Wolves 2 Real Betis 3 (video highlights)

Chesterfield 1 Wolves 2

His palms were sweaty, knees weak, arms were heavy, there was vomit on the Proact Stadium carpet already.

Arthur leading out Wolves at Chesterfield

But my son was 20 minutes away from leading out the Wolves against Chesterfield as mascot, so he was understandably nervous!

Pre-season friendlies don’t usually provide too much of an insight into the season that lies in wait but thanks to the organisation of good friend Mark Davies, the kindness of Chesterfield FC and the youngsters at Kenny Jackett’s disposal, last night was different.

Smallmans on the pitch at Chesterfield

If I learned one thing from our 2-1 win in north Derbyshire, then it’s that however many misdemeanours the club has committed over the past 3 years, I still can’t help but love it.

Not when I look at my 5 year-old boy who was positively beaming at leading the team out with Sam Ricketts, irrespective of the magnitude of this particular fixture and the attendance of around 2,500.

Youth certainly wasn’t wasted on the young as far as Arthur was concerned, as he clapped the away fans as if he was one of the players in purple.

Nor for Kenny Jackett, who is now giving our young players the chances to impress that had never been available previously.

arthur and ben

Following in dad’s footsteps

Of the kids on show, Lee Evans and Zeli Ismail were particularly impressive in second half outings, while Leigh Griffiths looks every inch the striker we have been crying out for, for so long.

Playing on the shoulder of their last man, he was a constant nuisance and didn’t look too dissimilar to a fit and firing Kenny Miller of 2003 vintage.

But while there were many positives to the second half display, the first half still presented a number of questions, with Chesterfield looking the better side, exploiting our left back frailties to equalise through Drew Talbot.

With Sam Ricketts right back, George Elokobi was the man to struggle and with Sako offering no outlet in front of him whatsoever, he didn’t have an easy opening half.

David Edwards looked neat and tidy and opened the scoring, despite it looking to me as if Jake Cassidy had prodded home with the final touch.

In conclusion, this was a keenly contested run-out which offered some genuine signs of hope and progress. In the eyes of a five year-old boy, it was the game of the century, featuring the best side in the whole world who he is now in love with forever.

Video highlights

Barnsley 2 Wolves 2 (video highlights)

Wrexham 1 Wolves 2

The only thing Kenny Jackett learnt in the first half of last night’s third straight pre-season victory was the magnitude of the task he’s undertaken.

Wolves Wrexham

Outplayed and out-classed by a Conference side that showed the greater appetite and invention, there were major issues for the manager to evaluate throughout his young Wolves side.

With George Elokobi at the heart of the defence, calamity is never too far away. Dedicated and likeable he may be, but sure of foot he is not. Countless times simple passes were miscontrolled and crosses shinned in no particular direction.

Danny Batth too was out of sorts in a scruffy first 45, which saw Wolves fall behind thanks to a simple free kick routine that caught them completely off guard.

Wrexham Wolves

About to be caught out for the opening goal

Wayne Hennessey would have been disappointed to see the shot defeat him at the near post, but he was otherwise comfortable enough on his return to first team action.

Bakary Sako provided the only moments of attacking menace for Wolves in a dismal first half, spanking a shot at goal from 25 yards out that the Wrexham keeper did well to palm over.

Moments later, the Frenchman was hobbling off with a hamstring injury and the 600 strong away contingent were left wondering who could possibly spark the comeback.

Thankfully, in Leigh Griffiths Wolves have a genuine match winner. Lively but unrewarded in the opening exchanges, the Scot took the game away from the Welsh side with a livewire second half performance.

Moments after his smart run and cross from the left saw Jake Cassidy fluff his lines in front of goal, Griffiths repeated the trick on the opposite flank with his strike partner dispatching at the second time of asking.

The winner arrived moments later with Griffiths running at defenders before angling a low (slightly tame) shot into the opposite corner.

It was the first time I’d seen the striker and I was impressed with his neat control and relentless running. He was the only player constantly looking to make something happen and as the game opened up, he was finally able to do the damage.

After carving out both goals, he had countless other strikes on target, swung a handful of dangerous corners into the box and even rose between two defenders for a powerful headed effort that unfortunately went straight at the keeper.

He was direct, confident and in the faces of the opposition, all things we’ve lacked from our strikers for longer than I can remember.

Alongside him Liam McAlinden toiled, barely able to get a touch of the ball. The more physical presence of Jake Cassidy was an improvement after the break, but Bjorn Sigurdarson remains the player I’d most like to see lining up at Preston.

Overall, it wasn’t a great night for our young hopefuls.

Lee Evans, alongside the combative David Davis in midfield, struggled to cope against eager opposition on a bobbling surface. But credit to him for persevering. When gaps began to appear he exploited them with some accurate, raking passes.

Jack Price, still being asked to operate out wide despite preferring a central role, was enthusiastic but largely anonymous in his 45 minute cameo.

Anthony Forde, a more natural wide player showed glimpses of pace and trickery but was let down by his final ball. He could certainly be one to watch this season though.

As much as they’ve been lambasted in recent times, our senior pros helped turn this game in our favour. Dave Edwards played the second half down the right flank and without being spectacular put a foot on the ball and calmed things down.

Richard Stearman, replacing the hapless Elokobi, brought about a marked improvement in our defensive fortunes. On this evidence, he and Batth must be nailed on to start at Deepdale.

And finally skipper Sam Ricketts looked strong and confident throughout. His ability to use both feet and find neat passes out of defence is a real asset. I’m surprised Bolton let him go.

A pleasing conclusion then after an abysmal start. Barnsley on Saturday will provide a more thorough examination. A similar half-baked first half there and I doubt we’ll be able to maintain our 100% pre-season record.

Livingston 1 Wolves 2 (video highlights)

Without wanting to simply repeat some of the points made in the East Fife article, I wasn’t going to post about this game. But then kind folks at Livingston uploaded video highlights of the game to save me the trouble:

I’m hoping to get to the Wrexham game tomorrow night for some more in-depth reconnaissance, so be sure to check back.

East Fife 2 Wolves 3

I say this every year, but I think it’s important to win these pre-season matches.

Griffiths

Winning breeds confidence and confidence is half the battle.

Wolves wracked up a string of friendly victories prior to the promotion winning season of 08/09 and went on to start that campaign with 7 wins from the first 8 games. It’s not a coincidence.

First and foremost then, well done to Kenny Jackett on a successful debut.

By all accounts it wasn’t a convincing performance, but confidence grew as the game progressed and the youthful second half blend showed glimpses of early promise.

So what did we learn?

Well, I think we can safely assume that our best players reside in the attacking third of the pitch.

Bjorn Sigurdarson was a standout first half performer, putting Wolves ahead after starting and finishing a swift attacking break. Consistency is key for the Icelander this season. If he plays 35-40 games through the middle, I think he’ll score plenty.

The same can be said of Leigh Griffiths who took little time to settle, scoring once and assisting Tongo Doumbia’s strike for the third. His ability to create opportunities for others could be as important as his own potency in front of goal.

With the impressive Liam McAlinden and League One veteran Jake Cassidy also vying for starts, Wolves needn’t stress about firepower. I’ll be surprised if we sign a striker.

Creativity however remains an issue. Sako was the standout player, but he will not be wearing a Wolves shirt come August. Therefore I have to ask the question, why is he playing?

If Kenny Jackett is supposed to be building a vibrant new team, why waste time fielding a player that has absolutely no intention of hanging around?

Surely Zeli Ismail should have been the player getting a 45 minute run out instead of an apologetic cameo at the end? We must look to the future, however good Sako is.

We’re short of good attacking wide players. Is Forde the answer? I’m not sure. With a fee reportedly agreed with Man City winger Jérémy Hélan, it suggests the manager knows we need an alternative solution.

Through the middle, a David Davis/Dave Edwards combination seems pedestrian. If we’re losing cutting edge out wide, we need to gain creativity in the center. Youngsters Lee Evans and Jack Price will hopefully provide that craft and they were impressive in their outings last night.

But Tongo Doumbia is vital. Coaxing a season’s worth of performances out of the Malian could be the difference between success and failure. At his best, he’ll be too good for the third tier. I hope to see him in the starting lineup come August.

Defensively, I still think it’s a pick-and-mix.

How Kenny Jackett decides to utilise his skipper will be very interesting though. Sam Ricketts can play anywhere across the line, so even though we’re assuming he’ll be a left-back, he could very easily be deployed as a center half.

Then there are the other questions. Is Stearman staying? Is Margreitter actually any good? What is Elokobi’s best position? All need resolving, along with the battle for the number 1 shirt.

Danny Batth seems a straightforward pick. He emerged with considerable credit, albeit having conceded the penalty that drew East Fife temporarily level. He and Ricketts will be two of the first names on the teamsheet at Preston.

The other 9 however, are probably a bit tougher to predict.