Wolves 1 Millwall 0

First things first – what a goal.

I’ve been frequenting the North Bank for well over two decades and let me tell you, we don’t get many of those.

The tenacity to emerge with the ball, the control, the pace and then the zero backlift finish were all sublime.

Diogo Jota’s outstanding effort will be the only thing this game is remembered for in a week and that’s no bad thing.

Today though, we’re left reflecting on a narrow one nil that could easily have slipped through our grasp had it not been for the steady hands of John Ruddy.

You wouldn’t have begrudged Millwall a late equaliser either after they’d spent most of the game chasing shadows, while Wolves ping ponged the ball around the pitch.

But despite enjoying over two thirds of the possession and controlling large swathes of the contest, Nuno’s boys never really hammered home their superiority.

Once Jota had struck, it was obvious any second goal in the remaining 80 minutes would have been more than enough to put the visitors to bed.

The fact they didn’t meant that even with an extra player it was always heading for a tense finale when Millwall began lobbing it forward.

It would be easy to repeat the standard ‘we need a striker’ line here, but I’m not convinced if you inserted a Jordan Rhodes or a Nelson Oliviera into that team today it would have made a difference.

Bonatini looked sharp, did a lot of good things and came as close as anyone, other than Jota, to finding the net with a fine first half strike.

I felt when we got the ball in the final third, there wasn’t enough urgency or incision to break through their back four.

Millwall were happy to drop very deep and that invited our midfielders to get forward to shoot from just outside the box.

Saiss and Neves both had several pot shots, which on another day could have been more profitable.

But too often players were content to turn back and slow the attack down, when taking a few more risks may have opened a few more doors.

These are details of course.

Wolves are doing well. The system is clear. The players are good. We shouldn’t grumble.

Bring on Bristol City.

Wolves Vs Millwall Preview

You get this every season.

A couple of winnable home games in the space of a few days. Expectations are high but the return routinely disappoints.

I see two decent fixtures here, particularly when you take into account who we’ve already played, but there’s still danger around every corner.

You don’t have to look hard where Millwall are concerned either. A newly promoted team, containing two of our former players, coming into this game on the back of a thumping victory.

We’ve been here before.

Millwall

I saw some of their game against Forest on the opening day of the season and they were unfortunate to lose.

They were subsequently outwitted by Ipswich and Reading, but that 4-0 win over Norwich last time out has put them back in the black.

Jed Wallace and George Saville were both on the scoresheet in that one and will be licking their lips about the prospect of getting one over their former employers tomorrow.

Neither should expect or receive a hostile reception though. Both tried their hardest in old gold but it just never quite worked.

Saville was the consummate square peg in a round hole, deployed anywhere but his preferred position in the middle where he couldn’t hold down a spot.

Wallace never got started, entering the picture at a difficult time with the team in transition and always hampered by injury.

I’ve said it before that I think both will end up being solid Championship performers and that reflects how I think Millwall will get on this season.

Wolves

Nuno’s job got a little bit easier or a little bit harder depending on how you view our late transfer window dealings.

Easier in the sense that he doesn’t have to keep so many first team players happy at least.

Edwards and Graham would both have expected to push hard for a place in the side but were obviously on the periphery.

Readily dispensing of Dicko without a slam dunk replacement seems more odd, despite Jeff Shi’s protestations, but we’ve got to go with it.

I’m gutted to see Wily Boly miss out tomorrow. The easy decision would be to bring Batth in but I think Bennett’s a bit quicker and that could go in his favour.

Impossible to know how Nuno will shuffle the deck though. Even new boy Alfred N’Diaye could slot in somewhere.

The key question is whether Wolves can maintain their levels even when one or two players drop out. So far, they’ve been able to pass those tests in the cup competitions, but the league is always tougher.

Predictions

The league table, our respective squads and home advantage logically lead me towards a home victory.

But you know, just know, that one or both of those lads will come back to bite us at some point.

Even so, I would hope the curse of the ex player isn’t the decisive factor for a change.

3-1 to us.

Up The Wolves!

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Wolves 4 Millwall 2

It’ll always be difficult to reflect on this season without thinking ‘what if?’.

Dicko heart

What if we’d just kept things a bit tighter in that difficult November?

What if we’d not thrown away that three goal lead at Millwall?

What if Scott Golbourne had just put the ball in the stand at St. Andrew’s?

What if we’d beaten Ipswich? Or drew at Middlesbrough?

What if? What if? What if?

Opinions will vary about where that extra point or those handful of goals could have been gained, but it’s a fruitless exercise.

As many have pointed out, every team can cite stumbles over their own 46 game journey.

So a more pertinent question we should perhaps spend the coming weeks focusing on is ‘what now?’.

What must be done in the summer months to ensure this burgeoning Wolves side are adequately equipped to go at least one better next season?

Replacing Bakary Sako will be high on the to-do list for Kenny and co. His goals and assists alone will leave a gaping chasm in our armoury that even two players may struggle to fill.

The winger toiled for much of this game but still walked off the pitch (after a tearful farewell) having played a part in all four of the goals scored (including one signature strike of his own).

Needless to say, his exit must be the only significant outgoing business we do. Any approaches for the likes of McDonald, Afobe and Dicko must be aggressively rebuffed.

Dicko took his tally to 15 yesterday; a solid return given mid-season injury woes. Even without Sako, one would expect him to better that total next year.

And if Benik Afobe can come anywhere near a repeat performance, scoring goals should not represent the challenge it was for parts of this season.

Kevin McDonald remains the fulcrum of the team and I suspect Kenny Jackett may – for a second consecutive summer –  attempt to unearth a suitable foil for his considerable talents.

Jack Price made a better fist of it than most, but is the head coach suitably convinced the pint sized passing machine can go the distance in the Championship hurly burly?

Defensively, it might be an internal shake-up rather than external recruitment that delivers progress. Both Hause and Ebanks-Landell could inject the pace and physical presence that’s been too often lacking.

Meanwhile, Dominic Iorfa looks the complete package at full back, leaving the highly capable Matt Doherty out in the wilderness.

And who knows how many other prospects may emerge from the academy next season giving Kenny Jackett an even wider pool to choose from?

Goalkeeping cover will be on the agenda with the flamboyance of Thomas Kuszczak dividing opinion. Love him or hate him, I think he could have done better with both Millwall goals yesterday.

Unquestionably though, the greatest challenge next season will be handling the weight of expectation. Progress has been as swift as it is impressive since that gloomy day at Brighton exactly two years ago.

The club, the manager and players are all victims of their own success, meaning there will be no debate about what constitutes success and failure come August.

Molineux no longer hopes, it expects.

And when that’s the case, there’s little tolerance for ‘what ifs’.

Highlights

Wolves Vs Millwall Preview

It’s nice to be going into this game with something to play for.

Millwall

The most likely scenario is disappointment, but even that’s not as sad as the end of season dead rubber.

I’m expecting Derby and Brentford to take charge of their respective matches (against meager opposition), thus rendering our efforts pointless.

If they don’t though, Wolves should fulfill their duty. An unlikely five or six goal victory may even bring Ipswich into the reckoning, who have the toughest fixture on paper. We have the firepower.

Millwall

Millwall_FC_logoThere’s always debate over whether or not it’s good to be facing a team with nothing to play for. Personally, I don’t think it makes a lot of difference.

Millwall were relegated in midweek after Rotherham’s win over Reading, so Neil Harris arrives at Molineux with nothing but pride at stake.

He’ll want a good performance though, particularly against Kenny Jackett who he enjoyed a good relationship with during their time together at the New Den.

For anyone who hasn’t read the excellent Family: Life, Death and Football: A Year on the Frontline with a Proper Club, which chronicles a season at Millwall in which Kenny Jackett guided them to promotion from League One – I strongly recommend it.

League One is where they’re heading back to now, which owes to a lack of goals scored (only Blackpool and Wigan have score fewer) and far too many conceded (72). Only Rotherham and Blackpool have a worse away record.

Wolves

It showed good character and commitment to comeback from the deflating result against Ipswich. It would have been easy to wilt and die at Wigan, but with a narrower midfielder, they dug in for a scrappy Championship 1-0.

Wolves team Wigan

A big victory isn’t beyond the realms of possibility, so if everyone is firing and the chances are taken, overhauling Brentford and Ipswich’s goal difference isn’t impossible. Highly unlikely yes, but not impossible.

Realistically though, defeat for Derby at home to Reading and a Wigan draw at Brentford is our greatest hope of creeping in.

Relying on one of those results would be a big ask, so the odds are long on both falling short. Hopefully they toil long enough to at least keep things interesting.

The gaffer

Predictions

I have full confidence Wolves will win this, but victory won’t be enough. That Scott Golbourne error at Birmingham was a turning point the team haven’t recovered from.

Even a point from that game would have given us an infinitely greater chance of overtaking either Derby or Ipswich tomorrow, but as it stands we’re just too far back in the queue.

A 6-0 victory would mean Brentford need to win by at least 2 and Ipswich could be overhauled if they lose narrowly to Blackburn.

I just wonder what mentality Wolves will adopt if they do get ahead? Will they go for goals or just take the win and hope for even less likely results elsewhere? I hope it’s the former.

Regardless, I think it will end up a win – 3-1

Up The Wolves

Millwall 3 Wolves 3

It’s difficult to know what’s more frustrating.

Batth Millwall

Hardly scoring but rarely conceding or watching the net bulge regularly at both ends of the pitch?

The former scenario certainly delivered a greater points return so Kenny Jackett might reevaluate priorities ahead of Middlesbrough’s visit on Tuesday night.

Wolves had this contest won without exiting first gear but swiftly entered reverse to allow Millwall back in.

Truth be told, the visitors barely merited the three goal lead they muddled into after a trio of set pieces were dispatched amongst questionable defending from the home side.

Danny Batth deserves plaudits for a smart hooked finish to open the scoring and with Bakary Sako and James Henry on the pitch, Wolves will always hurt opposition with good delivery, as proven by goals two and three.

However, individual and collective mistakes littered the defensive performance throughout, despite wholesale changes in personnel.

Questions were asked of Richard Stearman so it was no shock to see Ethan Ebanks-Landell handed a start alongside Danny Batth. But dropping Scott Golbourne for the supposedly versatile Tommy Rowe was a strange and unnecessary move.

Rowe hasn’t dazzled in any of the positions he’s occupied thus far and yesterday was his weakest showing yet. Far too many passes went astray and positionally the former Posh man struggled to cope when Millwall threw the kitchen sink.

He wasn’t the root of the problem though. Basic organisation and understanding along the line were obvious failings, which is always a risk when half of a settled back four is wiped out.

A strong showing from the skipper would have helped, but apart from his goal, Batth was unconvincing. It was far too easy for their forward to get the wrong side of the big defender for Millwall’s first goal, which ignited the fightback.

Further forward, the midfielders didn’t keep the ball anywhere near well enough. At three goals to the good, nobody, including the ever-reliable Kevin McDonald, managed to calm things down and slow the opposition’s tempo.

Rather than getting compact and seeing out the game, Wolves were content to go blow-for-blow, which played into the hands of a typical hell for leather Ian Holloway approach.

Ricardo Fuller profited with two classy finishes and after Lee Evans late surge towards goal was abruptly halted with a cynical lunge, two points had vanished in a puff of smoke.

Sloppy, avoidable but more than anything, frustrating.

Highlights

Millwall Vs Wolves Preview

The last international break interrupted a flying start to the season.

Holloway

This time, Wolves were more thankful for a breather.

Eight goals conceded and just two points accumulated from three bruising Championship encounters certainly wasn’t the return anyone hoped for.

Questionable defending and niggling injuries to key personnel is something we’ve not encountered under Kenny Jackett, so I’m sure the boss was appreciative of the respite to aid recovery and iron out glitches in the system.

That said, I thought we did more than enough to beat Wigan last time out, which would have put a much different slant on both our perceptions of the team and the table itself.

Millwall

Millwall_FC_logoTen points from their first four matches suggested Millwall could be this season’s surprise package under Ian Holloway. But consistency has since eluded them and the Lions haven’t won since August.

They have shutout both Derby and Forest to claim well earned points, but got turned over by Birmingham and Huddersfield in-between. Like most teams in this league then, they’re tough to quantify.

Some familiar names litter their squad, like journeyman striker Ricardo Fuller, heavyweight defender Danny Shittu and Wolves academy graduate Scott Malone.

It will be a feisty game at The Den, as they always are and the extra spice of Kenny Jackett returning to his former club is sure to give the contest an added edge.

Wolves

Bakary Sako has been clocking up the air miles playing for Mali so there’s every chance he won’t start this one. If not, someone has to step up to fill a considerable void.

Wolves team for Millwall

Michael Jacobs has barely had a kick this season, which is baffling when you consider the impact he made last term.

Kenny Jackett made a comment about the need to be physically strong in the Championship when referring to Jack Price and I wonder if Jacobs is being similarly singled out because of his slight stature?

Either way, if Sako doesn’t make it back, that would be my preferred XI with Lee Evans dropping back in at the expense of Tommy Rowe.

Predictions

As is the case with most draws, not many people picked up points after the Wigan game, but well done to the handful who did profit.

I’m going for an overdue away victory this time.

The Wolves setup should be well suited to getting results on the road and against a struggling Millwall side, this is a good opportunity to do just that.

2-1

Up The Wolves