Stoke City 0 Wolves 2

It’s difficult to envisage how this might have gone better.

Our star players came to the fore, those who’ve under performed stepped up their game and the few others returning from injury looked like they’d never been away.

There was even a debut for 16 year old Morgan Gibbs-White, hot on the heels of fellow academy graduates Harry Burgoyne and Connor Ronan.

Looking at yesterday’s teamsheet and the subsequent performance against a Premier League side’s best eleven, Paul Lambert now has some serious food for thought.

There were three changes to the back four and all were excellent, in particular the two center backs who kicked and headed everything.

Mike Williamson was straight into the groove, doing the basics well and most importantly instructing his youthful counterparts. Hause in particular benefited from his clear direction.

It’s tough on either Stearman or Batth (or possibly both) after the gutsy cleansheet at Hillsborough last weekend, but I think Williamson must remain in the side.

And if his steady reassurance is enough to coax the best out of Hause and Iorfa then both of those players must also be in contention.

Matt Doherty remains the only nailed on starter across the back line and possibly delivered his greatest performance in a Wolves shirt at the Britannia.

Rock solid defensively against the dangerous Shaqiri and typically dynamic going forward, it’s hard to believe the Premier League aren’t taking notice.

Some were surprised to see him standing over the free-kick that would eventually end up planted in the top corner, but he’s struck from distance repeatedly in recent weeks.

That’s now four for the season and it could easily have been double figures given the unlikely positions he routinely occupies in and around the penalty area.

Helder Costa is close to double figures and his eighth of the season was as impressive as any of the other seven, shifting inside and walloping a rasping drive through Lee Grant to give Wolves a deserved first half lead.

With the midfield anchored superbly by the unlikely duo of Lee Evans and George Saville, Costa, Bright Enobakahare and to a lesser extent Joe Mason were all free to roam.

Jon Dadi Bodvarsson lead the line superbly, carrying on where he left off at Sheffield Wednesday and so nearly finding the net himself. On this form, he must be the preferred choice.

Nouha Dicko was similarly unfortunate not to register after coming on, twice coming within inches of finally getting off the mark and adding further gloss to an already lustrous scoreline.

Remarkable really, when you consider Coady, Batth, Stearman, Edwards, Price, Cavaleiro, Ronan and Dicko either didn’t start or didn’t feature at all.

That’s 8 players who’ve significantly contributed to our recent upturn in form all rested while their so-called deputies turned in the most cohesive team performance of the season.

But when they had to rely on their goalkeeper in the second half, boy did he deliver. Carl Ikeme has been back to his best in recent weeks and like Doherty, he can probably count this among his very best in a long Wolves career.

If you’re going to cause an upset in the FA Cup, you need your goalkeeper to go above and beyond and some of the saves were simply out of this world.

What an afternoon. Enjoy it, savour it and most importantly look forward to the fourth round draw for the first time since 2011.

Games like this make it feel like anything is possible and that’s the magic of this great old competition.

Long may it continue.

Stoke City Vs Wolves Preview

I was unequivocal when speaking to Paul Lambert about this – Wolves needs a cup run.

This message will be repeated ad nauseum until we finally make it into the latter stages of one of the competitions, preferably this one.

The draw hasn’t been particularly kind but progression is possible if the stars align. Some of these factors we can’t control, but I just want to see the manager doing everything within his power to help us progress.

That means picking a decent team and giving us a real chance of upsetting a solid Premier League outfit. The army of supporters heading up the M6 deserve nothing less.

Stoke

Speaking of solid, Mark Hughes was a good horse to back after parting ways with Tony Pulis. I was impressed by the teams he built at Blackburn and Fulham. There was a blip at QPR but he’s returned to form at the Britannia.

The Potters are once again safely ensconced in midtable after a slow start and seem like a much different beast to the Pulis-era team that established them as a top flight club.

They’ve still got a bit of muscle, but there’s been a significant upgrade in technical proficiency in recent years with the likes of Arnautovic, Shaqiri and Bojan underlining the shift in philosophy.

I think Stoke would be stupid not to go all out to win this match and progress in the competition (what do they have to lose?) so would be surprised if a strong team wasn’t fielded.

Unlike us, they’ve tasted Wembley in the not-too-distant past, making it to the final (after beating Wolves along the way) in 2011, eventually losing out to Manchester City.

Wolves

Despite my protestations, Lambert has made noises about a few changes, but I hope that means one or two, rather than five or six. We have to retain some sort of continuity.

Perhaps giving Iorfa and Hause another crack at the first team after a few weeks out of the firing line might not be a bad move?

But even that seems unnecessary with Stearman and Coady both contributing to a couple of cleansheets on the road in recent times against Forest and Sheffield Wednesday.

Mike Williamson could be given a first team return after over a year out too if defensive changes are the order of the day.

Further forward, there are endless options, particularly with Ronan and Enobakhare both well on their way towards being in regular contention.

I have no idea what sort of team we’ll see, but I suppose like Lambert suggests in the video below, nobody will complain as long as we make a decent fist of things.

Paul Lambert

Predictions

Logic dictates we’ll lose and I’d probably have to go with that assessment. They’re a midtable Premier League team and we’re not quite a midtable Championship side, so the gap is significant.

I would see it as a considerable upset if we were to progress, particularly away, but we have the attacking players to inflict damage if they’re allowed to play.

And hopefully the likes of Costa, Cavaleiro and co will relish the big occasion. But overall, I think we’ll get edged out.

3-1.

Up The Wolves!

Stoke City Vs Wolves Preview

Looking at the fixtures for March at the end of February, I concluded Wolves needed a minimum 5 points to have a realistic chance of survival.

At the start of April we have the same number of points we had at the start of March.

Woodgate should have seen red at Molineux

Surely now even the most chirpy, upbeat, downright belligerently optimistic supporter wouldn’t dare to suggest we can still do it?

Having managed just 5 wins all season, we’d probably need to match that from the remaining 7 games and even that might not be enough.

Don’t forget we also have to play Arsenal and Man City as well visiting Swansea and, this Easter weekend, Stoke.

This wouldn’t be the Great Escape, it would be the Greatest Escape.

Personally, I’ve realigned my aspirations as we await mathematical confirmation. All I want is 7 gutsy performances and a few decent results to at least end the season with some pride intact.

However bad we are, these players are capable of better than what we’re currently being served up.

The Britannia isn’t an ideal place to start of course. Stoke have won more games at home (6) than we’ve won in total and every point is very much a prisoner in Staffordshire.

The Team

Personally, I’d be reverting to 4-5-1. We were just too open again through the middle in that crazy 15 minute period against Bolton. I know it’s hindsight, but after we went a goal up, I was disappointed TC didn’t act sooner bringing on Henry. We needed that extra protection.

Hennessey, Zubar, Johnson, Bassong, Ward, Henry, Milijas, Edwards, Jarvis, Kightly, Fletcher

It’s a no-brainer to put Henry back in if he’s proved his fitness. I’ve opted for Milijas and Edwards alongside him but I wouldn’t object to seeing Davis slot in there to have two holding players.

Considering Jarvis tends to struggle at the Britannia with Wilkinson nobbling him at every opportunity, we’re going to need something big from Kightly to get a result.

It was really pleasing to see Kites step it up again last weekend and score a wonderful goal. As my dad correctly observed, ‘that’s the reason we go to football matches’.

Prediction League

It’s all very much still to play for as we close in on the end of another Prediction League season.

12 people correctly stated we’d lose against Bolton but none of them said 3-2, so all take a single point.

I’ll go for a draw Saturday.

2-2.

But to get that we’ll need to show far greater resilience over 90 minutes than we’ve managed the last month or so.

We crumbled in the reverse fixture earlier in the season having dominated the first half. Yes, we were unlucky as Stoke definitely should have been down to 10-men after Woodgate’s second lunge on Jarvis, but we just didn’t get going in the second 45. It was embarrassing.

If you’re at the Britannia on Saturday, have a great time and get behind the lads.

Up The Wolves.

Wolves 1 Stoke City 2

If ever proof was needed that the FA’s ‘Respect the Ref’ campaign is a pointless, impotent insult to any right minded football fan’s intelligence, then this latest Molineux debacle was it.

One team, full of pre-meditated antagonism, stretching the laws of decency to breaking point, while the other turned the other cheek.

One perplexed managed looked on passively, while his counterpart’s hate-ridden face frantically chewed gum to quell the bile inside.

The shellsuited personification that is Tony Pulis hurled more expletives at the fourth official as bottles of water on the turf.

He swore black was white, instructed every one of his gargantuan team to do likewise and verbally abused the fourth official more times than a Burslem wife beater on Stella.

Kind of makes a mockery of that spineless FA campaign don’t you think, when Stoke’s pre-planned hostility is fawned over by a gutless referee, who spat at our attempts at respect as if we were the criminals.

Foul on Crouch by Johnson. Presumably.

Let’s get one thing straight first off…

…Stoke City are infinitely better than us and boast the calibre of player that Mick McCarthy could barely recognise, let alone play.

But when a referee decides to widen the chasm in class by cheating, then football immediately stops being a game that I can ever associate with.

Anthony Taylor was the faceless friend of the school ground bully, lapping up every insult and profanity that Stoke City threw his way.

He cheated by not sending off Jonathan Woodgate for hacking down Jarvis a second time in the process of conceding a penalty (second bookable offence).

He then failed to spot a clear tackle by Roger Johnson on Jon Walters, deciding to reward fair play with a free kick to Stoke, from which they levelled.

Predictably, Stoke go on to win due to their superior ability at retaining possession and Tony Pulis can congratulate the men he had spent the last 90 minutes chastising.

That’s Premier League football folks.

This whole sub plot is inextricable to the game itself, so to quote Big Ron on a famous Monday Night Football interview: ‘If the boys play badly I’ll whip ’em, but I ain’t whipping them for that.’

In short, we were great for 30 minutes and were by far the better team, going 1-0 up from the spot as Jarvis revelled in the absence of Andy Wilkinson.

While the referee clearly influenced the game by not sending off Woodgate, a secondary turning point was when Stephen Hunt ignored Steven Fletcher with the goal gaping before half time.

Whatever Mick said to his men at the break clearly didn’t work, as Stoke forced their way back into the game through the referee’s second clear moment of ineptitude.

But for all our gripes at the injustice of it all, we never made Sorensen save a single shot in the second half, looking completely dumbfounded at how to stem the red and white tide.

Stephen Ward, for all his vast improvement, was caught out for a second successive Saturday and with the ball firmly in our court to attack, we did nothing.

The threat of Jarvis was nullified when Pennant and Shotton doubled up on him, yet our secondary threat in Adam Hammill was once again ignored as we laboured to the final whistle.

Eleven defeats in 14 – featuring two feeble victories – tells us all we need to know about our side.

With peanuts to play with in January to strengthen it, maybe Mick would be better served calling up his good mate Pulis for a chat.

Knowing how to ‘win friends and influence people’ might earn us more points come May 13 than £4.5 million quid ever could.

Wolves Vs Stoke Preview

By the time we all sit down to enjoy our Christmas turkey, we’ll probably have a decent idea about what the second half of the season has in store for Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Prior to December 25th, Mick and the boys have two winnable home fixtures, which could see them either catapulted towards midtable or plummeting towards the bottom.

Fletch bundles home his first Wolves goal in last season's win

And the first of those clashes is a Molineux derby of sorts with Stoke.

The last time we locked horns was on a cold Tuesday night back in April, with the Potters trouncing us 3-0 after one of the meekest Wolves performances you’re ever likely to see.

As Ben and I skulked away from the Britannia that evening we were both convinced Wolves short stint in the top flight was at an end.

That loss was soul destroying for the simple reason that Stoke wanted it more than us, despite our need for the points being far greater than theirs.

Contrast that to the impressive home victory Wolves scored on the opening day of last season; a performance which should provide the blueprint for our tactics in this game.

Stay disciplined. Defend set pieces. Match their effort. And when we get the ball, pass it.

There’s no use going blow for blow and attempting a direct game against the side who have mastered it. The only way we’ll enjoy even a modicum of success is to play through the midfield.

The Team

I’m still expecting a 442, so that really only leaves one place up for grabs, which is down the right where Dave Edwards is a doubt. If the Welshman is fit, I’d expect him to play, simply because his height is useful for defensive purposes. Assuming he’s not though, I reckon the team will be:

Hennessey, Zubar, Johnson, Berra, Ward, Henry, O'Hara, Hunt, Jarvis, Doyle, Fletcher

Hammill and Guedioura could be other options down the right, but Hunt is probably the most likely replacement.

Hoping to see more inspired wing play from Jarvis in this one against a side he’s consistently struggled to perform well against. His contribution will be key in this one.

Prediction League

The majority predicted we’d lose at Old Trafford last weekend, with 23 pundits getting the correct outcome.

Only one person got the 4-1 scoreline though, which was, er, me. So well done to me for picking up the maximum 3 points. Everyone else gets a point.

Tough one to call this weekend.

Stoke have been poor on the road in recent years, but already have a couple of wins under their belts this season.

I’m going to say a score draw. 1-1.

4 points from this game and next Tuesday against Norwich would represent a decent return, so lets hope we get it (or hopefully more).

If you’re heading to Molineux for this one, have a great time and get right behind the lads.

Up The Wolves.

Stoke Vs Wolves Preview

There’s little to no time for dwelling on the disappointing performance against Fulham, with a crucial game at the Britannia to negotiate tomorrow evening.

This is our game in hand, our ace in the hole, our chance to leapfrog a few of those sides hovering just above us and move north of the dreaded dotted line.

With no other teams playing, a draw will suffice to see us escape the bottom three but as we all know, you never get an easy game against Tony Pulis’ side.

Wolves are unbeaten in 3 Premier League games against Stoke

Stoke themselves aren’t completely out of the mire just yet and will probably need another win to be sure of retaining their Premier League status. They’ll be looking at this fixture as the ideal opportunity to get the job done sooner rather than later.

Their home record is ominously good, with 8 wins on their own ground against four draws and just four defeats. So suffice to say, if they hadn’t been defeated a whopping 12 times on the road, they’d be significantly higher up the table.

You know what you’ll get from the Potters, but sadly that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. They’ll compete for everything, throw a lot of high balls in the box and constantly ask questions of your defence and goalkeeper. The question is, can Wolves cope?

If we assume that Richard Stearman will remain at right-back alongside Christophe Berra and Jody Craddock in the center of defence, we should have enough aerial strength to stand strong against the bombardment. Wayne Hennessy will need to be at his very best, as any flapping could prove costly. He spilled a few crosses against Fulham and I’m not sure we can afford more of the same in this one.

I believe we’ll see the same starting XI that took to the field against Fulham, which means a team of:

Hennessy

Stearman
Craddock
Berra
Ward

Guedioura
Henry
Milijas
O’Hara
Jarvis

Fletcher

Prediction League

Well done to aikiwolf, Rob and Bagsy who all correctly predicted that Saturday’s game would end in a one all draw. Each of you shrewd pundits get the maximum 3 points on offer.

I feel nervous about tomorrow night’s fixture and not at all confident.

I foresee us being under siege for much of the game and suspect we might end up getting worn down by Stoke’s effective brand of direct football.

Whenever we’ve come up against sides away from home who adopt a physical approach i.e. Blackburn and Newcastle, we’ve been swept aside and I fear the same might happen again.

I’ll plump for 3-1 Stoke and hope I’m cursing myself at 10pm tomorrow evening for such reckless negativity.

If you’re going to the match, have a great time and get right behind the lads. It’s always a great atmosphere at the Britannia and the lads will need all the support they can get.

Up The Wolves.