Wolves 1 Middlesbrough 0

It’s fitting that a goalkeeper, as much as anyone else, helped Wolves secure this precious opening day win.

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While Carl Ikeme was in our thoughts, John Ruddy’s faultless performance between the sticks ensured the big occasion went poignantly to plan.

The former Norwich man’s starfish dive was enough to distract Martin Braithwaite from equalising just before the break and he was quick off his line in the second to sniff out the threat of Britt Assombalonga.

Much of the attention surrounding the construction of this Wolves team is focused further up the pitch, but he could yet prove the most valuable addition.

I was impressed with the defence in front of him too which looked organised, compact and tough to breakdown.

Yes, Boro got through a few times in the second half, but the three center halves, the wing backs and two holding midfielders generally snuffed most things out.

Boly is a huge acquisition in more ways than one, towering over everyone and continually dominating in the air. You couldn’t get a more perfectly suited Championship center half.

Miranda found life harder up against the busy Assombalonga, but I liked his tenacious, no-quarter-given approach. He never let up once.

Coady, Neves and Saiss forming that defensive triangle in the center of the pitch were all disciplined and effective.

Neves played several sumptuous passes, was tough in the tackle and even got forward to occupy decent shooting positions.

There’s more to come from our record signing though. Some teams will come and sit deeper and I expect him to excel in those contests.

Saiss is a player I’ve never been convinced about, but there’s no doubting he’ll thrive in this system and the Moroccan was as good as anyone today.

Bonatini looked very useful for an hour and I was disappointed to see him go off so early.

He was prepared to put his body in the way, scrap for the ball and then demonstrate the kind of touch you’d expect from a Brazilian to bring others into the game.

The goal looked simple but he still had to show composure to slot it away and lord knows we’ve seen Wolves players miss those over the years.

Comparatively Dicko was a yard off the pace in his thirty minute run out so it’s good we’ve managed to reinforce. One more to come you would expect before August is done.

Enobakhare did what Enobakhare does, teasing you with all those silky twists and turns but ultimately failing to deliver.

He was unlucky with that second half dribble and toe bunt that the keeper got down to save, but could have played smarter passes from good positions on several occasions. I like him but I want to see that potential fully realised.

Jota was just as nimble, gliding past people and playing neat give and go football all afternoon. Again, he should come to the fore against lesser opposition.

The wing-backs were both rock solid defensively but didn’t bomb on as often as I’d hoped to give us that much needed width in the final third.

I like both Doherty and Douglas though and think they will be tough to dislodge on the evidence of pre-season and this morale boosting win.

There are 45 tough challenges to navigate and things can go sour all too quickly in this division.

But at the very least, this was a very good start.

Wolves Vs Middlesbrough Preview

Even by Fosun standards, it’s been a manic summer.

Someone on Twitter said it had flown by, but to me it’s felt like a marathon of fanfare and speculation.

I’m just happy to see some actual football and like everyone else, hoping that the club’s considerable efforts over the last two and a half months are rewarded.

Those hopes are high I must admit. I think the players Wolves have recruited are of a good calibre, there’s a clear system of play and the head coach seems to have landed on something close to his best eleven.

That said, it’s a very tough start against the team all the bookies are tipping for promotion. Defeat may temper our optimism. Victory would send it sky high.

Middlesbrough

Given that Boro were air tight defensively for much of last season’s Premier League campaign, but incapable of scoring it’s no surprise to see Garry Monk splurging on strikers.

Britt Assombalonga arrived for some serious wonga from Forest and former Man Utd man Ashley Fletcher was hot on his heels in another big money transfer from West Ham.

Danish international Martin Braithwaite has also been recruited for £9 million to further swell the numbers.

When you consider they already had two proven Championship forwards on their books in Rudy Gestede and Patrick Bamford, they now have some serious strength in depth.

They’ve got a good chairman there in Steve Gibson who always back his managers with time and resources. In Monk they seem to have the right manager too, so what could possibly go wrong?

Perhaps their biggest obstacle will be the considerable weight of expectation with everyone seeing them as likely pacesetters.

Wolves

I always used to chuckle when people would phone into Radio WM and say ‘Franksy, we need six or seven new players’, believing they lived in some sort of fantasy world expecting a new team to magically materialise.

Well, the egg is well and truly on my face as Wolves will line up at Molineux on Saturday with a side that scarcely resembles the one that finished last season with a 1-0 win over Preston.

The big question is whether Nuno will thrust new forward Leo Bonatini straight into action? If Nouha Dicko is ruled out with injury as expected, it seems likely the Brazilian will start.

Other than that, it’s the same team that performed impressively against Leicester last weekend.

If the above eleven does click, it’s exciting to think that the likes of Costa, Cavaleiro, Marshall and several others will all be pushing hard to get in at some point.

Despite the many glamour signings, I’m particularly happy with Barry Douglas at left wing back. The balance that he and Doherty bring to the team is important, particularly for this system.

Neves is a very exciting addition. We’ve been so desperately lacking in central midfield since Kevin McDonald left and I hope we’re building a team around the Porto man’s undoubted quality.

From the away end

Some words from Middlesbrough fan Rob, from OneBoro: After the disappointment of last season in the Premier League, it’s been a summer of change. From the recruitment, to management and playing staff: there’s been significant upheaval.

Boro chairman Steve Gibson, carried on his tradition of giving new, up and coming managers a chance. Garry Monk ticks all of the boxes and signed on as Boro manager in June. With the promise of funds to spend on new players, Monk focussed on buying players who are familiar with the division and will hit the ground running. 

Howson had been tipped to be the next Norwich captain, Christie was a regular for Derby and Assombalonga knows where the net is. The only relatively unknown addition to the Boro squad is Martin Braithwaite, who arrived from French football.

The most important achievement for Boro this summer has been appointing the right manager and building a squad capable of returning to the Premier League at the first attempt. With a tough opening game against Wolves coming up, it’s crucial for Boro to hit the ground running though it may take a couple of games until the players and manager fully gel.

Predictions

The Prediction League is back and all are invited to take part. It’s easy, just leave a comment in the section below and fill in the appropriate fields with your scoreline.

Please remember, that your score will only be correctly recorded in the table through the season if you use a consistent email address to comment. If you change email addresses, you will create to listings in the table.

I’ve been speaking to various Boro fan sites in the build up to this one and have offered a 2-2 prediction so can’t really change now.

If we stand toe-to-toe (or better) I’ll be very satisfied. We want to get some points on the board early in a difficult looking August.

2-2.

Up The Wolves!

Wolves Vs Bristol City Preview

We could do with winning this.

Lee Tomlin

I think a victory would extinguish any lingering fears of a relegation scrap and in stark contrast to last week, history is on our side.

Much like Boro’s stranglehold over us at the Riverside, Bristol City haven’t won at Molineux since 1931 according to the BBC.

That’s 18 matches undefeated at home against the Robins. Now would be a bad time for our reign of dominance to end.

Bristol City

Bristol_City_FC.svgThere’s no doubting things have been looking up for City since giving Steve Cotterill the shove.

A run of three successive wins came at just the right time, elevating them away from immediate danger.

They’ve since sandwiched a win over Notts Forest with defeats against Cardiff and Brighton, meaning they come into this fixture on mixed form, but still with a five point buffer to the drop zone.

As well as Scott Golbourne, they also recruited Lee Tomlin on loan from Bournemouth in January and he has match winning ability at this level.

From the outside looking in, I get the sense they’re on the up, so this fixture is a tougher challenge than the league table suggests.

Wolves

How much of Friday was Wolves playing poorly and how much was Boro just being better? They obviously had more quality but it was disappointing that they were quicker to every ball.

team for Bristol

McDonald had a poor game and invariably if he’s not firing, the rest of the team struggle to get into a rhythm. Hopefully he can do better tonight.

I wouldn’t abandon the shape because I still think it offers us the best chance of being successful, but I would throw Mason on in place of Sigurdarson.

We keep hearing he’s not really cut out to play the lone forward role, but he did it for Cardiff against us a few months back and I seem to recall they did rather well, so why not give it a go?

Hause for Ebanks-Landell represents an upgrade to me, so I’m not too despondent, but the sheer volume of injuries is a concern. We have hardly any defensive cover.

The gaffer

Predictions

I’m playing it safe and going for a draw, which would just about suit us I reckon.

The thing about the Championship is it’s not really about the league table, it’s about what sort of form the team you’re playing are in because the difference in quality is usually negligible.

At present, I don’t think there’s anything between these two sides on paper (they might even be better), so it’s more or less anyone’s guess.

And my guess is 1-1.

Up The Wolves!

* I’ve also managed to update the PL table (finally), so hopefully this is right as of the end of the Boro game. Check it out here.

Middlesbrough 2 Wolves 1

Few will have been surprised by the outcome.

Boro Wolves

But although only one goal separated the sides, to say the scoreline flattered Wolves is an understatement.

Aitor Karanke’s expensively assembled squad never looked likely to succumb to our patched up eleven and should have won the game by a much healthier margin.

In a disappointing sequel to last week’s morale boosting victory, Wolves were passive throughout and never got to grips with the fluidity of Boro’s midfield.

Though it seems folly to castigate particular players for their performance, we were particularly poor on the flanks and I imagine both Dominic Iorfa and Nathan Bryne will want to forget this particular Friday evening in a hurry.

The marking of Gaston Ramirez (or lack thereof) for the first goal was pitiful and it was no surprise to see the diminutive playmaker net his second, albeit fortuitously, from their side of the pitch.

Bjorn Sigurdarson, though admittedly feeding off scraps, once again did little to justify being selected ahead of Joe Mason, who did more in his late cameo than any of his colleagues had prior to his introduction.

Given the considerable outlay that was committed to securing the player’s signature, it goes without saying that Kenny Jackett needs to find a way of accomdating him in the side.

I suspect there will be many more evenings, afternoons and lunchtimes (depending on what Sky deem fit) like this to come before the end of the season, so it’d be wise to contemplate what the next campaign will bring.

Though investment is unlikely to be forthcoming from our stay away owner, we can at least look forward to welcoming some considerable talent back into the fold.

Dicko, Edwards, Graham, Williamson and Zyro will improve the team immeasurably and it’ll be interesting to see how we fare when afforded a clean bill of health.

Perhaps it’s naivety speaking, but I believe we’ll be much more formidable next time round.

Before I sign off, allow me to raise a glass to the supporters who made the trip to Teeside last night – you’re all a credit to our great club.

Middlesbrough Vs Wolves Preview

As we all know, this is a guaranteed defeat.

Boro Wolves

If history is anything to go by anyway.

Much better Wolves teams have played much worse Boro teams over the years and we’ve nearly always been routinely stuffed.

The good thing is we can afford to lose tonight. Unlike last season when we went up there desperately needing a point and leaving hopelessly disappointed yet again, the pressure is all on them.

I think you could sense Derby felt the burden of expectation last weekend, so maybe it’ll be the same again tonight?

Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough_crest_oldIt looked like Boro would coast to promotion a few months back and their January transfer business was as impressive as their summer recruitment.

Championship heavyweight Jordan Rhodes and Premier League proven Gaston Ramirez both looked like smart acquisitions to help them ease over the line.

But it hasn’t quite panned out for them yet and Hull, Burnley and Brighton have all reeled them back in. There’s a very real threat now that they might not make it again.

I was impressed how they turned the screw on us at Molineux earlier in the season. Once they got back level they just kept coming and eventually forced the win.

The Riverside is a fortress for everyone this year, not just Wolves. They’ve managed 11 victories from their 16 home matches to date with just the 2 defeats. It’s travel sickness that’s restricting their progress.

Wolves

The difference last weekend was the midfield. Kenny got a top notch performance from all three of his central players and they complimented each other very well.

team for Boro

Hopefully the above eleven can do what they did to Derby, which is make their life as miserable as possible when they’ve got the ball and break quickly when the opportunity presents itself.

Unlike Derby though, I don’t think Boro are afraid to scrap it out, so it could become a bit of a chess match and I’m not sure who that suits better?

Pace out wide also gives us opportunity and Helan looks a diligent worker, so that bodes well going in both directions and will help in a tough away fixture.

The gaffer

Predictions

I thought we’d be swatted away by Derby and ended up pleasantly surprised. It’s a repeat this week too.

We go confident and with renewed optimism but I think Boro will just have too much quality at home to hurt us.

So I’ll go for a narrow 2-1 defeat and hope to look foolish again.

Up The Wolves!

Wolves 1 Middlesbrough 3

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this third straight defeat is that it felt entirely avoidable.

Wolves Boro

Unlike Derby and Brentford, Wolves remained in the box seat for most of this feisty encounter.

But injuries, fatigue and a chronic lack of defensive cover ultimately allowed Middlesbrough’s quality to shine through in the final knockings.

After Kortney Hause was stretchered off and Conor Coady deemed his most suitable replacement, you always sensed the visitors would open the gates.

Aitor Karanka even had the luxury of introducing £6 million summer recruit Stewart Downing to crank up the heat.

And it was Downing’s neat reverse pass that created the space for the equaliser before his classy free kick sealed the deal.

Meanwhile, we’re all left to wonder what might have been had Kenny Jackett been armed with even adequate options to finish the job.

Nobody knows the anatomy of Wolves’ transfer dealings and who is truly to blame for the glaring imbalance to the squad, but as one fan put it to me yesterday: The chickens are coming home to roost.

While it’s unfortunate Kenny finds himself without Ebanks-Landell, Iorfa and Hause, it’s poetic justice for the head scratching decision to offload Richard Stearman.

Equally, Nathan Byrne’s desperate lunge that handed Boro the lead is a direct consequence of his inexperience.

And if you sign young, unproven players, they make those types of mistakes and you have to suffer the fallout.

With all this considered is it overly simplistic to suggest that the two teams respective transfer policies are where yesterday’s game was won and lost?

On a more positive note, there was much to be admired about Wolves’ performance for three quarters of the contest.

A classy opening goal showed that there’s requisite talent within the squad to open up even the meanest defence in the league.

Benik Afobe had chances too and occupied Boro’s back four with an encouraging display of power and menace.

It’s just a shame Afobe and a few other guilty parties couldn’t provide the killer second goal that may have won the day.

But on such fine margins games are won and lost in this league and those small percentage points normally come from individual talent.

Talent that Wolves seem loathe to pay for.