Tranmere Rovers 1 Wolves 1

If Kenny Jackett hadn’t made any New Year’s Resolutions before our 1-1 draw with Tranmere Rovers, then I’m sure he’d have one or two in mind come 5pm.

Tranmere away

In a missed opportunity to kick 2014 off in style, he must surely be telling himself to get tougher with a team that was beyond awful in the first 45 minutes, following on from a pretty listless second half against Leyton Orient the game before.

In the second half at Prenton Park however – in monsoon like conditions – we were quite excellent, defying the weather to ping the ball around with accuracy, skill and speed, in much the same way as the opening 45 minutes on Sunday.

Jackett’s second resolution might be to discover some sort of ‘Plan B’ whenever an opposing team closes down space, gets in our faces and generally attempts to knock us out of our stride.

Ronnie Moore’s tactics were primitively simple, but like an increasing number of teams who visit Molineux these days, the ‘muck and nettles’ side of opponents’ games is one we don’t seem to like the look of.

Credit to the team for rolling up their sleeves in the second half and showing the character – and ability – that was previously nowhere to be seen.

You just wonder if we’d have faced adversity in the same way if Tranmere’s James Wallace wasn’t red carded for what looked like a sickening tackle on Ethan Ebanks-Landell, who is probably crocked for the foreseeable as a result.

The tackle – which sounded as ghastly as it looked – levelled the numbers out after Richard Stearman did what only Richard Stearman could do after 20 odd minutes to get himself sent-off.

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 11.20.47

Of all the centre-backs in all the world, only Stearman could have tried a pirouette style turn on the halfway line as the last man, with oceans of space to the left and right and only one onrushing player to worry about.

After stumbling over his feet like Bambi on a bobsleigh, he then scurried back to make amends but contrived to haul back Ryan Lowe, which could only end in disaster if the referee saw it as a foul.

But even with 10 men there were no excuses for a complete and utter no-show which blended all the sterility of Solbakken with the tomfoolery of Saunders, typified by Carl Ikeme who could have trotted out and sat on the ball before Ryan Lowe got anywhere near it to break the deadlock.

Fair play to the players though…

We were transformed in the second half and produced a sterling performance which should have returned more goals than David Edwards’ fabulous strike from Michael Jacob’s nimble work out wide.

Jacobs was head-and-shoulders above anyone else on the pitch and was hugely impressive, while McDonald grew into the game to eventually run it, in another stand-out performance.

Tranmere away

Scott Golbourne was an impressive substitute down the left and up front, Leigh Griffiths worked his socks off for little reward in a performance that was anything but ‘lazy’, next to the impotent Jake Cassidy who made way for a more lively Doyle.

But for a better final ball – as typified by the infuriating Sako – or a better decision in the final third, we would surely have won this game in 45 minutes of real promise.

That we didn’t leads me on to Kenny Jackett’s third and final New Year’s Resolution:

To drive Steve Morgan and Jez Moxey to compete and utter distraction in his demands for a new centre forward, as a matter of urgency.

Tranmere Rovers Vs Wolves Preview

Wolves might have slipped to third after Sunday, but if you offered me the same 48 points over the second half of the season, I would gratefully accept.

Wolves Tranmere

A 90+ tally must be the ultimate aim and if Wolves achieve that, it’s difficult to envisage promotion being anything but a certainty.

Two highly winnable away matches kick us off, starting at Tranmere tomorrow before the televised game at Gillingham on Friday evening.

The reverse fixture at Molineux a month or so back was probably the most comfortable victory of the season. Only two goals were scored but it could have been ten and the visitors rarely troubled our goal.

It’s difficult to believe things will be that straightforward at Prenton Park.

Tranmere

Ronnie Moore’s side have the second worst home record in the league, with just two wins from their ten matches to date. They’ve already been beaten five times on their own patch.

Since losing at Molineux at the end of November, they’ve won two and lost three, most recently finding themselves on the wrong end of a 3-1 defeat at Bramall Lane.

According to the BBC preview, Tranmere are facing a defensive crisis ahead of this match with two of their first choice back four ruled out.

The danger man is definitely veteran striker Ryan Lowe, who has 14 goals to his name already this season. We didn’t see much of him at Molineux as he struggled to make inroads as the lone forward.

Wolves

There were mixed views on Kenny Jackett’s team selection for Sunday. I agree that we played great football in that first half, but we didn’t get enough bodies into the box and when we did, the chances went begging.

Wolves team for Tranmere

The one major positive for me was Jacobs playing in that central role, tucked in behind the striker. His ability to move at speed with the ball was a real feature of our play. I hope we keep him.

I would definitely play Griffiths from the start. We need goals and he’s the only striker that scores. It’s that simple.

I’m always open to other people’s views and many have stated they thought Cassidy did well in the last two matches. I personally did not. Everyone sees a different game though.

Kenny could rotate any number of other players into the team including: Evans, Davis (where’s he gone?), Doyle, Sigurdarson, McAlinden or Golbourne (if fit). Plenty of options then for the manager to explore.

The odds

Wolves are the favourites for the win at 3/4. Tranmere are 4/1. The draw is 3/1.

You can get odds of 6/1 if you think this will be the game that Jake Cassidy finally breaks his duck for Wolves as the first goalscorer.

All odds can be found here.

Predictions

10 people correctly opted for the draw against Orient. A trio of those also got the 1-1 scoreline to double up their points tally.

Well done to Predictor, Ash K and GoWolves.

Heart and head says we should win this one so it has to be a Wolves victory. Don’t give anything silly away and we should ease through comfortably.

2-0 to the visitors.

Up The Wolves

Wolves 2 Tranmere Rovers 0

Somewhere, locked away in the deepest, most optimistic recesses of my mind, I hoped every game in League One would be like this.

Griffiths Tranmere

Wolves tying inferior opposition up in knots, moving the ball around the vast Molineux pitch and clocking up chances by the minute.

Make no mistake about it, if Kenny Jackett’s side have been effective up to this point, last night they were spectacular.

In every way a football team can be better than the opposition, Wolves were that as they completely took the Michael out of Tranmere from minute one to ninety.

Even before Leigh Griffiths’ hopeful punt squirmed under Owain Fon Williams to put his side ahead, Tranmere’s goal had been thoroughly peppered.

As the first half progressed, the only concern was that such total domination wouldn’t result in a second goal, leaving us open to an unlikely, yet not improbable, second half comeback.

Dave Edwards quashed those fears, nodding home a delicious Bakary Sako corner to engage full-on cruise control as Wolves cantered back to the top of the league.

Individually, everyone was superb. Alex Ferguson said in his recent book that in any good team performance, 8 players need to perform well, but you can carry 3. There were no passengers last night.

Well, maybe Carl Ikeme, who was given a deserved break from the spotlight as his defence comfortably dealt with anything the opposition could muster. They only managed one shot on target all night.

As Kenny Jackett demands, both his full-backs pushed forward well to support the attack. Samuel Ricketts in particular bursting a lung. His 80 yard dash just prior to the interval was a sight to behold, even if the finish was lacking.

In midfield the McDonald Edwards partnership was again imperious, ensuring a steady supply to our front four, whilst quickly neutralising any possible threat.

And with a wealth of possession, Sako and Jacobs really filled their boots. The only disappointment was that neither were able to find the decisive finish that their neat approach work merited.

Jacobs is the type of player we so rarely see in a gold shirt; quick, lithe and technically blessed. He was Man of the Match by a distance last night and that’s without a telling final ball.

Doyle carried on where he left off on in the first half Saturday, dropping into the pockets and linking the play together. It’s wonderful to see him enjoying his football again and rediscovering some of that swagger. If only he could shoot.

One player that can strike the ball is Leigh Griffiths and for the second game running, the Scot could have snagged a 45-minute hat-trick. But his overall play was superb and it was a luxury to rest him up ahead of the weekend.

Jake Cassidy won’t want to relive his horror miss, stroking the ball wide from 6 yards with the goal wide open. He worked hard thereafter and did some good things, but as Kenny Jackett suggests ‘he needs a goal’.

Peterborough on Saturday would be a nice place to get one Jake. We head there in arguably the best shape we’ve been in all season.

And with their recent dip in form, that optimistic voice in the back of mind is getting louder.

Wolves Vs Tranmere Rovers Preview

Shuffling into my seat about 5 minutes before kick-off on Saturday, I was anxious to see how England had got on in the rugby.

Ryan Lowe Tranmere

And as deflating as it was to learn they’d surrendered the game in the time it took me to walk from the pub to the ground, another scoreline stole my attention.

Coventry 0 Tranmere 3. And it wasn’t even half-time.

As I shared the news around, everyone had the same reaction: pleased, initially, in the sense that Coventry are a dangerous side that could conceivably crash the top six, but then uneasy at the prospect of entertaining an in-form Tranmere side on Tuesday.

Tranmere

A few weeks ago this would have seemed like a gimme with Rovers plummeting like a stone towards the foot of the table.

But a 5 match unbeaten run, including that impressive demolition of Coventry along with a good win over MK Dons and a draw with Preston, changes the complexion of the challenge.

It’s also worth remembering that Ronnie Moore had his side at the top of League One this time last year, cantering away at the outset, only to be dragged back as the season went on.

Ryan Lowe is the man charged with replacing Jake Cassidy’s goal input for Rovers and he scored a hat-trick at the weekend. He, along with returning star midfielder James Wallace, are two to watch out for.

Wolves

I liked the team Kenny Jackett put out on Saturday and hope to see the same eleven tonight. Will he have one eye on the Peterborough game though? That might lead to some changes.

Wolves XI

That probably constitutes our best team, with the exception of James Henry and perhaps Scott Golbourne depending on your preferences.

It’s hard to predict what KJ will do with his team. Probably harder than it’s ever been with any manager we’ve had in fact. He seems to have a clear game plan in mind for every opponent, which is refreshing and frustrating in equal measures.

The likes of Golbourne, Sigurdarson and Cassidy might get a start and I also thought Zeli Ismail showed some real intent in his short cameo at the weekend. Never disappointed to see him in the team.

The odds

You can get 7/1 on any Tranmere win in this match, which seems remarkable value given their recent upturn. Even I’m tempted to put a fiver on that.

Wolves are a far less generous 1/2 and the draw is 3/1. All odds are available to view here.

Predictions

16 people correctly predicted the draw against Brentford. Only one pundit got the 0-0 scoreline correct though.

Hats off to Chris in Dublin for doublin’ his tally (and people say I have no sense of humour). He really had the crystal ball out when forecasting an entertaining 0-0.

I said 4 points would be a good return from these two home matches and I stand by that. Despite Tranmere’s recent revival, I expect us to win this.

3-1

Up The Wolves.

Safely Through: Tranmere 0 Wolves 1

So we’re through to the fourth round of the FA Cup. Hardly a comprehensive victory but a win nonetheless and that’s all that really matters.

A bitterly cold Sunday night and a rock hard pitch didn’t exactly contribute to what was far from an enthralling spectacle, but the one moment of real quality won the game.

Tranmere's manager is their physio. Strange.

Tranmere's manager is their physio. Strange.

And I was pleased that it was Matt Jarvis who fired home the winner, particularly after that embarrassing miss at the end of the first half. He’s undoubtedly been one of our best performers this season and always looks to make something happen, so that goal was just reward for his efforts.

Nenad Milijas was more or less anonymous throughout, yet it was once again the Serbian who unlocked the opposition defence with a delicious, perfectly-weighted through ball. And that’s why we need him in the starting eleven. He might go missing for long periods, but he’s always capable of turning a close game in our favour with a moment of supreme quality.

There certainly wasn’t as many changes to the side as I’d expected, but one player who came in and did himself no harm at all was Wayne Hennessy. He had the odd moment of madness, with one poor throw and that 50/50 clash with their striker, which really should have given them the lead. But his overall play was solid and he handled everything fairly comfortably, even plucking one or two difficult crosses out of the winter sky with relative ease. I wonder if he’s in contention for a start at West Ham? Probably not given Hahnemann’s recent good form.

The wait for an open-play goal continues for SEB, despite a glorious headed chance from point-blank range. That’s the third similar opportunity he’s had this season and despite good saves from the three respective keepers, he’s really got to be planting them in the back of the net. But despite the miss, he was the better of our two strikers, although neither really enforced themselves on the game, which is disappointing.

In midfield, it was hit and miss again for me. Henry did his normal job pretty well, sweeping up in front of the back four and finding simple passes. Foley was neat and tidy as you’d expect, but he doesn’t give you a particularly great option in the final third. There’s an argument that we can afford to accommodate him in the midfield when Milijas and Jarvis offer the attacking threat, but I’d still like to see McCarthy bring in another natural right-sided midfielder. I suspect we might see that. Kris Commons has been mentioned and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in a gold shirt before January’s out.

Berra was rested at the back and I thought Mancienne did well sitting in alongside Craddock. He gives us more speed and guile at the center of defence but I’d still keep faith with the Scottish international for the trip to West Ham. I think he and Jody have a good understanding and position themselves well to compensate for any lack of pace.

So overall, it wasn’t great and we could easily have lost, but we’re through and probably shouldn’t complain too much about any win this season. It certainly won’t do our confidence any harm. I’d back us to beat Crystal Palace at home in the next round too and if we can, the FA Cup might just become a little bit more interesting for us.

On a side note, did anyone else watch the game on the FA Website and think the commentary was just awful? I couldn’t make my mind up whether they were trying to be biased towards Tranmere or were just two complete plonkers. Either way, they were uber critical of pretty much everything Wolves did and it just rubbed me up the wrong way. End of mini-rant.

Anyway, West Ham next up on Sunday. Should be a titanic clash, with both sides needing a result. I have faith Wolves can get it. More on that in the preview later in the week.

Up the Wolves.

Tranmere Vs Wolves Preview

I’ll openly admit that I know little about Tranmere Rovers at present.

I do know they’re struggling at the bottom of League One (third bottom to be precise) and parted company with John Barnes not too long ago. But other than that, I’m struggling.

John Barnes - Didn't last long at Tranmere

John Barnes - Didn't last long at Tranmere

It wasn’t always that way of course. Back in my early days as a Wolves supporter, visits to Prenton Park were a regular occurrence and they always had some useful players, most notably the likes of John Aldridge and Pat Nevin. Those were probably the golden years for Tranmere and where they’d eventually like to get back to.

Unfortunately, things aren’t quite as rosy for them these days and I’d imagine they’ll be looking forward to this match, hoping to make the most of the occasion and cause an upset. They’ve seen an upturn in their results recently, so they’ll have some belief that they can get the win and start a cup run.

I imagine Mick McCarthy will make quite a few changes to the Wolves side for this fixture. He’s come out and said he’s picking from his ‘first team squad’ but that gives us very little indication as to the actual eleven that will take to the field.

So I can’t possibly come close to predicting the exact lineup. However, I’d expect players like Hennessy, The Hoff and Matt Hill all to be given starts. Other than that, it’s more or less complete guess work. But with West Ham and Wigan coming up, I don’t think our manager will want to see any of his best players exerting themselves too much.

I don’t like devaluing the FA Cup, but unfortunately I can’t seem to muster a great deal of interest at this early stage, with Premiership survival all I’m able to focus my energies on. You might be different.

Seeing as I know so little about Tranmere and I have no clue what players will take to the field for Wolves, predicting a scoreline becomes rather difficult. Would it be incredibly ignorant of me to say that I expect Wolves to progress, simply because we’ll probably have a stronger team, whichever players we put out?

Whether it is or it isn’t, I’m going for a Wolves win, although no result would surprise me greatly.

If you’re making the trip, have a great time, enjoy the match and roar the lads on.

Up the Wolves.

Don’t forget, you can watch this match live on the FA website for free. Simply visit this page at 6pm on Sunday evening. I think that only applies to people living in the UK, but I might well be wrong.