Blackburn 1 Wolves 2

1 down, 37 to go.

For the second season on the spin, Wolves begin with a morale-boosting 2-1 victory and plenty of positives aside.

One such positive was the competitive debut of Roger Johnson, who looked composed, assured and in control throughout.

Ward was the hero

Yes, the build up to Blackburn’s opener was an all too familiar tale of woe, as Roberts buffeted our two centre backs to create the opening, but aside from that blip, both Johnson and Berra coped admirably with the physical threat.

The new skipper brings a calmness to the centre of defence that’s been lacking in recent years and even on this early evidence, he seems like an astute addition.

Another plus was seeing Steven Fletcher picking up where he left off last season, heading in a well worked equaliser to ensure we went in level at half time.

Both he and Doyle caused plenty of problems for a make-shift Rovers defence, proving they can play together in a successful Wolves team.

Sadly for Doyle, he wasn’t able to add his name to the scoresheet, seeing his meek penalty palmed away by Paul Robinson after Matt Jarvis was hauled down by Salgado.

Fortunately for the striker though, his blushes were spared by his fellow countryman Stephen Ward who bulleted home the sweetest of volleys from the resulting melee to give Wolves the lead.

It was a sumptuous strike and perfectly placed too finding the one spot in the goal where his effort wouldn’t have been blocked or saved.

He deserved the glory for a typically committed performance, shackling the pace and trickery of Hoillett effectively and getting forward to good effect in the second half.

Another player who really impressed me was Stephen Hunt. As always his work rate and tenacity were second to none, but some of his close control and interplay had the hallmarks of a seasoned Premier League performer.

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View from the away end

Indeed, Wolves as a team looked a top flight outfit once they’d got themselves ahead, moving the ball around smartly and seeing the game out with the minimum of fuss.

During the second half we saw some lovely football played between midfield and attack, opening up spaces that we could really have made a lot more of.

Blackburn lacked invention, aside from the typically all-action David Dunn, but they got plenty of balls into the box as they searched for an equaliser.

We perhaps rode our luck at times with last-ditch blocks and miss-cued shots, but satisfyingly we didn’t look like gifting them a way back.

And that is an important evolution.

It might only be one game and it might only be three points but the manner of this victory, particularly the second half domination, suggested that there’s plenty more to come from this Wolves side.

I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Blackburn Vs Wolves Preview

Welcome back.

Sit down, get comfortable and strap yourself in for another 38 game ride on the Wolverhampton Wanderers Express. First stop – Ewood Park.

And where better to start than a ground where we’ve consistently received a sound pummeling? Indeed, on our last three visits to Blackburn we’ve conceded 11 goals and scored just 2.

Losing has become a habit at Ewood Park

5-1 defeat.

3-1 defeat.

3-0 defeat.

Hmm…can’t wait.

We shouldn’t forget the most recent beating they gave us either, in that miserable first 45 at Molineux back in May, which very nearly condemned us to Championship football. They were stronger, faster and generally better than us in that opening period, a nightmare I’m not particularly keen to revisit on Saturday.

But having played Blackburn on the final game of the 09/10 season and now in the 10/11 opener, you can’t help but see this match as a barometer of summer progress for both clubs.

For Wolves, I think we’re all hoping to see a stronger, less error-prone, more disciplined defence.

The back four on Survival Sunday were an embarrassing shambles, unable to cope with the strength, movement and pace of the Blackburn attack.

It’s entirely feasible we could see a completely different quartet take to the filed on Saturday, led of course by new skipper Roger Johnson.

Much is expected of the giant defender and this really should be his type of game. We’ve been crying out for strength and organisation, two things the former Blues man should bring in spades. No pressure then Rog.

The Team

I’m expecting Mick to play 442 at Blackburn, assuming Doyle is fit to partner Fletcher up front. A few people have noted that Wolves have been trying a narrower version of this formation, which I think bodes well and should make us more compact and difficult to breakdown.

This is the team I expect to see and the shape employed:

Hennessy, Stearman, Berra, Johnson, Elokobi, Henry, Hunt, O’Hara, Jarvis, Doyle, Fletcher

I reckon both wide players will be playing from deep rather than pushing up alongside the two forwards. I see Fletcher occupying a deeper-lying role too, allowing Doyle to hold the ball up front and do all the other things he does so well. All of this should give O’Hara freedom to roam, which can only be a good thing.

Other players who could sneak into eleven include Ward at either left-back or forward if Doyle’s not fit, Zubar at right-back or maybe even alongside Johnson in the center of defence. SEB will also come into contention should Doyle not recover in time.

Prediction League

The Wolves Blog Prediction League returns for a second season and just in case you didn’t play along last time, here’s how it works:

To enter each week simply leave your predicted score as a comment in the official preview to every match (such as this one).

You get 3 points for guessing the correct score and 1 point for predicting the correct outcome.

I keep a running tally of the scores and update the table each week to show how everyone’s getting on.

As it’s the opening game and I’m feeling foolishly optimistic, I’m backing the boys to get a win.

I think we’re overdue a good result at Ewood Park and I think we have every reason to feel confident of getting one.

We’ll likely concede but I can see us scoring a few.

2-1 Wolves.

If you’re going to this one, have a great time and get right behind the lads. It’s a long season and as we know from experience every point counts.

Up The Wolves.

Guest house: Blackburn Rovers

We’re going to be making a more concerted effort to chat with opposition fans this season, getting their valuable insider perspective on their club, our club and of course, the match between the two respective sides.

With that in mind, we swing open the doors to the Wolves Blog Guest House for the very first time, inviting Dan from the Rovers Return blog inside for a chat ahead of this weekend’s opening day clash at Ewood Park.

Junior Hoilett is definitely one to watch this season

Thomas: Dan, welcome. I think the starting point for this little chit-chat is obvious. Our last Premier League match was of course against each other on Survival Sunday. What a day that was. You probably couldn’t have hoped for a better performance heading into that game could you?

Dan: Before that last game of the season we had been on a mini resurgence but had still been unable to get the vital win we needed. We were pegged back from 1-0 up at West Ham, and then the same happened when we played Manchester United the following week.

I was extremely nervous going into the Wolves game knowing it’s not one of our best grounds to go to, but I could not believe the first half performance. Pure ecstasy. In the end I was pleased Wolves stayed up because the atmosphere at the end of the match was something I had never seen before. Home and away fans in joint celebration at survival, aplauding each other after what had been a very stressful afternoon!

Thomas: Agreed, it was rather surreal but a special moment nonetheless. Since that dramatic finale, you’ve seen Phil Jones leave the club, Mame Biram Diouf head back to Old Trafford, and a few other big names, such as Christopher Samba, linked with a move away from Ewood. With these departures in mind and having come so close to relegation last season, are you concerned it will be another struggle this time around?

Dan: I think it will be another struggle this season but not necessarily because of the departures. Yes, we lost Phil Jones, but that was no shock. Other departures are players who were not particularly good. You mention Diouf, but he wasn’t good enough. Santa Cruz was hopeless. Hopefully we’ll add another striker to our squad this month, on top of David Goodwillie. And with a couple of other signings apparently imminent I don’t see the squad being all that different in terms of strength and quality to last year.

Thomas: Yes, Goodwillie is an interesting signing. I’m intrigued to see how he’ll get on in the Premiership. Moving behind the scenes,  what’s your opinion on Steve Kean and the owners of the club?

Dan: Steve Kean was no one’s favourite manager last season and the owners have frustrated everyone. They started their reign at Ewood by shouting everything from the rooftops and were criticised for this, so now they have retreated and never say anything.

So from one extreme to the other and the fans are unhappy at the lack of communication, although it has to be said we have become used to the luxury of great management with John Williams – who has now departed – at the helm. This is a massive season for not just the club, but Steve Kean and Venky’s, who must act quickly to prove they know what they’re doing.

Thomas: Which players do you expect to be your star performers this season?

Dan: Junior Hoillett emerged last season and should continue to do well. His partnership with Martin Olsson was excellent and I expect the Swedish full back-turned winger to be one of our best players again. I’ve always liked goalkeepers, too, and Paul Robinson is one of the best in the league, despite what Fabio Capello might think.

Thomas: Well, we can sadly say from experience what Hoillet is capable of (gulp). Onto Wolves, what’s your overall opinion of our club?

Dan: Wolves are a good club with a nice ground and a good, hardcore set of supporters.

Thomas: Succinct but I won’t disagree with you! Which players of ours do you rate?

Dan: Although it pains me to say it, ex-Dingle Steven Fletcher is always a threat, and despite not being a very popular character for opposing sides, Stephen Hunt is a good player as well with an eye for goal from midfield. A good example being the one that kept you guys in the league last year!

Thomas: Indeed. I expect both of those players to start at Ewood so I’m guessing Fletch is in for a pleasant reception. How do you think we’ll fare this season?

Dan: Similar to Rovers I think. Wolves will face another season of struggle but ultimately survive, perhaps not quite as nervously as last year.

Thomas: I think we’d probably take that. And finally, what’s your prediction for the match? In our last 3 Premier League visits to Ewood Park, we’ve lost 5-1, 3-1 and 3-0, so do you feel confident of another win or is our luck about to change?

Dan: At home, Wolves are a side Rovers really need to beat. A sentiment I’m sure you’d echo if the fixture was the other way around. And I think we should come away with a win. We do seem to score quite a lot of goals against you, but I wouldn’t be massively surprised if it was 0-0!

Thomas: Lets hope for a more entertaining match. Thanks for visiting the Guest House Dan and good luck for the season (after Saturday of course).

* I did an interview about the season ahead for Goal.com, which is now available to read by clicking here.

Wolves 2 Blackburn 3

Chewed up, spat out and pulled relentlessly through the wringer, but ultimately, Wolves are alive and kicking in the Premier League.

We’re safe.

Enjoy it. Relish it. Savour every last drop of it.

Worth remembering

Then take a deep breath and relax.

All the other discussions can be saved for another day because at this precise moment, nothing else matters.

For example, it doesn’t matter that our first half performance was the stuff of sick, perverted nightmares. It doesn’t matter that Jason Roberts was made to look unplayable or for that matter that Junior Hoilett was made to look like Pele. Forget it, it doesn’t matter.

Today was about one thing and one thing only – survival.

Survival, in any shape or form, however scruffy, scrappy or downright jammy it needed to be. Just survive.

And we did that, albeit with the helping hand of others.

In fairness though, we kept on chugging away and it’s well worth remembering that even before Spurs hammered the final decisive nail into Birmingham’s coffin, this ‘never say die’ Wolves team had muscled their own way out of the bottom three, thanks to Stephen Hunt’s delicious curling finish.

That crucial second goal followed Jamie O’Hara’s belting strike from another well-worked short free-kick. On a pleasant side note, if the rumoured £5 million permanent deal for the on loan Spurs’ midfielder comes to fruition, that will be a fantastic piece of business.

By stark contrast, I don’t think anyone in gold will be keen to see us shelling out the mega-bucks on Michael Mancienne right now. He was appalling today and when he scuttled off at half-time, I think most of us breathed a sigh of relief. He just couldn’t cope with the physicality of Roberts and coupled with massive lapses in concentration against Blues and Sunderland in recent weeks, you have to question whether he has what it takes to play consistently as a center-back in the Premier League.

But as I say, discussions such as these are for mulling over on another day.

In fact, it can all wait for another day because I quite simply have nothing left to give.

The opera that is Wolverhampton Wanderers football club have once again battered me into an empty shell of a man and left me feeling numb from the experience.

Same again next season yeah?

I’m up for it if you are.

Up The Wolves.

Wolves Vs Blackburn Preview

Make no mistake about it, we’ve arrived at game 38 of the Premiership season in a favourable position.

When you consider how the table looked just a fortnight ago, it’s remarkable that we can lose this final fixture and still have a decent chance of retaining our top flight status.

However, we can’t think like that.

Mouyokolo got a rare start in the massacre at Ewood Park

We have to look at this game objectively, hopefully win it to secure three Premier League victories on the bounce for the first time in our history and in doing so render events away from Molineux irrelevant, to us anyway.

Blackburn of course are in an almost identical position and will be just as hungry to get the job done themselves, without the need for outside interference. Their away form reads won three, drawn three and lost 12. So objectively speaking, they don’t travel particularly well.

What they have shown in recent weeks though, is a real appetite for the scrap. Avoiding defeat against West Ham and Man Utd were monumental results when you consider the position they’d be in without those two points.

Steve Kean’s side also boast some strong characters with Robinson, Salgado, Dunn and big Chris Samba all proving their worth at the business end of the season. They’ve got power and pace throughout too, which was demonstrated perfectly as they bullied and battered Wolves 3-0 at Ewood Park in the reverse fixture.

They can be got at though and if Wolves come out on the front foot, as they have done in so many big home games this season, there’s no reason we can’t secure the points. Team selection, as always will be key and I reckon we’ll see one change from the side that started against Sunderland last weekend:

Hennessy

Foley
Craddock
Mancienne
Elokobi

Jarvis
Henry
O’Hara
Hunt

Ward
Fletcher

So that’s Jarvis in for Guedioura, based on our improvement in the second half at the Stadium of Light. Whether that’s the right decision, I’m not sure. Guedioura is a strange sort of player; capable of brilliance but equally, a sloppy mistake. He looked lost against Sunderland as he does in so many away games, but seems to play far better at Molineux. I’d probably stick with Guedioura, as much for his physical presence as anything, and introduce Jarvis from the bench.

Prediction League

No less than 15 of you correctly predicted we’d win last weekend, but alas, not one person said 3-1. So all of you armchair pundits pick up a single point for your efforts.

To round off the season, I think we’ll draw this match. I’m going for 2-2.

Ultimately, as I’ve stated a few times now, I think that will be enough to keep us up.

If you’re at Molineux this weekend, really get behind the lads so we can make sure we do everything we possibly can to avoid needing favours from elsewhere. Whatever happens, it promises to be a highly memorable occasion.

(Stay) Up The Wolves.

* Visit DotComGiftShop for a range of quirky and unusual Fathers Day gifts.

Two from five

This is it. Here we are. Two from five.

A topsy-turvy, bonkers Premier League season that threatened to go right to the wire has done precisely that. Well, at one end of the table at least.

And with the permutations seemingly infinite, here’s my take on each side’s survival prospects.

Wigan

Roberto Martinez’s team will kick-off Sunday at the bottom of the pile, but arguably have one of the more favourable fixtures away at Stoke.

A draw could feasibly keep them up should Blackpool and Birmingham both lose, which isn’t unlikely, so they’ll fancy their chances.

My gut instinct tells me they’ll get a result and survive by the skin of their teeth.

Blackpool

No team has characterised this whacky season more so than Ian Holloway’s Blackpool and they’ll be the side that the overwhelming majority of neutrals are rooting for.

Despite a massive victory over Bolton, they remain south of the dotted line with Wigan breathing down their necks. Surely they can’t win at Old Trafford? Only Albion have come away with anything other than a defeat and even a weakened Man Utd side should be too much for the Seasiders.

I think a draw might be enough to keep them up, but I suspect they won’t get it.

Birmingham

Out of nowhere, Birmingham are suddenly knee-deep in the brown stuff. Losing at home to Fulham was disastrous, particularly with all four of the other sides picking up points.

They now find themselves needing a huge result at White Hart Lane or a huge favour from both Stoke and Man Utd.

I believe they’ll lose against Spurs, which means they’ll be relying heavily on others.

Blackburn

Blackburn start the day in the strongest position after picking up valuable draws against West Ham and, most recently, Man Utd. Every point is precious and those two results were huge for Steve Kean’s side.

A draw will almost certainly get the job done against Wolves, because only wins for Wigan, Blackpool and Birmingham would see them relegated in that scenario, which is highly unlikely.

They’ve shown some great resolve in recent weeks and I think they’ll get the point they need at Molineux.

Wolves

Buried and seemingly gone for good less than a fortnight ago, back-to-back wins have put Wolves in a strong position. We could only dream about having 40 points on the board prior to kick-off against West Brom but that’s exactly what Mick and the boys have achieved.

The only disappointment of course, is that despite our epic comeback the old gold are far from safe.

We might have done enough already but a big performance in front of our home crowd will get us over the line without the need for help from elsewhere.

Sadly, I fear we’re in for a long anxious afternoon because I don’t think we’ll beat Blackburn. I think it’ll end in a draw, which means our attentions will turn to White Hart Lane, the Britannia Stadium and Old Trafford.

Ultimately though, I think a draw will be enough for us. I would even go as far as to say we could lose and as long as it’s by no more than one goal, we’ll retain our Premier League status.

Final standings

I did the BBC Premier League Predictor and entered the following scores:

Man Utd 3 Blackpool 1
Stoke 1 Wigan 1
Tottenham 3 Birmingham 1
Wolves 2 Blackburn 2

If those predictions came to fruition, it would mean the final table looked like this:

So Blackpool and Birmingham are my two from five.

Who are yours?