Wolves 3 Bristol City 3

While the passing and moving formula continues to look good on the eye, there is one potentially lethal equation at work to undermine it and consign this season to the dustbin before it has properly got started…

…Missed chances and cheating referees.

Yes, Wolves created enough chances to have won this match three times over, but that doesn’t then give referees carte blanche to give every big decision to the opposition for another week – the perpetrator of which will never be held accountable. And because referee Steve Martin’s unfathomable decisions won’t ever be deemed incompetent by his bosses, he can only be labelled a cheat.

Firstly, he gave Bristol City a penalty with the score at 2-1 when a cross hit Vinagre on the arm roughly 2yds from the boot of the winger. Not one appeal from their bench or supporters. Then, when Danny Batth was assaulted in the penalty area with the ball nowhere in sight minutes later, the same referee gleefully waved away the appeal.

Bad enough decisions in their own right, but even worse when the linesman was way better placed for the first one before the official then went all WWE referee on the crowd in theatrics. It was as if he genuinely enjoyed giving it.

I make that five shocking decisions given against us (1. Ludicrous Hull City penalty, 2. Cardiff City Damour elbow in Saiss face – yellow 3. Millwall Aiden O’Brien two footed lunge on Jota – yellow, and 4 & 5 last night) compared to precisely zero given in our favour. It’s not as if we want decisions in our favour anyway. We just want fairness, which we are clearly not getting.

If there is not a conspiracy behind the scenes then there’s an uncanny coincidence amongst the men we are ordered to respect, and the club needs to wise up and kick up as big a fuss as possible like most other clubs do, who no longer have to suffer it. So bad – and dare I say corrupt are the officials – that you no longer fear the worst before kick-off, but ruefully accept it as being par for the course as you make your way to your seat.

For all the millions being splashed by FOSUN, they should throw a bit more loose change at the Football League / FA and kick up a stink about these abhorrent decisions before we become a laughing stock amongst referees, if we’re not already which I suspect we are.

As the Secret Footballer states in his Access all Areas book, for the sake of a few quid, it is worth it in the league points you get in return.

‘Picture this: a few times a season the same disciplinary meeting room will be box office. An Alex Ferguson or Jose Mourinho will rock up, completely unrepentant. The referee was wrong, they’ll say, and furthermore he is a cheat and all you people are trying to cheat our club out of the rewards it works so hard for. Everybody will shake their heads and a £25,000 fine will be imposed.

Guess what? Best bargain ever. Nobody is going to jail. Nobody is getting points on their licence. You have just bought three points for £25,000.’

Jeff Shi, Laurie and co take note. After last night’s disgusting levels of officiating, something has to be done.

As for the game itself, Wolves were excellent. Their only crime was not bringing in a striker in the window, which no amount of wailing or gnashing of teeth can rectify any time soon. That and their slack defending off set pieces, where Cavaleiro was actually marking Aiden Flint at one corner at the South Bank end. That’s just not right.

Bonatini, who did score the opener, missed three gilt edged chances. It is a habit we can well do without, after similarly bad misses at Griffin Park and Pride Park, where he actually missed an open goal from 6 yards.

Jota also should have scored when a clever chest down from Bonatini was smashed against the bar. Cavaleiro was guilty, too, but atoned for a one-on-one miss with the corner that led to our second goal to go 2-1 up.

Sadly, referee Martin couldn’t level the scoreline quickly enough afterwards with that penalty decision which barely a Bristol City player or supporter appealed for. In cricketing terms, it was an LBW review that was pitching outside leg.

Then our suspect defending at set plays threatened to seal the most unjust result since…Referee Scott Duncan and Cardiff City rolled into town on the same team coach.

Thankfully, Danny Batth rescued a point with a set play goal of our own and the spoils were shared.

Overall, we played brilliantly, with Cavaleiro enjoying what had to be his best game in a Wolves shirt, while Doherty and N’Diaye were terrific. Jota was typically impressive as well.

But it can only be seen as two points dropped amid such circumstances, with hard work still needed on the Compton pitches to eradicate such basic errors at both ends of the pitch.

Away from there, Jeff Shi and Laurie Dalrymple need to make a beeline to St George’s Park, Soho Square or wherever the bosses of these spineless referees reside and take one for the team.

For the sake of a relative pittance, it would be the best money ever spent.

Derby County 0 Wolves 2

One team, full of experienced players, struggling to keep up with superior opposition in front of expectant full house.

Embed from Getty Images

Sound familiar? Thankfully the roles were reversed at Pride Park with Derby County given that same sobering slap in the face that we’ve all been used to for so many years.

So majestic and so utterly dominant were Wolves that you almost felt sorry for the Rams, such was the gulf in class and the fact we’ve been on the receiving end of countless spectacles like this ourselves.

It’s those results of yesteryear – the last three drubbings we’ve suffered at Derby for example – that keep us all grounded as things must take an inevitable turn for the worse.

But on yesterday’s evidence during large spells of our 2-0 masterclass, there’s no reason to think that they will, other than the fact that this is Wolves we’re talking about.

Nuno’s Wolves though, a subtle difference. A team that seems content to crack past millstones around our necks as they’re cracking opponents on the football pitch.

They keep the ball in tight situations, never panic and patiently wait to make the right pass at the right time – all in a new look formation that a familiar old nemesis couldn’t lay a glove on.

A matter of weeks ago, Bradley Johnson, Chris Martin and co were filling their boots in this same fixture at the iPro without seemingly breaking sweat.

Roll Fosun’s clock forward and they were blowing out of their backsides after an hour, huffing and puffing to get to where the ball had been a second before it was laid off.

The back three of Boly, Miranda and Coady were outstanding once again, with John Ruddy’s presence behind them comforting, even if he was largely untroubled (give or take a good low stop and a tip over the bar from range).

Neves and Saiss were chief architects in midfield, not only working their way out of tight spots with aplomb, but positively demanding the ball in these taxing areas to begin with.

Their vision then unfurls vast expanses of pitch as if shaking a giant rug, with Doherty and Douglas free to roam and Jota and man-of-the-match Bright benefiting further forward.

Bonatini then spearheads the attack and while not entirely convincing, he displays enough intuitive ability on the ball to tell you he’s one of Nuno’s players.

Common sense is clearly agreeing with those footballing gods too, as a giant Red Row digital advert flanked the 2-0 scoreline on the Pride Park screen. Beneath it, Conor Coady left Andreas Weimann in a heap on the floor after cleaning out the ball – and player – with customary intensity (no handshake offered or hair ruffled thereafter). Here was a broken player we’d have been watching instead of the brilliant Diego Jota, who tormented the home side to lay on the second goal for Cavaleiro, having hit the post earlier.

This performance was as progressive as it gets. As an away display, it could rarely get better, to the point in which you could scarcely believe who we were watching. Singing ‘it’s just like watching Brazil’ sounded surreal too.

As a soundtrack for the afternoon, it was surely the most fitting.

Wolves 1 Yeovil Town 0

Contemplating a ‘Plan B’ after two games of the season might sound a little churlish to many, not least when they’ve both ended up in 1-0 victories.

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But during spells of last night’s unnecessarily burdensome League Cup win, you were wondering what we wouldn’t give for a physical presence up top to hammer home all that intelligent interplay behind.

Don’t get me wrong, ‘Plan A’ looks extremely encouraging and the yearning for a Chris Iwelumo-type probably misses the point completely in this principled new age of possession based football.

(And imagine a scenario if we score an early goal and teams have to attack us. Then we could really have some fun!)

But for all the quite brilliant passing and moving, the hunch is that we’re still missing that final piece of the jigsaw to convert our undoubted dominance up to the edge of the penalty box.

Bonatini – who cuts the jib of Cedric Roussel in my mind – is still some way from being fit, while Nouha Dicko is still to completely convince following his injury, despite his well-taken winner.

If not a big man, then someone with that bit of devilment to fashion a chance from clever positional play. Jordan Rhodes anyone?

In any case, I couldn’t help but be impressed with this performance, which was laden with quick, incisive interplay in what appeared to be a 3-5-2 formation.

The personnel was almost entirely different to the Middlesbrough XI, save for Boly and Bonatini, but you could tell this was another Nuno side at work with Connor Ronan and Jack Price looking particularly easy on the eye in the middle of the park.

Danny Batth and Ryan Bennett looked competent alongside Big Willy, while our wing backs Vinagre and Jordan Graham were exactly what you’d expect; cool and calm on the ball with no little inclination to attack. If anything, they could have done this even more, with Vinagre seeing a lot more of the ball in the second half, lacking only in a telling final ball.

Without doubt, Dave Edwards struggled, shanking the ball out of play in the opening seconds and generally looking ill at ease when asked to recycle the ball in the pinball game mode we now adopt. His early substitution was telling, as was his reaction to it, shaking his head, kicking a water bottle (albeit apologetically) and throwing some energy bar/snack back at the lad who lobbed it his way.

The times, they are a changing, it would appear. (Bright Enobakhare looked so exciting when he came on, with Jota also impressing.)

But not enough to stop a familiar lapse in concentration when a Yeovil striker was afforded oceans of room in front of goal before we scored, only to shoot wide.

Had that have gone in, then we could have been looking at another League Cup embarrassment. Thankfully it didn’t, Nouha Dicko planted home a close-range header and we all move on.

In goal, number one

‘In goal, number one, Carl MyKeme!’ (hooray!)

‘Number two, Matt Doherty (hooray!). Number three, Scott Goldfish (hooray!).’

And so my little boy would go on, broadcasting the rest of the Wolves side from 2013/14 with fanatical enthusiasm, making those lovable little literals as he’d go.

I never corrected his blissful innocence as he merrily announced his heroes (nor his favourite touring car driver Jason Play-Doh or cricketer Moeing Ali, come to think of it).

But it always started with Carl MyKeme. Number one.

While Fosun’s toing and froing over the summer months has demanded more than a story or two from me, my sabbatical could only end with a note about the Big Man.

Yes, my cup runneth over with every passing Portuguese, but the fact Carl Ikeme won’t be there leaves me a little bit preoccupied.

He won’t be striding towards the South Bank with towel over his shoulder, in what my mind paints as a jet-black strip with neon tinge.

He won’t be clapping the hordes of shirt sleeved fans behind the goal in dependable, reassuring gait, in the exact same manner he did at Chesterfield in 2013 where my son frantically scurried to keep up.

He had an unquantifiable aura, did Carl. A quiet authority that commanded attention. So polite to me, my boy and Dad, and a smile to bely his stature.

From that day forth, Carl Ikeme belonged to my son in his innocent little mind. A player he imitated with some gusto after a penalty save away at Colchester, when the usually stone-faced stopper went absolutely mental. The rendition made me laugh like Carl’s histrionics on the day!

That he won’t be around is tough. Telling my son why he’s not there tougher still, and thinking of where Carl will be at 3pm the toughest of the lot.

Watching Gillette Soccer Saturday from home? Listening to Mikey Burrows on the radio? Or sipping a cup of tea with his family and forgetting about the day job.

Wherever he is, I’ll be thinking of him. Every corner we defend, every back pass we place and hopefully, every goal we score.

Not so much a keeper to me and Arthur, but an absolute bloody hero.

Number One. Carl MyKeme.

* If you want to support the guys raising money for Cure Leukemia today doing the 24 penalty shootout. Text: CARL24 £5 to 70070 to donate £5.

Save

Wolves 0 Brighton & Hove Albion 2

At least the ‘supporter experience’ away from the pitch is slowly changing for the better, with a master-blaster missile launcher sending T-shirts high into the stands for fans to clamber over empty seats for.

Meanwhile, a couple of wolves (or huskies of some description) were paraded as the teams entered the pitch, in a precursor for the intimidating levels of menace that would surely follow.

The seagulls, supposedly crushed under their ravenous jaws as our bloodthirsty pack runs wild at Molineux.

Sadly, the script went to pot as soon as our eyes were averted from the canines and across to Steve Sidwell and Dale Stephens in the middle of the park, who made Romain Saiss and Dave Edwards – in particular – look like docile little pugs.

If the t-shirt operator could have just loaded his torpedo with half a dozen white tops for some of these woeful failures to wear instead of their gold shirts, we might not have endured such misery.

As it was, we were easy meat for Brighton, who possess every single virtue that no-amount of football coaches can ever instil into our bunch of hapless losers.

On this point, think on Paul Lambert. They cost Kenny Jackett and Walter Zenga their jobs, and if you don’t make remedial changes to this squad as a matter of absolute urgency, then you’ll be losing yours too.

They are lethal and scary in equal measure, but only in making you wonder how such levels of inconsistency can blight professional footballers of supposed Championship level.

Take Kortney Hause as an example, who has been regularly resolute and occasionally majestic at the back, yet puts in a performance which is quite incomprehensible. To watch him get bounced beneath a high ball for the first goal was the stuff of Brown Westhead Park and typified a performance that cannot be rationalised.

Andy Lonergan’s limp wristed effort to keep out Knockaert’s shot thereafter was pathetic, while his attempt to stop his second was little better.

Then there was Matt Doherty, who has looked so easy-on-the-eye as a converted left back at times this season, but was so bad, and so lacking in the basic prerequisites, that you wonder if it were the same player. His body language certainly suggested that he couldn’t give a toss.

And as for that midfield axis of Dave Edwards and Romain Saiss…

…It was the stuff of nightmares, as the undroppable Welshman consigns the Moroccan to the same scrap heap that Price, Evans, Prince, Saville and co have all been tossed onto, while he continues to blacken a Wolves shirt with no accountability and no-shows like this. Go figure.

To watch Dale Stephens cruise around in second gear – while his mind remained light years ahead of our Welshman’s flailing arms and feeble gesticulations – made it clearer than ever that Wolves will never reach the levels required to challenge for promotion while he is anywhere near the starting XI.

It’s not like we’re hankering after past glories with him either. He was a squad player purchased from Luton Town 10 years ago and has never been entrusted to mount a promotion challenge under McCarthy or Jackett (League One) because he is so painfully limited. (see Henry / Jones and McDonald / Price). Who said nice guys never win?

As the PA system weeped before kick-off: ‘You’ve got to get yourself together, you’ve got stuck in a moment, and now you can’t get out of it.’

We didn’t really need Bono’s reminder, but there was never a truer word said yesterday.

Unless we bring in seven new players – having circumnavigated Financial Fair Play rules which are seemingly applicable to only us – we’ll be stuck in the same moment alright, watching the next Brighton & Hove Albion breeze into Molineux to celebrate promotion next year as we all watch on in stoic lethargy.

Not so much the vision of feverish wolves that the club will want us to feast over next season…

…Just more of the same old tails, wagging the same old dog.

Looking back to move forward

Losing so subserviently to a relegation candidate would usually be enough to provoke an angry tweet or two, if not a call to Franksy on Radio WM, in any given season.

So it feels a tad unnatural to feel somewhat upbeat following our emphatic away loss at Bristol City, not least after five successive wins.

In this instance, the feelgood factor emanates from the confirmation that this squad of players is simply not good enough to challenge for a mid-table Championship finish, let alone a promotion push to the play-offs or beyond.

In simple terms, our squad is nauseatingly average at best. At worst, it is absolutely crap, with last season’s 14th place finish coupled with this perpetually underwhelming campaign, when we’ll probably finish even lower.

Football being as compulsively short-termism as it is, a win at Ashton Gate might have coerced Lambert and Jeff Shi into thinking that we are actually a decent side with minimal reinforcements needed over the summer.

Thank God then, that they were reminded of the side’s unshakable levels of frailty, which should act as a yardstick from which to shape their close-season recruitment drive. (Games against Cardiff City away, Burton away, Birmingham City home, Rotherham home and Wigan home should also act as likewise).

If Fosun’s mid-to-long-term plans are to be taken seriously, then a nostalgic nod to hard-luck failures of yesteryear must be replaced by a hard-nosed search for ruthless winners. It’s that simple.

If – and it’s a big if – we are to get promoted from this hell-hole of a league, we don’t need to look too far from home to understand what is needed to get out.

Central midfield

In 2002/3, a rotated triumvirate of Cameron, Rae and Ince ensured we were not only good enough to last the pace, but actually accelerate into the play-offs with bona-fide momentum. All three would guarantee you a 7/10 performance in virtually every game they played, whenever called upon.

In 2008/09 – our only other comparable year of success – Karl Henry and David Jones were equally consistent, if not completely underrated compared to the three names above, whose cult statuses have long been decreed. The originals, perhaps, so therefore the best? No matter, the maligned Henry, in particular, was the base from which our incredible Championship winning season was formed. He was another 7/10 guaranteed performer week in, week out.

It’s a common theme amongst winners, not least when looking at other successful sides to make hay in the Championship.

For Reading, read Sidwell and Harper. For Bolton Wanderers (on multiple occasions) read Pollock, Sellars and more latterly Per Frandsen. For Sunderland, see Kevin Ball / Lee Clark and didn’t Tigana’s Fulham also feature Clark and John Collins? And while I really don’t want to mention them, I will utter the names McInnes and Greening in two separate Albion seasons.

At present, we don’t have a single player in our squad capable of lacing these players’ boots. Not in terms of metronomic consistency.

David Edwards offers you a 7 (usually if he scores a goal) and anything from a 4 or 5/10 on most other occasions. Maybe Evans could imitate David Jones if a worthy lieutenant was alongside, but ifs and ands are pots and pans.

We haven’t got time to find out, have we? Jack Price, a player I admire greatly, might also be better blessed with a natural leader from somewhere, while Saville and Coady are proven dross.

Saiss, possibly, could thrive in the right environment, but when it’s almost exclusively on the bench, then you sense we’ll probably never find out.

Conclusion

Get ruthless here, because it’s the most critical area of concern, more so than a goalscorer in my humble opinion.

Saville, Coady*, Evans, Edwards can all go.

Prince and Saiss probably already have, going by the comments made about foreigners by Thelwell in a recent FP and the need for a 75% / 25% split between domestic and foreign players.

Ronan has shown plenty to suggest he can play a part, but one midfield general is needed from somewhere.

*Unless deployed exclusively as a right back

Defence

Many fans hanker after a modern day version of Joleon Lescott or Dean Richards – and with good reason. They were class acts.

But more than individual flair at the heart of the back four is a need for a genuine partnership between two preferred players, whoever they might be.

The unassuming but no-nonsense Paul Butler assumed rock-like proportions alongside the prodigious Lescott in 2003, while a defender cut from the same cloth as Butler came back into the fold to see us over the line in 2008/09 – Jody Craddock.

Bells and whistles aren’t so critical in central defence – muck and nettles are.

I refer back once more to that all conquering Reading team, with mainstays Sonko and Ingimarsson forming the foundations. QPR would get promoted with Clint Hill and Elphick with Bournemouth.

Conclusion

It looks like Danny Batth and Kortney House are our current first choice pairing.

They don’t stack up unfavourably on paper to the many individuals with championship medals from previous seasons, as per above.

But they still lack that rumbustious sense of leadership that any successful side craves.

They need help and we need to strengthen. Asking Ethan Ebanks-Landell to meet the requisite levels of consistency is asking a lot, while Williamson has been a laughable waste of money, even if he does hint at those levels that are needed.

Bring in a proven centre half.

Strikers

Of all the positions to remedy in the summer, this one is it.

It needs no explanation. In 2002/03 Kenny Miller and Nathan Blake scored plenty, while we all remember Big Chris and Sylvain a few years later.

Conclusion

I have a hunch that Bodvarsson could be a better bet to come good next season than Dicko, whose track record might be more compelling, but appears to have lost that intuitive knack he once had of being in the right place at the right time. And on the few occasions he is, he misses.

When I say ‘come good’, I mean 10 to 12 goals over the course of the season.

If both are sold then they can have no complaints. Joe Mason should be sold. Can we hang our hat on a player like him?

Lambert then has to bring in TWO strikers to consign the above to long term substitute options. One could be a ‘number 10’ to replace Mason.

If we’re playing David Edwards for much of next season because we’re ‘relying on his goals’ then we can forget about promotion.

So quality – and quantity – is required here as the cupboard is bare.

Wingers

As far as Wolves’ DNA goes, if not a promotion push itself, then nothing gets the turnstiles ticking quite like a cocksure winger in full flow, in complete and utter faith in his own ability.

Hancocks, Mullen, Wagstaffe. Even Daley and Froggatt were a nod to our heritage, albeit a fatal one as luck would have it.

Mark Kennedy was the mercurial one back in 2002/03 who got bums off seats quite unlike any other player that year, even if he did frustrate at times. Shaun Newton more ‘Robin’ to the Irish Batman, offering a steadying level of consistency which often went unnoticed (see Wolves’ second goal v Newcastle in that FA Cup game as an example).

We were just spoilt rotten with Kightly and Jarvis under Mick. to have one of those was a blessing. Two was downright taking the mickey, which we did on a regular basis to opposing teams.

And then there was Bakary Sako, who we all loved mostly because he was a player to electrify – and partly because he represented the very antithesis of the anaemic last knockings of the McCarthy era.

So to ask for two players of Helder Costa’s ilk is wishful thinking. To have Costa in the first place might be a long shot in itself, going by the general undertones which accompany each man-of-the-match performance.

Conclusion

Just to keep Costa alone is as big a statement as signing him in the first place.

Call me old fashioned but I like a winger with pace – and obviously consistency. This means the jury is still out on Cavaleiro for me. In Weimann (should he sign) and Marshall, we have adept operators to add some balance, both of whom are good enough to sustain a promotion challenge.

Of course, Ivan could continue as a crowd pleasing match winner too.

Basically, sign Weimann and keep Costa.

Goalkeeper

Ikeme is more than good enough. I maintain he’s a better keeper than Hennessey.

Conclusion

Lonergan will be released. Burgoyne will deputise no doubt, which would please me.

Full backs

Hardly a position to shift the necessary number of season tickets to trigger the refund, but an important one.

Matt Doherty should play a significant role in a tilt for the Promised Land. Coady can only be seen as a stop gap on the right, albeit an effective one.

The bigger conundrum is Dominic Iorfa, whose career is in inverse mode. He does possess mobility, and I refuse to believe that a player can lose all of the virtues that made him so eye-catching under Jackett.

Conclusion

A left footed left back is a must.

And finally…

In our only two seasons of success in this league – not to mention all of those other sides who’ve eventually conquered – they all shared one common trait that every successful side needs: Luck!

By luck, I mean keeping key players fit for a good 75% of the season. This is not something that can be controlled entirely, but Lambert will surely have taken note of the Mike Williamson debacle, if not Joe Mason as well.

It’s a big ask to get out of this season, even with all the resources under the sun as we all know from bitter experience. Curle, Richards, Keane and Bully just a few legends never to have managed it in a Wolves shirt.

It will be far from easy. BUT by being ruthless, with the onus on finding consistent performers, it can be done!