Talking Fletch with a Sunderland fan

With the Steven Fletcher transfer saga looking set to drag on for weeks to come, I took the opportunity to chat with Sunderland fan Steve from Salut! Sunderland.

Fletcher

Shall I stay or can I go?

Thomas: Hi Steve. I suppose the first obvious question is what do you think of the player? Are you as keen as Sunderland appear to be to see Fletcher arrive? Do you think he’s the man to replace Darren Bent’s goals?

Steve: I have admired Steven Fletcher for quite a while now. He’s one of these players, certainly from an outside perspective, where you maybe don’t notice him initially but then once you do you wonder how  he’s off the radar of most of the Premier League clubs. Since his double against us last year and the impressive work rate displayed, particularly for his second in that game, I have watched with admiration how he appears to finish most of the chances that come his way. With McClean and Larsson flanking him, I could see him become prolific here, absolutely. I was delighted when it became apparent we were after him.

Thomas: Yes, I think his goal/chance ratio must be right up there with the best. We put a lot of crosses into the box last year, but they weren’t always of the best quality and often when teams had chance to get man back and re-group. He scores all types of goals too, which is nice. A lot has been made of his heading ability, but he’s actually incredibly skillful and light on his feet. I don’t want to use the term ‘complete striker’ but he’s certainly got a bit of everything. Blimey, even I’m beginning to think he’s worth £15 million! Speaking of which, what about the fee? Looks like Wolves are holding out for the full 15 million smackers. That’s a massive slab of dosh isn’t it? I thought £10-12 million was a fair price myself.

Steve: It’s surprising and disappointing that Wolves had turned down £12m for him. People here have generally been split over that particular sum to start with, never mind anything more. A lot of people see a player from a relegated club and automatically associate that with the assumption that any of their players must be rubbish. All clubs possess these small minded fans, however, and the consensus amongst the rest of us is that he will change the whole dynamics of our side.  We have had a poor pre-season and  the main reason for that is that we appear to have played a system without the focal point necessary to make it work- i.e the centre forward who can hold and finish. A proven Premier League player providing this will always cost over £10m. Maybe Wolves know this and know how badly we need him.

Thomas: I think that’s exactly it. Wolves know how badly you want the player. They’ve set their stall out to get the full amount and don’t see a reason to budge. It’s now just a case of who blinks first. I would have been happy with £12 million. In fact, I wouldn’t have slated the club for selling at £10 million. What do you make of this tug-of-war between the two clubs? Fletcher handing in a transfer request? I suppose it’s just the way high-profile transfers are conducted nowadays?

Steve: It appears to be standard these days that clubs have to think of their own PR when conducting deals publicly. I always sensed Fletcher would hand in a request to force a move.  I thought Wolves may go for it then and devoid themselves of any blame. I feel O’Neill has done brilliantly in refusing to talk about it though, and I feel Wolves are simply trying to show their fans they won’t be pushed around. If this goes on any longer it will be even more counter productive, however. It is reflective of men in suits running football clubs that the board fail to see that the manager would rather have the cash in now so he can bed his own new players into the side. Moral and positivity can’t be underestimated in football. How we loved Niall Quinn being in charge here, a real football man.

Thomas: Definitely. I think it’s already been counter-productive. Our season starts on Saturday and we’re short in a few areas, despite having vast numbers of average players for most positions. Wolves as a club are definitely guilty, and not just in this instance, of trying to run it like any other business. Football is a business of course, but it’s a unique business where other factors come into play. Like you say, having a football man like Quinn at the top is never a bad idea. Still, while this is ongoing are you concerned another club might swoop in and pay the money?

Steve: I was, when figures of £9-10m were being floated around. I think he’d be a great foil for Darren B£nt at Aston Villa. The reason that Villa have B£nt however, makes me conclude that paying over £12m for another striker wouldn’t be in their best interests and I’m not sure they have that kind of money anyway. I feel we will sign him for around £13m and it well be after the season has started. As frustrating for both sets of fans as that is.

Thomas: That’s definitely the most likely conclusion. I suppose for both teams, the important long-term issue is that when the transfer window shuts, we’ve got our houses in order. Wolves still have plenty of business to do, so it promises to be a long month.  What did you make of the talk about Connor Wickham being part of the deal? Were you keen to offload him? Would he be a useful player at Wolves?

Steve: Wickham is another who has divided opinion with fans. He came with a big transfer fee and people have sometimes allowed that to cloud their judgement on him. We have some kids who have graduated from the academy who are the bee’s knees in some fans’ eyes but Connor is even younger than them. He was starting to look handy before he was injured last season and he looked very decent in our games when we played in South Korea a couple weeks back. He’s extremely raw but he’s an O’Neill kind of forward and i think he will come good. If you got him i feel it would be on loan only and he’d be more than capable in the Championship. More realistically, I feel Frazier Campbell may be one more mediocre performance away from being offered permantley in any deal. He could be a real star in the right environment and he probably needs a fresh start somewhere.

Thomas: Very interesting. We’ve of course got Doyle, Ebanks-Blake and two other new signings, so I think our reluctance to take on another striker is probably hampering the deal as much as anything else. Lets just hope it gets sorted out sooner rather than later. In the meantime. You’ve also been linked with our forward come left-back Stephen Ward. What do you think about that deal? He’s certainly a good outlet going forward from deep positions, but defensively he’s been found out on numerous occasions. Interested?

Steve: Reports today that appear to disregard any interest in Stephen Ward have been met with a huge sigh of relief. With all due respect to the player, we are surely in a position to attract better players than that standard. I couldn’t see any positive spin on the speculation that he was being chased by us, not by anybody. All the best for the season in an ever improving Championship. I hope the actions of your board aren’t to the detriment of both of our sides for much longer.

Thomas: Thanks Steve. Good luck for the season and in the remaining days/weeks of this saga.

* If you enjoyed the post please do leave a comment, even if you’re reading it via email subscription. And if you’d be so kind as to share the post on Twitter, Facebook or Google+, we’d thoroughly appreciate it.

Sunderland 0 Wolves 0

It really is completely unjust that no additional points are handed out for fighting on admirably after the battle is already lost.

If there were, Wolves probably wouldn’t be marooned at the foot of the Premier League table.

There’s no doubt this team are lethal in the art of showing their mettle just after the worst has already happened.

Not today

The kind of steely determination and togetherness we saw against Arsenal and indeed yesterday at the Stadium of Light were admirable, but ultimately pointless as the survival ship set sail five or six games ago.

TC sent out a side purpose-built not to lose, rotating our best players from midweek onto the bench in favour of a more rigid 442 formation boasting two holding midfielders.

For their part, I thought David Davis and particularly Karl Henry did an excellent job of shielding the back four. It made for a pleasant change to see us making the opposition work for an opening as apposed to handing it them on a plate.

Anthony Forde was given a surprise start and it was nice to see him cutting inside and actually taking a shot on goal, something we haven’t done nearly enough of this season. Will he have a more prominent role to play next season?

Fletcher, SEB and Dave Edwards all missed presentable opportunities that on another day could have given us an unlikely win.

Had any of the above found the net, I don’t think Sunderland could have had too many complaints about the result.

It was a tight game and although the home side pressed at times as you’d expect, Wayne Hennessey certainly enjoyed one of his quieter afternoons (by comparison of course) only forced into one real save of any note.

The back four deserve credit for this, with the old-guard of Stearman and Berra keeping the door shut for a change. I have to wonder would we have done any worse had we played those two there all season? Probably not.

There is naturally a sense of relief to end a run of 7 successive defeats, but this was nothing more than a training match; a damp squib of a contest that started slow and then petered out completely.

It counts for nothing and that in itself is a damning indictment of this seemingly never-ending pantomime of a season.

Sunderland Vs Wolves Preview

Victory at the Stadium of Light last season ultimately gave us the points total we needed to survive in the Premier League.

How sad then that we return a year later all but relegated barring the most astonishing turnaround in the history of the game.

A rare win at the Stadium of Light last season

Looking across at the home dugout, I’m sure Steve Morgan will be wondering what might have been had he dropped the axe on Mick McCarthy back in November after a run of five defeats on the bounce.

Around the same time of course Sunderland relieved Steve Bruce of his duties, brought in Martin O’Neill and sat back comfortably in their chairs to watch the Black Cats storm up the table.

On the weekend O’Neill took over, Wolves won the reverse fixture at Molineux to move them away from the relegation zone at the expense of their opponents. Sunderland now have 42 points, nearly double our current total.

7 home wins, 5 draws and just 4 defeats makes the Wearsiders ground a formidable place to visit these days, so Terry Connor has a job on his hands if he’s to gain any sort of temporary rest bite.

The Team

We know there will be one change to the side at least with Bassong suspended. That space will almost certainly be occupied by Christophe Berra. Dave Edwards is also a doubt I’m hearing, so assuming he’s out, this is the side I would send out:

Hennessey, Zubar, Stearman, Berra, Ward, Davis, Henry, Milijas, Jarvis, Kightly, Doyle

I think if recent weeks have taught us anything, it’s that our wingers are our matchwinners. The tactic must therefore be to get the ball to them in good areas as quickly and as often as possible.

Therefore I’d definitely play 5 in midfield with just a lone forward up top. Kevin Doyle was fantastic against Arsenal I thought, so he should definitely keep his place, assuming we adopt an identical system. That said, I’m never disappointed to see Steven Fletcher in the side.

Prediction League

Unsurprisingly most of you correctly said we’d lose against Arsenal. 26 pundits in total went for defeat and 6 of those got the 3-0 scoreline too.

Well done to Bagsy, Haywood Wolf, geordiewolf, Ade in China, sleachy and Philly Pete for all getting the maximum 3 points on offer. It’s a single for everyone else.

Call me an optimistic fool if you will, but I think we might get something this weekend. Only a point though.

2-2.

If you’re making the long trip up north, have a great time and get behind the lads as you always do. To the end.

Up The Wolves.

Wolves Vs Sunderland Preview

When I clicked onto the BBC Sport website this morning, the breaking news was that Martin O’Neill has agreed to become the next manager of Sunderland.

Should that report prove accurate it’s a gigantic coup for the Black Cats and will surely provide them with a timely boost ahead of Sunday’s crucial six pointer at Molineux.

Wolves have won their last 3 Premier League matches against Sunderland

Brilliant.

And in a week that’s seen the first managerial casualty of the Premier League season, the heat is well and truly on Mick McCarthy to deliver a result in front of an expectant home crowd.

Really, this has to be a win.

Make no mistake about it, if we don’t see a significant return from the three vital home matches prior to Christmas, we’re deep, deep in the brown stuff.

Sunderland arrive with the same number of points as Wolves having lost at home to Wigan the previous Saturday, signalling the end of the road for Steve Bruce.

Results certainly haven’t going their way, but there seems to be a consensus that they’ve perhaps not been playing as badly as their current league position suggests.

The Team

So what does Mick do this weekend with Karl Henry suspended? I dedicated an entire post to this subject earlier in the week simply because there are so many different options and it’s practically impossible to second guess our manager at the best of times anyway.

Hennessey, Zubar, Berra, Johnson, Elokobi, Jarvis, O'Hara, Edwards, Ward, Doyle, Fletcher

I just have a suspicion Mick will fancy the 442 in this one, with Ward remaining further forward in the midfield and Doyle joining Fletch up top.

Personally, I’d play 451, with Ward returning to left-back, a midfield trio of O’Hara, Edwards and Milijas with Jarvis and Hunt out wide.

Prediction League

33 people correctly predicted we’d lose at Stamford Bridge.

A stonking 11 of those got the 3-0 scoreline spot on too and take home the maximum 3 points on offer. The rest get a point.

A shout out then goes to Bagsy, Oli Baker, Louie, Stourbridge Wolf, Philly Pete, Clemens, Morph, alf white, Rich, Exeter Wolf and Yoda.

Well done.

It has to be victory this weekend so that is what I shall predict.

For no particularly logical reason I shall say 2-1 Wolves.

If you’re going to Molineux on Sunday, have a great time and get right behind the lads.

Up The Wolves.

Sunderland Vs Wolves Preview

As satisfying as it was to comprehensively beat the Baggies at Molineux last Sunday, we all know it could prove to be nothing more than the mother of all false dawns.

With two games still to play, victory in the Black Country Derby will count for sweet diddlysquat if we fail to get the results we need against Sunderland and Blackburn.

I personally believe 4 points will definitely get the job done and 3 might just get us over the line. Anything less and I think we’re toast.

As it stands

Despite our destiny now being firmly in our own hands, we’ll also be looking at results from elsewhere.

 

Should Blackpool fail to beat Bolton at home this weekend, it’s a big ask for them to go and get a result at Old Trafford on the last day, even if United are winding down by then. It’s do or die for the Seasiders on Saturday, but I suspect they’ll get something. Anything other than a Blackpool win would be huge for Wolves.

West Ham and Wigan have the mother of all six pointers to contest on Sunday. The Hammers need a win to have any chance at all of surviving, where as a win for Wigan would put them in a strong position heading into their final game at Stoke. By the time this one kicks off, we’ll know exactly what constitutes a good result for Wolves. Should we win at Sunderland, West Ham won’t be able to catch us and victory for them at the DW would also put us out of Wigan’s reach. However, should we lose at the Stadium of Light, a draw would probably be the most favourable outcome, relegating West Ham and leaving us ahead of Roberto Martinez’s side.

Blackburn and Birmingham can’t be discounted just yet either. Rovers host Man Utd, where anything other than defeat would be a bonus ahead of their trip to Molineux. Blues are at home to Fulham and they’ll want to win that one to guarantee safety. Otherwise, they’ll likely be heading to White Hart Lane on the final day needing a result, which is far from ideal.

Wolves battled to a 3-2 home win over Sunderland

Of course, Wolves can make all of the above academic by winning their final two games and that has to be the aim.

Sunderland, as we know, are ravaged by injuries, particularly up front. Having sold Darren Bent to Villa in January, they’ve subsequently seen Fraizer Campbell, Danny Wellbeck and Asamoah Gyan all sidelined indefinitely.

Added to that key players such as Gordon, Turner, Cattermole and Bramble are also sitting out the season, which has left Steve Bruce seriously short of options as the campaign draws to a close.

Credit to them though, they’ve pulled together and achieved some wonderful results in recent weeks to ensure their own Premier League safety. Last weekend’s victory at the Reebok Stadium was a stark reminder to Wolves, as if they needed it, that they’re in for a tough game, regardless of Sunderland’s injury meltdown.

However, you can’t help but think that this is a wonderful opportunity to bag a monumentally important away win, especially off the back of last Sunday’s heroics. I can’t see Mick picking anything other than the same eleven, which is:

Hennessy

Foley
Craddock
Mancienne
Elokobi

Guedioura
Henry
O’Hara
Hunt

Ward
Fletcher

I can’t possibly question that selection either. The bench should be strong too, with the likes of Jarvis, Milijas, SEB and maybe even Kevin Doyle all available to throw on.

Prediction League

Despite being called “deluded” and “s*** for brains” by Albion fans in last week’s preview, I correctly predicted a 3-1 win for Wolves….so there. Exeter Wolf and Jon Sidwell (who also said Fletcher would score twice – bravo) got it bang on the money too. Each of us pick up 3 points.

A whole raft of people plumped for a Wolves win and because after all it was a Black Country Derby, I’ll name you all. Take a bow Jed, Wolverine, Mark Davies, New York Wolf, These Are The Days, Super Kev Doyle, Stourbridge Wolf, Clive from Houston, Clemens, Philly Pete, Johnok, Yoda, Cheerio Mick, Rob in Dubai, Tipsy McStagger, tOM, Bazza and last but not least, Lawro.

Phew!

I reckon it’ll be a draw this weekend. Given the season we’ve had, I just can’t envisage going into the final game knowing we’re all but safe. It’s seems like destiny for it to go right to the wire, although I sincerely hope it doesn’t.

2-2.

If you’re making the long trip up north, have a great time, get right behind the lads and give them the support they deserve after last Sunday.

Up The Wolves.

* Just a quick note to say thank you for all the kind emails I had last week in support of both the blog and me personally. I took a bit of a pounding from Albion fans in the preview and removed a stack of comments. I don’t like doing that, but they were snide, pointless remarks that added nothing to the conversation. I made this blog so Wolves supporters would have a place to chat without the constant backdrop of annoying wind-up merchants and I fully intend to keep it that way.

Wolves 3 Sunderland 2

Ten minutes is a long time in football.

Entering the final stages of this one at 2-1 down, misery had returned, Mick McCarthy was clueless and Wolves were all but relegated.

Yet somehow, by full-time, it was smiling faces, Mick was the hero and the fightback was very much on.

SEB clinically despatched his late chance

Happy days.

And make no mistake about it, our manager deserves a substantial slab of the credit for this result. After all, both his substitutions paid off big time, with Hunt tapping in the equaliser and SEB clinically slamming home the winner in the dying moments.

The gaffer’s influence spread further too. Playing Elokobi in the middle, bringing the awesome Ronald Zubar in at full-back and moving Foley into midfield proved a masterstroke. After all, big George proved to be our stronger center-half, Zubar was man of the match and Foley coolly slotted home the opener. Can’t ask much more than that.

It didn’t all go right though.

Having gone a goal up just after the break, Wolves immediately set about defending like it was the final five minutes. And you can’t camp out in your penalty area when there’s still half and hour to go, particularly against a side with a wealth of attacking options.

We nearly paid the price for that negative approach too, going from a goal up to a goal down in the space of ten horrid minutes. First, Richard Stearman let a flick-on run across his body, allowing Darren Bent to scamper clear and finish emphatically. And when a cross from deep was nodded passed Wayne Hennessy by the unmarked Danny Wellbeck, I think we all feared the worst.

But if there is a lack of quality in certain areas of this Wolves side, you certainly can’t question the character and determination of anyone in a gold shirt. You only have to look at the desire shown by Elokobi, climbing highest to power in the header that lead to Hunt’s equaliser, to see how desperate these players are to turn things around.

Two players you can’t question the quality of are Doyle and Milijas, both of whom conjured sublime passes from nothing, opening the gates for SEB to power home his fourth Premier League goal of the season.

And what a finish it was from our number 9, readjusting his feet in the blink of an eye and taking aim to lift the ball high into the net, gobbling up a chance we quite simply couldn’t afford to miss.

What a moment.

Of course, this crucial win won’t turn our season around on it’s own.

But it’s a start.

And after the last few miserable weeks, I’ll take that.