Wolves 3 Preston North End 2

If last week’s victory was a demonstration of Wolves’ ability to win beautifully, then this tempestuous fixture was the opposite.

Whether or not it had anything to do with the old adage of foreigners not liking wet and windy weather, many of our continental stars were off colour in the opening half.

Enough stray passes were played to make an untrained eye think that this was Paul Lambert’s Wolves side on display, and not the Nuno incarnation that has had us all purring of late.

Our own shortcomings aside, there’s no denying the credentials of our opposition.

Preston came with a gameplan and, much like Cardiff, executed it to perfection, though admittedly they were fortunate to have the mind bogglingly incompetent Stephen Martin on refereeing duties.

Questions were asked of Wolves, and for large parts of the game it was difficult to remain steadfast in the belief we would answer them.

Alas, this team appears to be capable of conjuring goals at will and did so at the death of a first half in which we had been second best.

The rejuvenated and oft celebrated Ivan Cavaleiro showed a striker’s instinct to tap over the line after the ball had ricocheted around the box, notching a goal which revitalised an otherwise sluggish home team.

One might argue that Leo Bonatini’s ensuing brace and the subsequent three goal advantage flattered Nuno’s side, but the majority of the 27,000 plus crowd cared little for justice at that point.

The Brazilian loanee is really starting to look the part and has proven the frivolous concerns of some regarding his ability to score goals to be just that. His nimble footwork, deceiving strength and excellent reading of the game makes him a key cog in our feverish front three and I’d like to see Fosun make his stay at Molineux permanent come the summer.

Our healthy cushion was not to last long, with the Lilywhites providing a perhaps timely reminder that, for all the resolve of the new look back three, we are still capable of conceding needless goals.

First, the impressive Jordan Hugill was given the freedom of Molineux and headed home a teasing cross before Roderick Miranda then conspired to miss a routine clearance and allow Preston to force home a sloppy own goal.

I’m a fan of Miranda, believing him to be one of the more underrated of our summer acquisitions, but he was our weakness for much of yesterday’s game. He’ll need to improve his concentration levels if he’s to fend off the returning Willy Boly’s claim for a place in the starting eleven.

What ensued after that carnage was an acid test of our resilience, with Preston dominating the ball and invoking some real backs to the wall defending. Connor Coady and Romain Saiss were particularly brilliant during this period, both using their gangly frames to help prevent disaster.

After we rode out a spell of seemingly endless pressure, the aforementioned Martin decided to allow the game to descend into farce by instigating a mass brawl between all sets of players. This culminated in the just sending off of Alan Browne and his hilarious ‘Where’s Wally?’ like efforts to find him after his quick trudge down the tunnel.

Some comic relief on an otherwise stressful, but no less gratifying, afternoon.

Though Nuno’s unlikely to have enjoyed this one quite as much as he did the Villa game, his team have nonetheless proven that they can win games one of two ways. History will tell you that’s an essential characteristic for any promotion chasing side to have, and whilst it remains early days it’s hard to contest the view that Wolves are looking ominously equipped to achieve their ambitions.

Wolves Vs Preston North End Preview

Top of the league and deservedly so.

But to echo Nuno’s sentiments, it’s just the beginning. We’ve had a week to bask in the glory of defeating an average Villa side, but it’s imperative to back that up with another solid result.

If I wanted to put a downer on things – and believe me I don’t – I’d point out that the teams currently sitting in second and third both deservedly beat us.

And while I wouldn’t back against Wolves to out pace the likes of Cardiff and Sheffield United it’s a timely reminder that we haven’t had it all our own way in the first quarter.

Fifth place Preston arrive with a reputation for ruffling feathers so this promises to be another useful test of promotion credentials.

Preston

Alex Neil is doing a splendid job at Deepdale. I thought they were overachieving under Simon Grayson, but the former Norwich coach has taken them up a notch.

They’ve already walloped Cardiff 3-0, drawn away at both Leeds and Middlesbrough and last weekend came within seconds of beating Fulham at Craven Cottage.

In fact, had it not been for the concession of that 96th minute equaliser they’d be coming into this game knowing a win could take them top.

They’ve conceded the fewest goals in the league (8), they press high and they’re full of beans. In short, a nightmare for a team who like to play out from the back.

I’m looking forward to seeing Jordan Hugill after we sniffed around in the summer. He’s got 6 goals already this season making their decision to pull down the ‘not for sale’ shutters appear wiser every week.

Wolves

Why did we need a forward again? Only Hull (23) have racked up more than our 21 goals and there isn’t a player in old gold who doesn’t look like he’s capable of finding the net.

It won’t work every week but I like our three interchanging little wasps up front. All that movement must be a nightmare for heavy legged Championship defenders.

And if it’s not clicking, you’ve got Bonatini locked and loaded to offer a more substantial presence. The Brazilian has two in two starting from the bench.

Miranda isn’t everyone’s cup of of tea, but I like his style. He’s skin tight on forwards and that Italian-style defending is something we haven’t seen enough of in my time. Yes, he gives away free-kicks and can be loose in possession but I think his contribution is under rated.

For the record, I still think our best back three combination if Boly, Coady and Miranda, but it’s difficult to argue with Batth’s consistency of late. He scored the winner in this fixture last season.

Predictions

This one will be all about moving the ball intelligently and not allowing their high press to knock us off our stride. Cardiff and Sheffield United have already done this effectively so Preston know the blueprint.

Villa didn’t do this. They were content to drop deep and let things unfold, but I think that played into our hands. This will be something different.

Hopefully though, quality will win out and as the league leaders, playing at home, with confidence high and backed by a buoyant crowd we should expect to win and I think we will.

3-1.

Up The Wolves!

* I’m still on the scrounge for people to come along to a charity film screening I’m putting on at the start of November. Details here for anyone who is interested. Massive thanks to Clive, David (Bedford Wolf), Mark (theDOOGooder) and my trusty colleagues Ben & Rasmin for your support so far. You all have my love and gratitude.

Wolves 1 Preston North End 0

After finishing last season in midtable with 58 points there was insatiable appetite for change.

New owners, two managers, circa £30 million of investment, endless recruitment and where did it get us?

58 points and a midtable finish.

Change it would seem, isn’t always for the better.

Success in the Championship relies on building up incrementally over time, not constantly sweeping the decks and starting from scratch.

History supports this stance. Only two managers have won promotion to the Premier League with Wolves and both of them accomplished the task in their third season.

Dave Jones and Mick McCarthy were given resources to sculpt their teams and more importantly time to get things right. They both wobbled and faltered at times but ultimately succeeded.

Learn the lesson.

Every manager will annoy you at some point. Every manager will pick players and choose formations you don’t like. If it’s not Paul Lambert it will be someone else, but the revolving door strategy seldom pays dividends.

It’s for this reason I banged the drum for keeping the faith with Kenny Jackett last season and it’s why my opinion is the same this time around.

Back Paul Lambert, afford him the resources and I’m confident we’ll get there quicker than the alternative path.

This was a decent enough performance to sign off on. Yes, it was a dead rubber against an average side, but there was plenty to feel good about, especially when you consider most of our key performers were absent.

Helder Costa, Ben Marshall, Ivan Cavaleiro, Matt Doherty and Carl Ikeme all sat it out and not many Championship teams could lose so many influential players and still be able to play with a degree of fluency.

Silvio, Graham and Enobakhare were all able deputies, resplendent in the Molineux sunshine and getting bums off seats with slick, incisive football.

Jordan Graham in particular was excellent in the first half, ruining Preston’s full-back at will and bending dangerous crosses into the box. His perfectly placed corner gave Danny Batth the ammunition to win the game.

The great thing about our returning winger is that his game is centered on finesses and footwork rather than pace and power, so unlike Nouha Dicko he probably isn’t as encumbered by his long stint on the sidelines.

What we don’t know about Graham just yet is whether he can give us a whole season at the level we’ve grown accustom to. If he can get anywhere close, then the team can be built around his considerable talent.

Enobakhare’s performance will be remembered for two gilt edged misses with an open goal at his mercy, but his potential remains undoubted. Find that killer instinct and we do have one hell of a player.

I’d give Silvio a contract extension if we can feel confident he’s over the worst of his injury problems. As with the aforementioned players, he obviously possesses the talent but must overcome his personal demons.

These three individuals highlight that there is talent at Paul Lambert’s disposal and coupled with those sidelined, not mentioning academy prospects like Ronan, Gibbs-White and Wilson, we should feel confident about our prospects.

Retain as much of the talent as possible, select carefully from the water carriers that give them a platform to shine and add the necessary steal and we certainly won’t be far off.

It might be all that wonderful May sunshine going to my head, but I’m already feeling good about next season.

Have a great summer. Up The Wolves!

Wolves Vs Preston North End Preview

Nearly there.

A season that was supposed to sparkle and shine will mercifully fizzle out on Sunday giving us all much needed respite – for a few weeks at least.

But the club can’t sit around watching the garden grow. There’s a mountain of work to get through reshaping this squad to ensure we avoid these dead rubbers next year.

For what it’s worth, I’d give Helder Costa the Player of the Season gong based on the fact we’ve only looked anything close to capable when he’s been on the pitch.

Dave Edwards is the only other realistic candidate and rightly so for hitting double figures and putting in the miles. I wouldn’t begrudge him the award.

Preston

Although they’ve drifted back towards midtable, you’ve got to say Simon Grayson continues to do a splendid job at Deepdale.

There’s no money there and a couple of key players left last summer, so keeping them up was probably about par for the season. The fact they’ve occasionally flirted with the play-offs is testament to the former Leeds and Blackpool boss.

I tend to think of them as your archetypal Championship team, keeping it tight at the back and going direct, but the statistics suggest otherwise. They’ve scored 64 and conceded 62, both at the higher end of the scale.

They come into this game off four straight defeats and a draw against whipping boys Rotherham, so perhaps they’re also keen to get the beach towels out?

Jordan Hugill and Callum Robinson have netted 24 goals between them, while Aiden McGeady has rediscovered some form in a drifting career to notch eight himself with a further nine assists.

Wolves

We already know Helder Costa is out and Ivan Cavaleiro suspended so we’re short in wide areas. But maybe Jordan Graham can manage an hour to at least occasionally get us off our seats?

It would be nice to play with some actual width at home for a change and with the above wingers on the pitch, as well as Enobakhare in the middle, there’s actually a chance Dicko might get some decent service.

Including the loan signings (Teixeira and Borthwick-Jackson) I’m expecting at least 10 players to leave with Saville, Price, Silvio, Stearman, Williamson, Henry, Wallace, Gladon all off and others possibly not far behind.

But all of the above XI seem certain to be here (Iorfa might be an exception) so lets try and extract a decent performance from the remain camp to give us a grain of optimism about next season.

Predictions

I think we might win this one. Preston look to have checked out worse than us. OK, most of their recent defeats came against the top sides but only taking a point against Rotherham must give us hope.

I’ll say 3-1.

Well done to Ash K who I believe has already won the Prediction League (a second triumph is that?) with a game to spare. I’ll update the final table on Sunday to confirm. Thanks to everyone who has taken part. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

For the final time this season…Up The Wolves!

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Preston North End 0 Wolves 0

“We have a threat going forward but we have to be stronger at the back than we have in the last few months. So I decided to come here and be strong.”

“The whole team has been too wide open, the game was too wide and you can’t defend like that – no slight on Walter Zenga.”

Probably a touch difficult to not see that as a criticism of his predecessor, but I’m inclined to agree with Paul Lambert’s assessment.

The team has been too open. They haven’t got close enough to the opposition and that’s been reflected in the goals that have been conceded lately.

A cleansheet and a respectable point isn’t too shabby a debut, even if the attacking performance left much to be desired.

There were few surprises in defence with familiar personnel in a familiar setup and after our first successful shutout since the middle of September we shouldn’t grumble.

That said, the same frailties and individual errors surfaced at crucial moments, which could easily have taken the game away.

Dominic Iorfa was lucky to escape punishment after a clumsy challenge in the box and Kortney Hause’s slip (albeit in an otherwise strong showing) in the final minute sent their striker through on goal.

Focus and decision making are two key attributes for any defender at any level and unfortunately these are the precise areas our promising young stoppers have repeatedly been found lacking at the crucial moments this term.

I can’t help but feel the team would benefit from Richard Stearman’s experience in attempting to navigate this difficult period. He must be close to a start.

Many point to a ‘one big mistake every few games’ track record, but his colleagues are averaging one a game so that argument goes flying out the window.

Further forward, Lambert did raise eyebrows by bringing in Jack Price and George Saville who’ve seldom featured in recent times, as well as a shock start for Bright Enobakhare.

Two of those changes were in line with the head coach’s ‘lock it down’ game plan but the inclusion of Enobokhare was the major statement of intent.

If the young striker can suddenly jump the queue, it’s a reminder that nobody’s position is safe and there’s opportunity for all.

Not much went for Bright in a tight, congested contest and it was only in the final knockings when Dicko, Cavaleiro and Wallace entered the fray that Wolves began to threaten.

Cavaleiro produced the two best crosses of the afternoon for Wolves, both for Dicko and both unfortunately squandered.

Still, there will be an expectancy for those forward thinking players to start next Saturday in Lambert’s Molineux curtain raiser.

He alluded to the fact that the team needs to be setup differently to play at home, so I would expect at least some of those changes to happen.

It’s a scrappy, low key start. But maybe a few months of ‘low key’ is exactly what we need?

Preston North End Vs Wolves Preview

It was a real treat to be invited down to Compton Park last week to sit with Paul Lambert.

The new head coach gave us two hours of his time, answered every question we could throw at him and even returned fired with a few of his own.

He spoke passionately about his time spent shadowing some of the world’s best managers at the world’s biggest clubs and the lessons he’d learned.

In particular, how to manage an entire club. Not just the team, but the whole infrastructure. I like that big picture thinking and his early actions already center on creating a strong, united front.

As others have commented he looks refreshed, energised and full of ideas. But as he himself admitted, we need results quickly.

Preston

pne_fcSimon Grayson’s men had a terrible start to the season, but six wins in their last ten matches have elevated them up to eleventh.

That run includes wins over Norwich, Huddersfield and Aston Villa so it certainly isn’t a case of favourable fixtures.

I look at Preston and think ‘Steady Eddy’. That’s reflected in their 22 goals scored, 20 conceded record. There’s never much in their matches.

They got spanked 5-0 at Brentford but other than that all of their games have been tightly contested.

Their talisman Joe Garner left for Rangers in the summer, but Jordan Hugill has stepped up to fill the gap. He has 5 league goals so far.

Former Villa striker Callum Robinson and perennial thorn in our side Jermaine Beckford are two others to watch.

Wolves

Paul Lambert did offer two contrasting views that made me wonder how he’ll go about setting up his team.

team-for-preston

On the one hand he talked about ‘going for it’ and playing on the front foot. But equally he was keen to stress we need to be compact and tough to beat.

Dave Edwards is suspended so that opens the door for someone like Jack Price to fill the void. Plenty of people in the meeting were vocal about the fact he should be in the team.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see two up front and the experienced head of Richard Stearman brought in at the back either.

I should state this is a total guess loosely based on a few thoughts from Lambert about how he likes his teams to play. Little was said about specific individuals as you might expect.

Paul Lambert

Predictions

Obviously we’re hoping for that ‘new manager bounce’, which we got to a degree with Walter Zenga.

I fully expect a Paul Lambert team in the short term to reflect the sort of eleven we saw in those early season wins.

That will probably disappoint a lot of people, but whoever plays and however they play, we need to get some points on the board.

A workmanlike draw would be a decent start tomorrow.

1-1.

Up The Wolves!

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