny Jackett took over.

That kind of defensive stability has been crucial, creating the platform for the likes of Bakary Sako, Nouha Dicko and more recently Benik Afobe to open the doors.

And open them they are of late, with pleasing regularity.

Parallels with last season are coming to the surface.

Questionable up to Christmas, new striker recruited to freshen up the attack, suddenly the goals and the points start rolling in.

Keeping the same momentum all the way to finish line will be a tougher act to follow.

But on current form, nothing can be ruled out.

Highlights

Cardiff City Vs Wolves Preview

As good as the last two victories have been, results elsewhere have been dispiriting.

Cardiff Wolves

Six of the seven teams above us (Bournemouth being the exception) also won on Tuesday meaning the gap between Wolves and the play-off places remains five points.

That’s a considerable chunk particularly when you factor in our feeble goal difference, meaning we’ll likely have to stack another point on top to force our way into the promised land north of the dotted line.

The remaining fixtures also look tough on paper, so some big performances between now and May are needed if we’re to have any chance at all.

Cardiff

Cardiff_City_Crest.svgA visit to the Welsh capital doesn’t look as daunting now as it might have done back in August. The Bluebirds are down in midtable and practically guaranteed to be playing in the Championship again next season.

Russell Slade, who we’re all well familiar with from last term, is now in charge but his arrival from Leyton Orient hasn’t sparked the play-off push they’d probably hoped for.

In fact, victory at Wigan in midweek was their first in eight matches, which explains why their season looks to have petered out before the end of February.

Still, their home form has been more than respectable with eight wins, three draws and five defeats. It’s away from the Cardiff City Stadium where they’ve largely suffered, with just two victories all season.

With the likes of Kenywe Jones and Peter Whittingham knocking around, if they’re up for the game it promises to be a tough afternoon.

They also paid decent money for Chesterfield striker Eoin Doyle who has scored shedloads in the lower divisions. He’ll be one to watch out for this weekend.

Wolves

The last two matches have gone the way most of our home games went in League One with the other team pressing for long periods but Wolves holding firm (or riding their luck) and being ruthless at the other end.

Wolves team for Cardiff

Nothing wrong with that of course. I think an open game suits us because we have the attacking players to exploit the space.

Kenny Jackett has already said a couple of times that we need to go all out for victories and I think he’s absolutely right. I expect to see attacking team selections from now until May.

He tried something different in the week, playing Jack Price tucked in on the right. That was an interesting tactic and Price’s steady assurance on the ball helped feed possession to our dangerous forward line.

It will be interesting to see if he deploys that same eleven in Wales or changes it up again.

The gaffer

Predictions

The fixtures for the other promotion chasers look tougher this weekend so Wolves have to try and capitalise.

I don’t think the team is short of quality, but they need to show the desire to fight and scrap away from Molineux. To be fair, aside from the surrender at Carrow Road, they’ve generally done that well of late.

I think we’ll concede but I also fancy us to score a couple.

The trusty old prediction – 3-1

Up The Wolves!

Wolves 3 Fulham 0

If you were smart with your recruitment policy, you might be able to replace the goals and assists of Bakary Sako.

Sako Fulham

The quality, the personality and the sheer excitement he brings to the table are a different matter altogether.

Priceless would be my description of the Mali winger after a virtuoso display that saw Fulham smashed to dust inside 45 pulsating Molineux minutes.

His first trick? To whip an inch perfect corner onto the head of Danny Batth for the big defender to nod home at the near post.

Then, after 20 minutes of almost constant Fulham pressure he orchestrated an incisive passing move before unleashing a missile to double the lead.

Finally he received the ball inside left before galloping over two challenges and finding the only conceivable way through the goalkeeper that didn’t defy the laws of physics.

Thank you and goodnight.

Kit Symons bemoaned his team’s luck after the game, stating he thought they were (by far) the better side.

Sorry to disagree old sport, but the reality is that while your team enjoyed the greater share of possession, the difference came in the final third.

As Wolves have learned many times already this season, incisive pass and move football counts for nothing if it doesn’t result in a telling final act.

And the only clear chance Fulham created all evening was squandered by their £10 million man.

If Ross McCormack can command such a fee, the mind boggles at the bounty Wolves could put on the head of a contractually bound Bakary Sako.

As it is, he’ll leave for nothing more than a thank you in the summer if Wolves aren’t promoted to the Premier League.

A few more displays like this and that particular problem may resolve itself come May.

Highlights

Wolves Vs Fulham Preview

It was a drag to go out of the FA Cup to Fulham a few weeks back.

Wolves Fulham

Not least because Wolves looked like they had the tie won at 3-2 and the penalty that saved their bacon seemed dubious at best.

The Wembley dream swiftly ended for Fulham courtesy of defeat to Sunderland in the fourth round.

We can still make it there via the play-offs and Saturday suggested a late run isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.

Fulham

Fulham_FC_LogoKit Symons needs a win for very different reasons. The Londoners haven’t tasted victory in five matches and are slipping back towards relegation strife.

They certainly shouldn’t go down given the personnel they have on their books, but a lot of people said the same about Wolves two years ago and we know how that ended.

Parker, McCormack and Rodallega all have pedigree but it’s the players that slot in around these experienced heads that’s likely the root cause of the problem.

They paid silly money for McCormack but he’s into double figures for the season, as is Rodallega. Fulham have actually scored one more goal than Wolves in the league. But they’ve also conceded 15 more.

Their away form is terrible. Only Bolton (11) have lost more than the Cottagers (10) on the road. And only Blackpool (36) have conceded more goals than their 35.

Wolves

I can only see Kenny Jackett naming the same side that saw off Rotherham on Saturday, which means the following XI:

Wolves team for Fulham

Afobe and Dicko were both withdrawn after the third goal went in, presumably being rested ahead of this game.

If Kenny wanted to freshen things up he might consider bringing in van La Parra, Evans or one of the full backs, but it doesn’t seem likely.

I think the weekend really underlined the importance of the first goal at Molineux. Wolves have a habit of running out of ideas and allowing the opposition in, but when they get ahead it opens the game up.

Afobe and Dicko have all the raw potential to be the best forward partnership we’ve had in many a year. Getting the ball up to them in space almost guarantees chances and goals.

The (assistant) gaffer

Predictions

I had a conversation with Mike (aka Twixfix) yesterday who has kindly been keeping a backup table for the Prediction League in a spreadsheet, while we complete the first season using the automated system.

Our tables are starting to diverge a little as we enter the home straight and the principal reason is that some people are using two different emails addresses to comment.

To be clear guys (and gals) if you don’t use a consistent email address to enter your predictions, you will end up with two separate scores in the table. Anyone who thinks they might have accidentally done this, give me a shout on email and I’ll merge your scores together.

As for tonight, the statistics suggest Wolves should win and I’m going to back us to do so. Fulham are dangerous going forward but like Rotherham, I’m not sure they’re tight enough defensively to keep us out.

3-1

Up The Wolves.

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