Wolves 1 Aston Villa 0

Graham Taylor’s only full season in charge at Wolves was also my first as a season ticket holder.

I look back on that 94/95 campaign with great fondness, despite the fact it ended with crushing disappointment.

We won 15 of our 23 homes games that year and were only beaten on three occasions. Molineux was a fortress.

This victory under the same floodlights was eerily reminiscent of those happy times and as such it felt like a fitting tribute to the great man.

Villa fans might disagree of course but I thought their team contributed to what was a fast paced and open game of football.

Wolves were good value for the win, always looking the more incisive with their attacking play and always the more capable of creating chances.

The visitors enjoyed more of the ball but didn’t manage anything like a meaningful effort on target all evening.

Once Ross McCormack sent a header sailing over Carl Ikeme’s crossbar following a superb run from Jordan Amavi, Steve Bruce’s men failed to threaten.

They were already a goal down at that point after Joe Mason profited from Nouha Dicko’s forceful run and cross, which was just reward for a good spell of intricate football.

I suppose the only frustrating aspect from Paul Lambert’s perspective was that his team didn’t then go on to kill the game off with the opposition there for the taking.

Instead Villa got a foothold and started to exert a measure of control, but without the powerful Kodija or the tricky Ayew – both away on African Cup of Nations duty – they lacked the pace or guile to break through.

Even the introduction of Jack Grealish (a somewhat surprising omission from the starting lineup) couldn’t alter the pattern of play as Wolves coped with a degree of comfort.

Helder Costa was once again instrumental and opened up the their defence several times in another impressive outing.

Had Nouha Dicko had the presence of mind to offer a return pass when racing clear in the second half, the Portuguese winger would have had the tap in he so richly deserved.

Richard Stearman also enjoyed his finest performance in a long while with the specters of Mike Williamson and Kortney Hause no doubt at the forefront of his mind.

His aggression, desire and hunger to be first to every ball was characteristic of the whole team, which is testament to the job Paul Lambert is doing.

He said afterwards it was the hardest decision of his career leaving out Williamson, Lee Evans and a few other of the heroes from last weekend’s cup victory at Stoke.

I’m sure this precious triumph over his former club (played down unconvincingly in his post match summary) felt like more than adequate compensation.

Wolves Vs Aston Villa Preview

You know Paul Lambert had this one circled on his calendar from the get go.

Even though top to bottom it’s a completely different club top to the one he left in 2015, no victory would taste sweeter.

Much of that owes to the sheer level of vitriol aimed in his direction by some Villa supporters over his contribution to their downfall.

Personally, I don’t get it.

As Villa supporter Patrick Scahill said on the Birmingham Mail site: ‘He was given 50m in three seasons in charge and kept us up every time together with reducing the wage bill by in excess of 50%. When you compare that to 50m in the Championship and struggling, it’s mad really.’

That’s kind of where I land. I always felt he was making a decent fist of a bad situation at Villa Park. If performances deteriorated it was because they were always asking him to pull an even bigger rabbit out of the hat.

There’s definitely an argument that Tim Sherwood came in and got a better response out of the same group of players, but their pitiful relegation season proved that the problems lay much higher up the food chain.

Villa

It’s no surprise to anyone that they’ve picked up under Steve Bruce. I always felt with the players they have that improvement was inevitable, regardless of who was in charge.

But Bruce is as proven as they come in the second tier and if it’s not this season (due to that horrible start), it’s difficult to foresee them not having a real go next time.

That said, recent form hasn’t been particularly good. They lost to Cardiff last time out in the league and showed very little adventure against Tottenham’s reserves in the cup.

This derby probably arrives at a decent time in that respect as it could shake them back into action.

I’m a bit surprised Rudy Gestede was allowed to leave. He’s an effective player at this level. Goalkeeper Sam Johnstone looks a good signing. They haven’t had a decent keeper for some time so he’ll be a welcome addition.

Henri Lansbury is also strongly tipped to be making the trip across the Midlands from Forest as Bruce looks to shape a squad that can progress up the table.

Wolves

There are endless options available to Paul Lambert after a second string eliminated Stoke from the FA Cup with a fair bit to spare.

Personally, I would continue with Williamson, Hause and Iorfa at the back. I’d be very surprised not to see the former in the starting line up, regardless of whose picked either side.

If Cavaleiro is fit enough to start, he’d still be my preferred option down the left particularly at home where the emphasis is on us to get at them.

Bodvarsson is looking back to his best and that makes him an automatic starter. I’d probably play Bright slightly deeper to help us dominate the ball, but Mason is another contender.

Paul Lambert

Predictions

Hopefully this will play out like the reverse fixture earlier in the season, with a fairly even first half followed by Wolves dominating the second.

We should have won that game on the balance of play, but I strongly doubt we’ll have it as much our way this time.

Still, I’ll be bold and back us to get another morale boosting victory.

2-1

Up The Wolves!

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Stoke City 0 Wolves 2

It’s difficult to envisage how this might have gone better.

Our star players came to the fore, those who’ve under performed stepped up their game and the few others returning from injury looked like they’d never been away.

There was even a debut for 16 year old Morgan Gibbs-White, hot on the heels of fellow academy graduates Harry Burgoyne and Connor Ronan.

Looking at yesterday’s teamsheet and the subsequent performance against a Premier League side’s best eleven, Paul Lambert now has some serious food for thought.

There were three changes to the back four and all were excellent, in particular the two center backs who kicked and headed everything.

Mike Williamson was straight into the groove, doing the basics well and most importantly instructing his youthful counterparts. Hause in particular benefited from his clear direction.

It’s tough on either Stearman or Batth (or possibly both) after the gutsy cleansheet at Hillsborough last weekend, but I think Williamson must remain in the side.

And if his steady reassurance is enough to coax the best out of Hause and Iorfa then both of those players must also be in contention.

Matt Doherty remains the only nailed on starter across the back line and possibly delivered his greatest performance in a Wolves shirt at the Britannia.

Rock solid defensively against the dangerous Shaqiri and typically dynamic going forward, it’s hard to believe the Premier League aren’t taking notice.

Some were surprised to see him standing over the free-kick that would eventually end up planted in the top corner, but he’s struck from distance repeatedly in recent weeks.

That’s now four for the season and it could easily have been double figures given the unlikely positions he routinely occupies in and around the penalty area.

Helder Costa is close to double figures and his eighth of the season was as impressive as any of the other seven, shifting inside and walloping a rasping drive through Lee Grant to give Wolves a deserved first half lead.

With the midfield anchored superbly by the unlikely duo of Lee Evans and George Saville, Costa, Bright Enobakahare and to a lesser extent Joe Mason were all free to roam.

Jon Dadi Bodvarsson lead the line superbly, carrying on where he left off at Sheffield Wednesday and so nearly finding the net himself. On this form, he must be the preferred choice.

Nouha Dicko was similarly unfortunate not to register after coming on, twice coming within inches of finally getting off the mark and adding further gloss to an already lustrous scoreline.

Remarkable really, when you consider Coady, Batth, Stearman, Edwards, Price, Cavaleiro, Ronan and Dicko either didn’t start or didn’t feature at all.

That’s 8 players who’ve significantly contributed to our recent upturn in form all rested while their so-called deputies turned in the most cohesive team performance of the season.

But when they had to rely on their goalkeeper in the second half, boy did he deliver. Carl Ikeme has been back to his best in recent weeks and like Doherty, he can probably count this among his very best in a long Wolves career.

If you’re going to cause an upset in the FA Cup, you need your goalkeeper to go above and beyond and some of the saves were simply out of this world.

What an afternoon. Enjoy it, savour it and most importantly look forward to the fourth round draw for the first time since 2011.

Games like this make it feel like anything is possible and that’s the magic of this great old competition.

Long may it continue.

Stoke City Vs Wolves Preview

I was unequivocal when speaking to Paul Lambert about this – Wolves needs a cup run.

This message will be repeated ad nauseum until we finally make it into the latter stages of one of the competitions, preferably this one.

The draw hasn’t been particularly kind but progression is possible if the stars align. Some of these factors we can’t control, but I just want to see the manager doing everything within his power to help us progress.

That means picking a decent team and giving us a real chance of upsetting a solid Premier League outfit. The army of supporters heading up the M6 deserve nothing less.

Stoke

Speaking of solid, Mark Hughes was a good horse to back after parting ways with Tony Pulis. I was impressed by the teams he built at Blackburn and Fulham. There was a blip at QPR but he’s returned to form at the Britannia.

The Potters are once again safely ensconced in midtable after a slow start and seem like a much different beast to the Pulis-era team that established them as a top flight club.

They’ve still got a bit of muscle, but there’s been a significant upgrade in technical proficiency in recent years with the likes of Arnautovic, Shaqiri and Bojan underlining the shift in philosophy.

I think Stoke would be stupid not to go all out to win this match and progress in the competition (what do they have to lose?) so would be surprised if a strong team wasn’t fielded.

Unlike us, they’ve tasted Wembley in the not-too-distant past, making it to the final (after beating Wolves along the way) in 2011, eventually losing out to Manchester City.

Wolves

Despite my protestations, Lambert has made noises about a few changes, but I hope that means one or two, rather than five or six. We have to retain some sort of continuity.

Perhaps giving Iorfa and Hause another crack at the first team after a few weeks out of the firing line might not be a bad move?

But even that seems unnecessary with Stearman and Coady both contributing to a couple of cleansheets on the road in recent times against Forest and Sheffield Wednesday.

Mike Williamson could be given a first team return after over a year out too if defensive changes are the order of the day.

Further forward, there are endless options, particularly with Ronan and Enobakhare both well on their way towards being in regular contention.

I have no idea what sort of team we’ll see, but I suppose like Lambert suggests in the video below, nobody will complain as long as we make a decent fist of things.

Paul Lambert

Predictions

Logic dictates we’ll lose and I’d probably have to go with that assessment. They’re a midtable Premier League team and we’re not quite a midtable Championship side, so the gap is significant.

I would see it as a considerable upset if we were to progress, particularly away, but we have the attacking players to inflict damage if they’re allowed to play.

And hopefully the likes of Costa, Cavaleiro and co will relish the big occasion. But overall, I think we’ll get edged out.

3-1.

Up The Wolves!

Sheffield Wednesday 0 Wolves 0

I suppose this result was predictable given the way I’ve lambasted our defence in recent weeks.

But hats off to Batth, Stearman and co for a much needed cleansheet to help secure a very useful point against a solid Wednesday otufit.

Carl Ikeme also deserves a pat on the back for one particularly fine stop to keep the scores level. His contribution has been questioned lately but I think he’s a reliable number one for second tier football.

The only downside to the afternoon is that we couldn’t put the ball in the net at the other end.

Two strong penalty shouts were turned down, the woodwork took several rattles and continued wastefulness from our forwards meant the winning moment failed to materialise.

But again, how the team approached the game and their general play was positive. Paul Lambert said he wants to get on the front foot and his selections in recent times mirror that comment.

Even by taking out Dicko, Caveleiro and Enobokhare today the team was able to retain fluidity with Bodvarsson, Mason and young Connor Ronan equally proficient in possession.

Ronan in particular caught the eye in his first Championship start and was universally praised afterwards. Lambert said it was the best debut he’d seen and his trust in the teenager suggests there are more opportunities to come.

The same can probably be said of Joe Mason. He squandered the golden chance today, scooping over the bar when it seemed almost impossible to miss. He has a wonderful knack of getting into great positions but then wasting the chances that fall his way.

Nearly a year into his Wolves career and I still don’t quite know what to make of the busy forward, but he’ll need to re-discover his shooting boots if he wants to survive beyond May.

By my reckoning it’s now four and a half months since a center forward scored a goal for Wolves. Astonishing.

Perhaps they’ll have better luck in the FA Cup? I hope so because a decent run is long, long overdue.

I suspect this league campaign will ultimately end in mediocrity so I hope we can keep the dream of Wembley alive for at least a few weeks longer.

Sheffield Wednesday Vs Wolves Preview

I felt really low after the defeat to Wednesday back in November.

They beat us without exiting second gear in Paul Lambert’s first home game in charge with the new head coach fielding a horrible, scraggy, lop-sided team that offered very little resistance.

Thankfully, the team selections, performances and results have all picked up since then and I’m in more confident mood heading to Hillsborough than I thought I might have been a month ago.

That said, the defeat to QPR was a setback and the Owls are looking as strong as anyone else in the division at present, so this is going to be a tough introduction to 2017.

Sheffield Wednesday

Carlos Carvahal’s men have won three of their last four matches and only conceded a single goal during that period. They’re nicely poised in 6th place ready to attack the second half of the campaign.

Callum McManaman has already been added to their squad having arrvied on loan from West Brom prior to start of the transfer window. He’s eligible for his debut tomorrow and will likely feature.

Striker Fernando Forestieri – who has often been a major thorn in our side – missed the Preston game but could feature in this one.

With 8 victories from their 11 home matches you can certainly call their famous old ground a fortress. It’s inconsistent away form that’s curtailed their aspirations for top two contention. That looks a big ask.

Wolves

Paul Lambert said there would be changes, even before we lost to QPR so I expect to see a couple of adjustments to the team.

The obvious place to start is with the front two and I fully expect to see both Bodvarsson and Mason get a start with Dicko and Enobokhare dropping out.

After the last two defensive outings there’s an argument to say one of Stearman or Batth should pay the price, possibly with Iorfa or Hause coming in at center back.

Lambert is keeping his cards close to his chest as far as Mike Williamson goes, but I think his name will be on the teamsheet sooner rather than later.

Predictions

Got to be a defeat I’m afraid.

They’re not prolific goalscorers by any stretch of the imagination but I think their consistency will be enough to get them over the line. We still have far too many mistakes in the team to compete with the better sides.

I hope to be proven wrong. If we can get our attacking talents into the game, I’m sure we’ll cause them more problems than we managed at Molineux, but will probably still get edged out.

2-1.

Up The Wolves!