Wolves Vs Birmingham City Preview

I’m trying to decide whether it’s a good thing that Wolves are Birmingham’s After Eight (yes, I’m climbing on that bandwagon).

Rowett

Coming into a derby on the back of such a crushing, demoralising, regime-ending humiliation could be just the tonic Blues need to raise their weather-worn spirits.

On the other hand, if Wolves can smother them from the start, memories of last weekend’s drubbing will soon weigh heavy on their shoulders.

Throw into the mixer a manager taking charge of his first game, the return of David Davis, the presence of Paul Robinson and the chance for Wolves to go (temporarily at least) to the summit of the Championship table and you’ve got yourself a tasty little local dust up.

Let’s get it on.

Birmingham

356px-Birmingham_City_FC_logo.svgYou know why they call it a hot seat don’t you?

Jose Riga ended last season at Charlton, but rocked up at Blackpool in preseason where things went tits up and he was eventually given the flick. Meanwhile Blues got tonked by Bournemouth so Lee Clark was booted and Gary Rowett was plucked from Burton to take over, while Clark took the vacant post at Blackpool before he’d even had the chance to sign-on. Phew.

I’d say Blackpool and Birmingham are in equally shambolic states off the field so it will be interesting to see if either club benefit from the changes on it.

Gary Rowett inherits a mish-mash of a squad made up of loan signings, youngsters and the handful of senior players Lee Clark was able to bring in over the summer.

Clayton Donaldson was one of those players and someone I’d hoped Wolves might make a move on after being impressed with what I saw last season. He’s their 3 goal top scorer.

Wolves

Winning without Sako at Elland Road should fill the squad with self belief, but the irrepressible winger must start if fit. He is consistently the difference maker and brimming with confidence.

team for Leeds

The above would be my team. I still can’t make peace with Rowe at left-back and I feel Golbourne brings out the best in Sako. There’s not quite as much cut and thrust when he’s not bombing down on the overlap.

Henry, Clarke and possibly even Jacobs could all be in contention too and with so many options at Kenny’s disposal it’s a challenge to second guess his selections.

Rumours of an injury to Nouha Dicko are doing the rounds, flamed by Liam McAlinden’s recall from his loan spell at Fleetwood. Interestingly, Kenny’s pre-match video (below) omitted the usual question about having a fully fit squad to choose from, so maybe there’s something in that? We’ll be weaker without Dicko if that proves correct.

The gaffer

Predictions

Well done to all who correctly predicted a win at Leeds.

Like most of you probably, I have concerns that Blues will up their levels considerably after last weekend’s meltdown and combined with the lift of a derby fixture and the influence of a new manager we might have a game on our hands.

But logically, there can only be one winner and if Wolves play anywhere near their best, it will be more than enough.

4-1

Up The Wolves!

Leeds United 1 Wolves 2

Kenny Jackett’s half time team talk must have been like true love’s first kiss to the frog that was the first forty five.

Clarke wolves

Outmuscled and outmanoeuvred, Wolves played the pantomime fool in the opening exchanges.

The main villain of the piece was Tommy Rowe, who spent most of the match being skinned up and down the pitch by Leeds impressive number 19. I have to agree with Ben’s assessment after the Middlesbrough game and can only assume that Sam Ricketts’ leg has fallen off if Rowe is considered the more viable option.

In being caught out of position and dawdling, he allowed Morison an easy cross to give Leeds their goal, despite the hint of offside. He can also thank wasteful finishing that similar errors weren’t punished.

But whilst Rowe was giving Leeds free reign of the flank, the absence of the Championship’s best in Sako meant that Wolves were having equally little success at the other end, reduced to speculative long-rangers.

Without our talismanic Malian and the curiously absent Van La Parra to stretch the flanks (Jacobs best efforts notwithstanding), our midfield was comprised of too many centre-midfielders and seemed to amalgamate into a big, faceless blob of ineffectiveness. The crisp and accurate passing we expect was still there, but struggled to influence the game sufficiently.

However, Old Kenny waved the wand and Wolves came out swinging in the second half.

Hooking Dave Edwards for Clarke was met by groans from the crowd but provided a surprisingly effective outlet, and suddenly the midfield began to assert themselves.

Jacobs gut-busting runs down the left flank suddenly had pace and purpose, whilst the long awaited introduction of La Parra made all the difference on the opposite flank, stretching the Leeds defenders across the width of the pitch.

Well timed crosses, through balls and the short pass and move game began to open up opportunities. Two well worked goals for Clarke and Henry, both off whom kept cool heads under pressure, were the eventual difference in the match.

Leeds 1 Wolves 2

I find out as writing this that the Leeds manager has been sacked. Harsh I feel, as they were the better side for much of the game. Wolves were lucky to escape with all three points and Leeds will be feeling hard done by.

At this stage of the season, Jackett still looks a little lost with his first team selection and having a few names back from injury will go a long way to making later victories more comfortable.

Leeds United Vs Wolves Preview

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

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 11.48.18

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