Conor Coady – an apology

At some point during our impoverished recent past, I could take no more.

It could have been any one of Preston, Ipswich or Rotherham and it almost certainly featured Edwards, Saville and Coady.

I recall big black clouds, Red Row signage, a smug shrug of indifference from the director’s box and an assertion that if I didn’t like it, I could stay at home.

In Molineux, nobody could hear you scream, so I took to the blog to make myself heard, pumping out a torrent of invective like a machine gun, aimed at the owner, the CEO and amongst others, Conor Coady.

I called him a ‘terrible footballer’ and wrote him off as a useless failure, who I’d have been happy to see the back of along with the majority of his pathetic team-mates.

Were he to leave now I’d cry salt tears for the world we couldn’t conquer, such is his importance to the side. And for that Conor Coady, I am sorry.

For all the justifiable hype about Neves, Jota, Boly and co, Coady’s transformation to defensive lynchpin has surely been Nuno’s biggest revelation to date.

As the great man said upon his arrival: “I really think we can progress the players in a short period of time.”

Never has a truer word been said in the case of Coady, whose strengths have been accentuated in a new position few of us thought of him as a plausible candidate.

As is so often the sheet we sing from, we don’t like square pegs in round holes, we want defenders to defend and if a club like Huddersfield would sell a player for £2 million, then how good must he be anyway?

With the exception of perhaps Pep Guardiola, we think we’ve got the most progressive football mind at Molineux right now and I can’t help but draw up a parallel between Nuno and the ex-Barca boss, who our new cult hero might well have stroked his beard at when contemplating Coady’s future.

The following passages from the excellent Secret Footballer – Guide to the Modern Game book gives some insight into Pep’s preference for another ex-Liverpool midfielder who probably shared the same Melwood training ground as our number 16.

“English football has been misreading the tectonic tactical plates for years. When I played against Javier Mascherano he was just another holding midfielder that our team had to navigate around.

“At the time, Liverpool were relying on Fernando Torres for goals, with Steven Gerrard supporting him and Xabi Alonso supporting both with his initial pass. When Liverpool lost the ball, Mascherano would go haring towards it and, so long as you could by-pass him you were at Liverpool’s back four.

“We dominated the match by moving Mascherano all around the pitch like a moth to the flame. We achieved it by sending one of our strikers into a wide position as a decoy and sure enough Mascherano followed. Once he’d left his hole we sent a midfielder through the middle and pushed the opposite wide man and full-back high up the pitch. Liverpool couldn’t cope.

“But while we patted ourselves on the back in the changing rooms and labelling him as ‘basic’, Barcelona were appraising his performance.

“When Mascherano signed for them for €24 million, most of us scratched our heads. There must have been a mistake. But there he stayed and even more bizarrely, he was played as a centre-half.

“All that was made possible because Barcelona discovered that, in a team that kept the ball, a player like Mascherano was the perfect cover at centre-half. He was strong, he was comfortable on the ball, he was quick enough across the ground and he was brave.

“Pep Guardiola had come to realise that Claude Makalele started Chelsea’s attacks and his rationale told him that if he took that player out and put him centre-half, then he would not only start counter attacks directly from the back four but he would also have one extra attacking player. It all rested on finding a midfielder who could play centre-half.”

It must be said that comparisons between the capabilities of an Argentinian Champions League and La Liga winner and Conor Coady are not being drawn (not least by me who had consigned him as ‘useless’ only a year or two ago!).

But me expecting last year’s Makalele in Championship mode was to miss the point entirely with Coady. A tier-two version of Mascherano is far more preferable in a progressive mind.

Thankfully Nuno saw what this mere-mortal missed and Coady’s effervescent leadership, cool distribution and exceptional decision making are all beacons of light in an already dazzling side.

That I’d have deprived us all of the above makes me a numpty. An apologetic numpty.

Sorry Conor.

Wolves 2 Aston Villa 0

The series of road closures around Molineux couldn’t have been more incongruously timed, with Wolves so utterly brilliant that Highways England and the council combined couldn’t divert Nuno’s men from what appears a relentless journey.

In automotive terms, that was a Bugatti Veyron performance at its most exhilarating, sending the pulses racing, the goosebumps tingling and even the most morbid of fans thinking that our destination might just be reached – with some spare fuel in the tank on last night’s showing.

At various points of this game you felt blessed to be there, alive in the moment and you sensed you could look back on it like you still do for the likes of Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup or Bully’s winner against the Blues. That Waterloo Road was coned off afterwards made it even better, as an inadvertent fan zone formed, flooding the street afterwards with supporters singing and bouncing back into town in a scene I’ve not seen in 30 years.

The worry, as always with Wolves, is that something will go wrong. Jota will get crocked, Neves will break down, or Miranda will get homesick and the wheels will fall off. Under Nuno’s watch, you sense he’s got a spare tyre in the boot and won’t panic anyway, as we carry on clocking up the miles on our journey to the place we daren’t mention just yet.

‘We are back in work on Monday and have a tough game on Saturday,’ reflected the boss, at his knowing best.

With the mesmeric Jota and co lighting up the Molineux and a 30,000 strong crowd in full voice, it feels like we’re the sort of formidable force that even Hurricane Ophelia’s couldn’t budge.

The game itself was a joy to watch, as an in-form Villa were swept aside with ease. The defensive three of Coady, Miranda and Batth were first to every ball and stifled every single attack before offloading intelligently. From there, our creative players worked their magic with Neves looking every inch the £15 million man in the middle.

Cavaleiro put in an incredible performance, interchanging with Costa and Diogo, with the twin turbo engines of Douglas and Doherty again knitting it all together. Then Bonatini came on and made us even better.

It sounds so straightforward to explain, so easy to watch and so simple in practice…

The way that football should be played.

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.