Wolves Blog Postcard Stop #7 – Melksham, Wiltshire

First of all, I would just like to say how chuffed I am to have received the Wolves Blog Postcard!

doog

It came as a bit of a shock to me, when I was thinking about what to write for this blog, that it is coming up to the 45th Anniversary of when I first fell under the spell of Wolverhampton Wanderers FC.

April 15th 1969. Wolves at home to Coventry City.

Doog headshotI’ve told the story in a previous blog. It was the day that I had the bizarre photograph taken that appears next to my attempts at wit and wisdom on the blog. The game finished 1-1, it wasn’t a particularly good match. Peter Knowles stood out as a potential George Best impersonator but, that apart, there was not much to report…

Except that a seed had been sown inside the heart of the callow youth that I was then which over the years has grown into a full blown love affair.

Up until then I had watched Birmingham City play a couple of times (Francis, Latchford et al) without really being grabbed by the vitals. And, because I was born and bred there, Oxford United when ‘Big Ron’ was their captain. I think everyone is allowed ‘another team’ and Oxford United is certainly that for me. I admit that I went to Wembley a few years back when they got back into the Football League through the play offs and shouted myself hoarse with the best of them.

But when it all boils down to it, Oxford is like a member of the family. A brother that I was brought up with.

It was there, I was there.

But when you become REALLY involved with a football team, it’s like getting hooked on drugs.

Or falling in love with your mistress – or toyboy.

It’s a decision that you choose to make and, whatever the consequences of that decision, you are stuck with it.

For life!

Doog postcard 2

You’ll have great highs – Stuffing Arsenal 5-1 in the snow, beating Leeds 2-1 when they were odds on to win the double, watching The Doog or Waggy or Johnny Richards or Bully in their pomp.

And you’ll have gut-wrenching lows – we all know what they have been like. I’m not prepared to start listing them here.

But even when your lover – your drug of choice – is treating you like shit…. you still go crawling back.

And, over all these years, that’s the way it’s been for me.

Being a Wolves fan is a difficult business. But some poor sucker has to do it and it might just as well be me.

…And you lot aren’t going to get away with it either!

Doog postcard 3

But even us Wolves fans have a right to be optimistic and right now I certainly am.

I am beginning to think that this time it could be the start of something really good.

As such, I raise a metaphorical glass of alcoholical (?!) Yellow Tail to the man who has been largely responsible for the upturn in our fortunes.

Kenny Jackett!

And another glass – let’s make it real this time – to the members of his ‘Worldwide Barmy Army’.

US!!!!!!

Cheers all!

Doog postcard 1

The pictures show what a beautiful part of the World I live in, steeped in history and with strange, ancient links to The Wolves.

Silbury Hill is one of the enigmas of the ancient World. A vast monolith. Nobody really knows why it’s there or what use it was – a bit like a certain Chief Executive we all know and love.

The stones at Avebury have stood, unmoving, for centuries. Just like The Wolves defence of the last couple of seasons (Not now though).

The White Horse at Alton Barnes overlooks the crop circle centre of (and the best pub in) the Universe and is the highest point in Wiltshire… Top!

Leyton Orient 1 Wolves 3

As I write this report we still await Brentford’s result at MK Dons.

Wolves Leyton Orient

But in every respect, save for one mathematical anomaly, Wolves are champions of League One.

With the least goals conceded, most goals scored and a points tally that could yet write one more notable record, deservedly so you would say.

From the 99 points already accumulated, today’s three weren’t the easiest gained, a fact underlined by Carl Ikeme again taking home the champagne.

Our goalkeeper repeatedly bailed his team mates out as Orient poured forward either side of half time.

They’ll also count themselves unlucky following a strong penalty shout for handball and a goal chalked off for a marginal offside decision.

By that point, Wolves had already inflicted requisite damage thanks to a smart Stearman header and a well directed Sako volley.

And with the storm weathered after the break, the final third of the game was seen out with relative ease.

James Henry’s exclamation point finish added gloss to the scoreline and gave the midfielder a double digit goal tally for the season.

He’s been unlucky to find himself out of the side after playing an instrumental role for the majority of this sparkling campaign. But that in itself pays tribute to the strength of Kenny Jackett’s squad.

Wolves fans at Leyton Orient

His thoughts, for all his denials, must now be turning towards what might need adding to this record breaking group to ensure a comfortable Championship transition.

Evolution not revolution is the order of the day. To rip this team apart on the assumption they won’t be able to compete would be a bold and risky approach.

How they operate as a unit and not just as individuals has perhaps been the most impressive aspect of all.

That cohesion must be preserved at all costs.

It’s the hallmark of champions.

Leyton Orient Vs Wolves Preview

Leyton Orient and Sky would both have hoped for significantly more to be riding on this fixture.

Leyton Orient Wolves

As it is, Wolves are the only party with a vested interest in the outcome.

Victory would effectively guarantee the League One title courtesy of a vastly superior goal difference to Brentford.

The hosts, having already guaranteed their play-off position, might want to cement a third place finish to avoid playing Rotherham or Preston in the semi-finals.

Pride is also at stake, with Os no doubt keen to win the final battle having already lost out on the war. It promises to be a great game.

Leyton Orient

Leyton_Orient_FCIt looked for all the world that Russell Slade’s team would maintain the two points a game average needed to be pushing right to the end.

But they’ve faded badly coming down the home straight with only three wins in their last ten matches.

Many thought the depth of their squad would ultimately cost them and despite reinforcements arriving in January, I think that’s proved the case.

Six home defeats have been expensive and with Wolves and Brentford losing just twice and three times on their own grounds respectively, that’s been the difference.

Top scorers Mooney (19) and Lisbie (15) have enjoyed fantastic seasons, but they’ve found goals harder to come by in the second half of the campaign. They remain a real threat.

Wolves

I think it’s safe to say Wolves were made to work for the full 90 against Rotherham on Friday. I’m expecting some changes for this one.

Wolves team for Orient

Jack Price has perhaps been a bit unfortunate to find himself out of the side of late, so a recall for him in place of Evans could be a decent bet.

Dave Edwards worked tirelessly and as a persistent injury risk, he must be a prime candidate for a rest. James Henry would be a useful replacement.

Dicko was another who ran himself into the ground on Friday and Clarke is due another chance to ignite his second spell at the club.

The odds

Wolves are favourites for the win at 6/5, whilst the draw and a Leyton Orient victory are both 5/2.

As we saw on Friday, games can really open up at this stage of the season, so another high scoring affair isn’t entirely unlikely.

6-4 is probably a stretch but a more realistic 3-2 win for Wolves is available at 25/1. All odds here.

Predictions

Well done to the 49 of you that correctly predicted a win against Rotherham. Unbelievably, nobody got the correct scoreline, although Clive did forecast the 6 Wolves goals.

I can’t give you any additional points for that mate (rules are rules) but I can pay tribute by replicating your unshakable confidence.

5-1 for me then.

Up The Wolves

Wolves 6 Rotherham United 4

In a season that has broken records, set new benchmarks and provided such unifying levels of joy, the suggestion that it’s still been lacking in something would sound ludicrous, if not downright ungrateful.

Wolves Rotherham

By the time a shell-shocked referee blew-up and scarpered off the pitch moments after Kevin McDonald had thumped home a positively orgasmic sixth goal, we had been given it.

A signature. An ever-lasting impression that we can all refer back to in years to come whenever we reminisce over ‘that’ season in League One.

Of course, 9,000 fans at Milton Keynes will live long in the memory but for an appropriate immortalisation of this all-conquering team on the pitch itself, no single success would be unanimously relived – until we beat Rotherham 6-4 on April 18 2014.

Calling it a ’10 goal thriller’ would be a gross injustice.

When the South Bank clock struck the fanciful hour of 5.15pm and the players scarpered from an idiotic pitch invasion, many of the 30,110 fans in attendance had surely seen the game to define all 46 others.

In beating a quite brilliant Rotherham team 6-4, I had been privileged to the most pulsating game of football I can ever remember seeing in 25 years of Molineux visits – Our Leicester 4-3 Premiership success included.

The fact it was essentially a ‘dead rubber’ (but for the League One silverware) made it all the more remarkable.

To start with a match report would take most of the Easter break to complete, such was the relentless flow of a game that just kept on giving.

Let’s just say we were 3-1 up at half-time and looked every inch the ruthless team that we’ve grown so accustomed to, with David Edwards surely enjoying his best half of football in a Wolves shirt.

His lung-busting late-runs and clever interplay with the outrageously good Nouha Dicko made for a perfect combination, piercing Rotherham’s back line on two significant occasions to score between them. Our equalising goal owed more to Sako ingenuity out-wide.

The second-half of football was a totally different story, as Rotherham pushed their defence even higher, top-loaded their team with forwards (Pringle, Thomas and Hitchcock off the bench) and went gung-ho.

The result was quite spectacular, as they pretty much battered us for the best part of 45 minutes, pausing only to pick the ball out of the net when Edwards ran 90 yards to collect a Henry ball down the channel and cross for Dicko to dispatch, making the score 4-2.

Game over we thought, until full-back Skarz made it 3-4 and the waspish Kieran Agard made it 4-4.

But like a punch-drunk boxer on the ropes at the point of a stoppage, we threw a ferocious last roundhouse of our own, which was never likely to land with the goalless Sam Ricketts receiving the ball on the corner of the box.

The skipper bent it in the top-corner and Molineux went wild.

An ill-conceived pitch invasion couldn’t dilute an unbridled moment of passion, the like of which had barely been felt since Stephen Hunt did something similar at the North Bank end a few years before.

Such moments come about but once in a blue moon, so to savour another one within minutes was probably more than we deserved, as Molineux became positively ethereal.

The unplayable Dicko – in the most complete performance since the days of Bull – couldn’t be wrestled off the ball as we cleared from yet another Rotherham attack. A stick of dynamite and a hand-grenade wouldn’t have touched him on yesterday’s form as he turned and ran, and ran to a dizzy South Bank, turning a quite probable 5-5 scoreline into the something more unlikely.

For one split second time stood still, as a ferocious game of football slowed to the thud of a heartbeat…

…He squared for the onrushing McDonald who seemed to arrive in slow-motion as the clock struck 5.15pm.

At the precise moment the Scotsman wrapped his right boot around the ball, the pause button released and the top corner rippled.

It was a cathartic moment to define Kenny Jackett’s incredible adventure, to surely last a lifetime.

Highlights

Wolves Vs Rotherham United Preview

After Wolves went 3-1 down to Rotherham back in December, having just lost back-to-back games against MK Dons and Peterborough, I really did get that ‘here we go again’ feeling.

Rotherham

But I needn’t have worried.

The fightback in that game that saw Wolves claim a valuable point was to be a sign of things to come.

Soon after Kenny made those wholesale changes to personnel and system, which completely changed the complexion of the team.

As a result, tomorrow will be a carnival atmosphere with the primary objective already achieved with four fixtures left to complete.

The small matter of the League One title however, still needs taking care of.

Rotherham

Had Wolves stuttered in the home straight, Rotherham would have taken full advantage.

A fantastic run of form that’s seen the Millers lose just once in 18 matches propelled them to the cusp of the automatic places.

But a deflating late surrender at Bramall Lane last week, coupled with two more dropped points at home to Bradford looks to have curtailed their top two aspirations.

They come into this game eight points behind Brentford with manager Steve Evans already talking about play-off preparation.

So impressed was Kenny Jackett with Rotherham’s display earlier in the season he went out and pinched one of their best performers in Nouha Dicko.

But as good as the striker has been, Rotherham have carried on scoring and winning without him. In fact only Leyton Orient (78) can better their goals scored record (77), although Wolves aren’t far behind (76).

Top scorer Kieran Agard has 19 goals so far, but like Wolves, they’re a team that have shared the goals around with the likes of Frecklington, Revell and Pringle all getting their names on the scoresheet regularly.

Their away record has been fantastic (13 wins, 4 draws, 4 defeats) and is only bettered by their opponents tomorrow who have a single point more.

Wolves

With nearly a full week to rest up after last Saturday’s promotion-clinching victory, there’s no reason for rotation.

Wolves team for Peterborough

James Henry and Jack Price would probably be the most likely candidates to return to the side, but with Sako fit again and the manager glowing in his praise for Lee Evans last weekend, the same XI is likely.

Injuries have been kind to Wolves this season and you wonder whether that’s down to luck, changes to approach or even just how the current players look after themselves? Whatever the reason, long may it continue.

The odds

Wolves are favourites for the win at 5/6. The draw is 12/5 and a Rotherham victory is 10/3.

Nouha Dicko is probably a good bet to bag the opener given the curse of the former player. He’s 4/1 to do so. Kieran Agard is a good insurance bet at 15/2.

All odds here.

The gaffer

Predictions

Well done to everybody who predicted the win last weekend. It was practically everyone.

I fancy Wolves to overcome the jovial nature of the occasion and win this one tomorrow. It’s a full-house and the players will hopefully thrive on that.

3-1

Up The Wolves

Onwards and upwards

Big thanks to Stephen for sending in this lovely guest contribution. If there’s one thing I love it’s a good statistical analysis. Over to you mate…

Wolves promoted

What can history tell us about how Wolves might fare in the Championship next season?

How do teams promoted from League 1 get on in their first three years in the league above? I’ve been taking a look at the records from the last 10 years.

Average league position and points haul following promotion:
All promoted teams1st season - 14th (60)2nd season - 15th (58)3rd season 13th (62)
Automatic only 1st season - 12th (62)2nd season - 13th (60)3rd season 11th (65)

Of the 30 promoted teams only 2 have gone straight up to the Prem (Norwich & Southampton), one more made it in their 2nd season (Wigan), and 3 were promoted in their third (Swansea, Blackpool & Hull), which makes a total of 6/30 who’ve made it to the Prem within 3 years of League 1 promotion.

3 teams have had unsuccessful play-off campaigns within 3 years of promotion to the Champ (Forest twice, plus Bristol City and Leicester). 9 teams have been relegated (3 in their 1st season, 5 in 2nd, 1 in 3rd). Half of the promoted teams have got stuck in the Champ.

Excluding teams who came through the league one play-offs to focus on the 20 who got automatic promotion: 5 made it into the Prem within 3 years, 6 ended up back in L1, 9 got stuck.

Points

2 pts per game is often seen as the benchmark for automatic promotion but only 9/20 teams have managed it in L1 in the previous 10 seasons.

Southampton

Most of the 9 that have went on to be successful in the Championship over the 3 seasons that followed. 4 were promoted again, 2 lost in the play-offs, and 1 was relegated (Luton, who went bankrupt and dropped out of the league).

2 of the 9 are Charlton and Sheff Wed who both exceeded 2 pts per game in 2012 and therefore have only one complete season after promotion to assess.  So, for the 7 with more than one year, they’ve all achieved something of note at one or other end of the table.

This adds to my optimism for the next few years and eases my fears of getting stuck in the second tier for another huge chunk of my life. A quarter of all automatically promoted sides have made the next step up in reasonably quick time and our high points tally this season, fanbase and finances make us good candidates for inclusion in that group over the others.

Here’s hoping! Onwards and upwards!