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!

Wolves 1 Nottingham Forest 0

With four wins in succession, a dizzying Helder Costa goal still fresh in the memory and an eminently winnable fixture against Nottingham Forest ahead, the walk along Waterloo Road had never felt so breezy.

But alas, no Costa.

And while we were all thrilled to notch up a fifth win come the final whistle, it was an insight into how bereft we are without him.

For his spellbinding goal of the weekend against Cardiff, see compatriot Cavaleiro doing his best impression, sending the corner flag one way, then the other – after kicking the base of it when taking a short corner and getting it stuck between his legs.

It was a moment to define this particular spectacle but not the performance entirely, as we worked ferociously hard for the duration, to such an extent that you felt tired out just watching them.

Batth and Hause combined teak-toughness with intelligence, surely benefiting from the Evans / Edwards protection ahead of them.

Whether the team as a whole then benefits from the required amount of creativity thereafter is debateable but again, the Welshmen worked their backsides off admirably, hassling and harrying their opponents.

This was no small feature of the game, with Forest enjoying the lions’ share of possession and were surely frustrated as a result of our endeavours off the ball.

Marshall, while mildly more subdued that recent performances, again suggested he has the ability to be a mainstay of a promotion pushing side next season, while Andi Weimann’s contributions just get more and more noteworthy.

His outrageous work-rate off the ball was infectious and his assist for Dicko’s goal intelligent, representing one of very few moments where the right decision was made at the right time.

A potential man-of-the-match winner, possibly shading Conor Coady at right back, whose heroic intervention on the goal line not only acted as an unlikely assist for the winner 15 seconds later, but typified his recent performances in an alien position, which I would have scarcely thought believable weeks ago.

On the other flank, one of Matt Doherty’s customary forays upfield ended in a lovely pass to Weimann, who did the rest for Dicko to sweep home.

It was a beautifully worked moment from a pretty ugly affair, which resembled a practice match at times, and an unwitting homage to Helder Costa at others.

Quite where we’d be without him is anyone’s guess. Thankfully after this hard fought league win, it won’t be League One.

Ipswich Town 0 Wolves 0

When you’re celebrating a point at Ipswich Town – while frantically checking the results of Wigan Athletic, Burton Albion and their implications for the bottom three – then you know your season has plunged to new depths.

Worse still is the distinct possibility that our one shining light won’t be regarded as a sacred cow from here on in, as the presumable plan is to grind our way to 50 points with a team full of donkeys.

If this Jackett-esque pragmatism is what we should come to expect between now and the end of the season, then I’m not sure I can stomach much more and frankly, we may as well have kept Kenny in the first place?

Talk about running to stand still, as epitomised by the hopeless David Edwards, who isn’t so much a first team regular these days, but a nailed on, first-on-the-teamsheet starter with the captain’s band around his flailing arm.

Positives from last night, whilst listening to Mike Taylor on BBC WM, was an impressive outing by Romain Saiss, which shouldn’t come as a surprise being as every right-minded fan was calling for his inclusion for months.

Ben Marshall would appear to be improving game-by-game, with the ex-Blackburn man a coat of paint away from scoring for a second successive match. And a clean sheet is obviously good news, albeit against a side light on ability and attacking intent. The inclusion of Hause must surely be a factor here.

On paper, our team looks absolutely wretched, particularly without the one player that justifies an admission fee. On the pitch, it is similarly foul to look at, with George Saville crowbarred in at full back, Batth generally labouring and the aforementioned Edwards stretching our never-ending paradigm of mediocrity to a barely comprehendible timeframe. Meanwhile, the likes of Conor Coady, Lee Evans, Weimann and co loiter on the peripheries with minimal intent.

But the time for inquests must wait for another day. A squad given a £30 million shot in the arm is doing its inimitable worst to get out of this division and while results like this might eek them towards the lofty position of 20th, the accompanying performances might not.

Remembering Rachael Heyhoe Flint

As a youngster with just one parent to navigate me through those choppy waters of adolescence, my dear old man decided that the pen was mightier than the sword.

Rather than dictate the right and wrong way to behave to his lad, he simply gave me a book.

Ironically enough, that Life’s Little Instruction Book by H. Jackson Brown was the only paperback I studied religiously as a teenager (as I opted to dick about with my mates instead of study like my sister).

I still flick through those 500-odd tips on a regular basis. And as Rachael Heyhoe Flint was laid to rest in Wolverhampton today, I can’t help but think it could have been written by her.

‘Treat everyone you meet like you want to be treated’ was one pearl of wisdom. Number 33 in fact.

I only met Rachael once, and it was safe to say that she did precisely that. My good mate Paul Robinson, just a kid back in 2006, was returning from his first tour of duty in Basra, Iraq.

I really, really missed him while he was away. More than that, I really, really feared for him every day he’d gone. More than he will probably appreciate.

So when he returned home I wanted to do something for him. As a lifelong Wolves fan himself, I wondered if the club might do something for him to welcome him back. I wrote an email to the club.

And within 5 minutes, Rachael Heyhoe Flint was calling my mobile, no less!

She rolled out the red carpet for Paul for a Friday night league game against Sunderland and left no stone unturned.

Paul and his family arrived with me at the main reception where Rachael was already waiting.

16. Be the first to say hello

6. Have a firm handshake

7. Look people in the eye

128. Remember people’s names

107. Smile a lot. It costs nothing and is beyond price

That was Rachael, causing me to well up with pride for being a Wolves fan at that very moment, whilst simultaneously regressing me back to my youth, when Dad handed me that book.

“Sir Jack has so much time for anyone serving in the Armed Forces, particularly a Wolves fan like Paul, so it would be the least we could do,” she’d say.

Rachael then led us pitchside where Bully was waiting – with a replica shirt she had evidently got the players to sign.

94. Make it a habit to do nice things for people

Again, that was Rachael. As Jenny Wilkes so beautiful paid tribute on Radio WM the other day, she’d have a very persuasive way of getting people to do things, whether they wanted to or not!

So there Bully stood, chatting about his favourite ever Wolves goals (I monopolised the conversation here, with a left footer against Bolton at the North Bank end featuring highly in Div 3.) Rachael, meanwhile, asked about Paul’s life, family, and six month experience in a 40 degree shithole known as Iraq.

133. When someone is relating an important event that’s happened to them, don’t try to stop them with a story of your own. Let them have the stage.

145. Be enthusiastic about the success of others

After meeting the two legends, Paul met another one, as Thommo was thrust in our direction, while injured players were also instructed to meet the main man of the evening – my mate Paul.

287. Promise big. Deliver big.

We adjourned to our seats and watched the game in our bubble of unbridled, fuzzy joy. It was a largely forgettable 1-1 draw featuring an utterly memorable Jemal Johnson 30 yard screamer. But that evening will live with me forever, as one special lady went the extra-mile for a family she’d never met – nor ever meet again.

As was the case with just about everything she put her mind to, Rachael Heyhoe Flint brought so much happiness to people’s lives through her own selfless actions.

274. Leave everything a little better than you found it

God bless xx

Barnsley 1 Wolves 3

Typical of Wolves to go to Barnsley on a miserable Tuesday evening and lose…

…After an FA Cup win at Anfield, a £13 million record signing and a genuinely fresh-thinking season ticket offer, these last four days have never felt less typical.

The times they are a-changin’, with this 3-1 win offering more evidence of such, not least when we look lethal from set-pieces, score early in another game and prevent that inevitable goal from a former player (Hammill).

Playing Barnsley minus top scorer Sam Winnall and talisman Conor Hourihane meant we were facing them at the perfect time but again, when does fate befall us in such a favourable way?

Hopefully this league win will alleviate any lingering looks over our shoulders towards the bottom three, just a week or so since our Norwich defeat raised one or two alarm bells.

Clearly, Paul Lambert is engendering a special bond amongst his players – and those fans who made the hike up to south Yorkshire – and his words to the Fans’ Parliament a month or two ago ring true:

‘You have a brilliant club, but you’ve just come off the rails a bit and need to get back on track. But forget it (the past), it’s gone.’

Beating Liverpool, signing Costa and now David Edwards scoring a brace away from home suggests we’re getting back on track and embracing what the future might hold, rather than moither over yesterday’s misdemeanours.

This game sounded as good as over when Alex Mowatt clattered Jack Price to see red within minutes of Dave Edwards nodding home Connor Ronan’s free kick to put us two-up. It could conceivably have been three at half time too, had the referee not reversed an initial penalty decision which looked a cast iron spot kick.

Earlier, Kortney Hause did his best Richard Stearman impression to score from a dead ball while the fans were still taking to their seats.

Being hypercritical, we sounded a bit ragged against 10 men near the end when the game was already sealed from Edwards’s second.

But when we’re building more momentum (as typified by Connor Ronan tonight) it’s best to just enjoy this heady ride while it lasts – without looking back!