Archives for October 2009

Stoke City Vs Wolves Preview

I don’t like Stoke City.

I can’t put my finger on exactly why that is, but they’re just one of those clubs that rub me up the wrong way.

There’s a chance that my bitterness stems from plain old sour grapes.

The last time Wolves met Stoke, the Potters won 4-2 at Molineux

The last time Wolves met Stoke, the Potters won 4-2 at Molineux on their way to promotion

I remember going to the Victoria Ground and seeing Wolves get well and truly stuffed, back when McGhee was in charge. Then of course there was the more recent 4-2 defeat they inflicted on us at Molineux, on the way to automatic promotion a few seasons back. The latter was a particularly hard pill to swallow.

Or maybe my dislike for the Potters is down to jealousy.

After all, they enjoyed a tremendous first outing in the Premiership, finishing comfortably in midtable, far, far away from the perils of the bottom three. And the way in which they set about ruffling the feathers of the big boys and stamping their authority on the top tier, was something I’d hoped to see Wolves achieve. But it wasn’t Wolves, it was Stoke.

I suspect though, that like most petty football-related grudges, I just decided one day that I wasn’t going to like Stoke City and that was that. Consigned to the scrapheap along with the likes of Coventry, Bristol City and a few others I had no good reason to judge.

But like them or not, you’ve got to respect what Stoke have achieved.

Nobody wants to play them, they’re home ground has fast become a fortress and all over they just have the look of a club that’s moving onwards and upwards.

So as we prepare to make the short trip up the M6 to take on the club we’re trying desperately to emulate, can we really expect to get a result?

I think if you’re a neutral, you’d probably say we’re cannon fodder for Stoke at the Britannia. After all, we’re a young team, who like to get the ball down and play, who are likely to get bullied all over the pitch and eventually battered into submission. A home banker on the Pools coupon if ever there was one.

But I think anyone who knows this Wolves team, knows that one thing they’re not afraid of is a scrap. And it’s for that reason I’m quietly confident we can sneak a result on Saturday and push ourselves up a few places in the league, ahead of a daunting November.

We’ll need another giant performance from our back four, but you’d say that this should be a match perfectly tailored for the likes of Craddock and Berra to shine. Both are more than capable in the air and supported by Zubar and Elokobi, should have enough to cope with the bombardment we’re likely to receive.

Maybe I shouldn’t be concerned about Hennessy after recent performances, but I am. I thought he was well protected against Villa, but claimed the odd cross confidently that came near him. We’ll need the same again, but I can’t help but feel if there’s a team perfectly designed to expose his frailties, it’s got to be Stoke.

If we can deal with whatever they throw at us, I think there’s a good chance we can knick the win. With the attacking options we have, I’d always back us to create chances and get goals so a 1-0 or a 2-1 in our favour certainly isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.

I wonder whether Mick will change the starting XI in order to cope with the very specific type of threat that Stoke pose? This time, barring injuries, I think he’ll probably keep faith with the side that lined up against Villa. Namely:





I wonder if he might drop Keogh from the squad all-together and have both Iwelumo and The Hoff on the bench? It must surely be a good idea to have two giants at your disposal for a match of this nature. Probably won’t happen.

In terms of the result, I’m praying Wolves get the first goal (just for a change), as I think that could prove particularly crucial in this match. Should we fall behind, I worry that their steely resolve might just be too difficult to overcome.

I’m feeling confident ahead of this one I must say. With Sylvan getting off the mark last week, I’m hoping for a little run of goals. So with that in mind, I’m predicting 2-1 to Wolves and SEB to score twice.

As always, if you’re one of the 3,000 heading up to Stoke, get behind the lads. It’s a bit of a cauldron inside the Britannia, so they’ll need our support more than ever.

Up The Wolves.

Honours Even: Wolves 1 Aston Villa 1

Probably a fair result on the balance of play wasn’t it?

I thought Wolves came out fighting and enjoyed more of the play in the first 45. Once again though, the major talking point is about a decision that didn’t go our way. There was one person inside the whole of Molineux who couldn’t see Doyle was being wrestled over by Dunne, but unfortunately, he was the man with the whistle. That being said, Doyle was far too honest and I’m a big believer that if you don’t go down in the box, you won’t get the decision. And so it proved.

SEB - Off the mark with a pressure penalty

SEB - Off the mark with a pressure penalty

Villa are obviously at their best when breaking on teams and you can see they’re always trying to get the ball forward as quickly as possible. I thought Wolves did a good job of keeping their shape and making life difficult for their best players to find space. The back four were all excellent, as were Henry and Castillo in front of them. More on that later.

By the end though, we were glad to get a point. Villa moved players around in the second half and enjoyed far more of the ball. So when we went a goal down with ten minutes left, I was struggling to see a way back for us.

But the one moment of real quality got us the penalty, when Milijas engineered that clever backheel and Kightly turned his man, forcing Sidwell into the challenge. And when the chips are down, there’s still only one man I’d want standing over the ball. I know SEB missed two pens last season, but I’d always back him to find the net. That was a pressure kick and the manner in which he slammed it home tells you all you need to know about our number 9.

So honours even, despite a late surge and some aerial bombardment from Wolves.

For me, the stars of the show were the back four or back six if you count the two holding midfielders. Berra and Craddock were big and strong against Carew, Elokobi defended well (but was once again poor in possession) but the real star of the show has to be Zubar. That’s the first time I’ve seen him play and boy did he impress me. Good in the air, decent on the deck and incredibly energetic. I bet Ashley Young will be glad he doesn’t have to come up against him every week. That’s only his second proper start, but if it’s a sign of things to come, I’ll be very happy with that bit of business.

On the way to the ground, Ben caught up with me and said Castillo was playing. This pleased me a great deal and I think his performance showed why. He’s just brilliant at breaking up play and destroying opposition attacks. I like the balance he brings to our side and alongside the quite magnificent Karl Henry, he provided the support our back four needed.

I was also happy to see a much brighter performance from SEB. I’ve already mentioned his penalty, but I thought his overall game was impressive, holding the ball up well and bringing others into play. Goals will come if carries on in the same manner and hopefully the dream partnership he shares with Doyle can fire us to safety. I’m confident in that respect.

As you can probably tell, I saw a lot of positives once again from Saturday’s performance. But I’m not deluded, we need to start putting some wins on the board. And with three horrendous fixtures to come now, that won’t be easy. I think we need to get something next week at Stoke and then beat Blues at the end of November. Sandwiched in the middle are games against Arsenal and Chelsea, which are likely to add nothing to our points tally.

It’d be boring if it was easy though.

Ben’s Player ratings

Hennessey: His performances are now starting to match his 6ft 5in frame. More commanding, visibly more confident, and more reassuring to see him in this form. No chance with the goal. Keep it up Wayne! 7/10

Ronald Zubar:
One of many huge positives from the game. Big, strong, quick, good on the ball, and barely gave Ashley Young a sniff. Being hyper-critical, could he have cleaned out the ball on the touchline in the build up to Villa’s goal? A fantastic display none-the-less begging one question: Where’s he been all season?! 8/10

Christophe Berra: Berra looks to be relishing the rigors of the Premiership and stood up to Carew and Agbonlahor well. So much so that Carew was subbed early. Another contender for man-of-the-match with a performance full of strength and honesty. Seems to be enjoying Craddock’s company alongside him too. 8/10

Jody Craddock: Like Berra, displaying the heart of a lion, and the presence of a giant. Say what you like about Jody, but he bleeds for the cause and stands up to anything thrown at him. As Joni Mitchell once sang: “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” and we sure have missed him when he’s not been around. A leader. Could he have got closer to Agbonlahor for Villa’s opener though? 8/10

George Elokobi: My mate reckons he’s lost weight. I just think he’s wearing a bigger shirt! His chest thumping antics at the final whistle showed us how much the performance meant to him, and he deserved his rousing send-off at the final whistle. Kept Milner quiet which is no mean feat, was tigerish in the tackle, and typified the team’s display with a whole hearted display. His distribution still needs work, but we’ll forgive him that for now. 7/10

Michael Kightly: Best display for us since coming back from injury. Full of industry and great to see him back. Not as much chalk on his boots as usual, but offers us something that we have missed… A genuine outlet. Great control, neat touches and won us the all important penalty. Getting back to his best. 7/10

Karl Henry: Oh Karl Henry! His first half performance was the best 45 minutes I have ever seen a Wolves midfielder play in my lifetime. Phenomenal gut busting display. Won every tackle, never mis-placed a pass, and made Villa’s midfield 2 of Sidwell and Petrov look distinctly average. I wouldn’t swap him for either of those two. Deserved his MOM and I’m so close to giving him a 10/10. Shame he only ever passes backwards and sideways like a crab eh? 9/10

Segundo Castillo: Can’t be a coincidence that Henry has his best game in a Wolves shirt when the big Columbian is alongside him? Henry must love it when Castillo is in the team. Destructive, tough as teak, and never gave Villa a second. They must be sick of the sight of him. First time I have seen him and he looked far more perceptive than I imagined he would. Seemed to read the game excellently. It meant he didn’t so much have to win tackles, as he had already nipped in to get there first. Could be our most important signing behind Doyle. 8/10

Dave Edwards: Is there a more selfless, willing player than the Shropshire Lad? A few round me had him as their MOM, and can see why. When we’ve narrowed our home pitch and Edwards is playing on the left, you’re naturally going to lose the shape of 08/09. But that’s exactly what we wanted on Saturday, as we suffocated the life out of Villa. Thanks to Dave and others, we keep hearing the opposition droning on about being well below par. (EG Sunderland, Fulham, Everton and now Villa) Funny that. Naturally tired near the end and subbed. 8/10

SEB: So thrilled to see him bang that penalty in. Another huge, huge positive was seeing him open his account. Hope it will be the start of many. He was direct, strong, and stood up to Villa’s brute force at the back very well. Always showed for the ball, wanting to get involved and looks to be getting back to something like his best. Also showing signs of a promising partnership with Doyle. 7/10

Doyle: I love him. Almost as much as Richard Dunne loves referee Peter Walton, who should have sent off the big oaf in the first 5mins for a desperate couple of challenges on him in the box, let alone give us a penalty. Holds it up brilliantly, great first touch, and superb movement. Also far stronger than many would think, as shown by the tussle with Dunne. He already looks a steal for £6.5million. Always seems to have more time on the ball somehow, the sign of a class act. 8/10


Nenad Milijas: Made an impact from the bench, instrumental in winning us the pen. Good touches and great set-play delivery 6/10

Greg Halford: Made one crucial block late in the second half which surely denied Villa a winner. His long throws also caused some panic . 6/10

Chris Iwelumo: Welcome back big man! Got some time at the end to rough up the Villa defence. Won some flick-ons and reminded us of what we have missed. Could be useful at the Britannia. 6/10

And finally, the fans:

It’s atmospheres like Saturday that are conveniently forgotten when the Express & Star need to find an excuse for a poor display. That fabled ‘Molineux Factor’, those fickle supporters who always get on the team’s back after 15 mins… You know, the ones who are to blame for Keogh not scoring more, or Lee Naylor being no good.

I wonder if the club’s PR machine, the local rag, or Jez Moxey will make reference to those nasty fans after Saturday? I doubt it. They sang for 90mins, belittled Villa’s pathetic repertoire and produced a display as impressive as the team. Fantastic, witty array of songs, awesome noise, and a deafening song or two for Big Mick from the South Bank. A day when I was as proud to be wearing my Wolves shirt and will refer to the next time some t**t blames me and everyone else for a defeat.

Wolves Vs Aston Villa Preview

So the first derby of the season is upon us and opposition doesn’t come much trickier than our claret and blue neighbours from down the M6.

Indeed, if we needed reminding of the quality Villa have at their disposal, we got it last weekend with their much-deserved victory over Chelsea. I only hope that Mick has looked at a tape of that match and masterminded a way to neutralise their most obvious weapons.

Wide players could hold the key to this derby

Wide players could hold the key to this derby

First and foremost, we’re going to have to defend well from set pieces. Both of their goals against Chelsea were headers from corners, as was their opener against Man City the week previous. We should have the height necessary to cope, but strict organisation is needed for the entire 90 minutes. With Craddock in the side, this shouldn’t be a problem, but I worry that Hennessy’s frailties in dealing with crosses might be exposed.

Of course delivery from wide areas will be difficult to prevent, given the quality they have on both flanks from Milner and Young. These two are also capable of cutting in and doing damage on their own, so our full-backs need to have big games if we’re to get anything. I suspect this might be where the game is won and lost.

On the flip side, I do feel Wolves have enough going forward to cause their defence problems and if we can keep the back door shut, a victory isn’t out of the question.

Funnily enough, Wolves have already come up against both Richard Dunne and James Collins this season; the two lining up in our matches against Man City and West Ham respectively. We failed to score in both of those games, which is encouraging for Villa, but I must say neither player convinced me greatly. I believe Doyle and SEB can ask enough questions to cause them serious problems and if we can provide them any kind of service, I’m confident Wolves will score.

I just wonder whether Mick will be bold enough to play both our wingers. Matt Jarvis was perhaps unlucky to be dropped against Everton, but the decision to play Halford to make the midfield more compact was certainly justified. I suspect the midfield will remain unchanged, which means the emphasis is on Michael Kightly to provide the creative spark. He’s certainly capable of winning us matches and we need a big performance from our star man.

Thinking about it, I’m fairly certain that the entire starting XI will be the same as last time out. That doesn’t upset me too much, but given the choice, I’d like to see Castillo restored to the team ahead of Edwards. I just feel his defensive guile will be a greater asset than the Welshman’s running power. Anyway, here’s the predicted lineup:





I’m hoping Chris Iwelumo will be named amongst the substitutes to give us a much-needed option, should we be struggling to make the ball stick up-front. With The Hoff banned, it might just be the giant Scot’s big opportunity to make an impression.

Now down to business, can we get a result?

I’ve been pretty negative in recent weeks, but I think we’ve got a great chance to cause a mini-upset here and claim all three points. Perhaps this will be the game where our leading lights from last season come to the fore and show us what we know they’re capable of.

With that in mind, I’m going for 2-1 to Wolves and SEB to score twice.

If you’re going to the match, have a great time and roar the lads on. You probably won’t need much encouragement given the opposition.

Up The Wolves.

* As a side note, this is actually the 100th post on Wolves Blog. 99 posts ago, I could never have imagined how well this would take-off, so thanks again to everyone who has visited, contributed and supported the blog. For the ‘statto’s’ amongst you, there’s also been a total of 1,333 comments so far, which is pretty incredible and I can safely say I’ve read every single one of them. Here’s to the next 100.