Archives for March 2011

Newcastle Vs Wolves Preview

If Wolves needed bringing back down to earth after a sensational victory at Villa Park, the loss of Kevin Doyle certainly did the trick.

To be without our heroic lone frontman, potentially for the rest of the season, might well have a cataclysmic effect on our survival ambitions.

'Dirty Wolves' took a bite out of Newcastle at Molineux

But as we head to St. James’ Park looking to extend the unbeaten run to five games, Mick McCarthy will be confident, as he always is, that the squad can cope.

Newcastle themselves are still adjusting to life without a top striker, following the sale of Andy Carroll to Liverpool back in January and you sense they’re a team very much limping to the finish line rather than sprinting home.

Of even more encouragement is their poor record on their own ground, with only four wins all season against six draws and five defeats. Hardly a fortress, even though they’ve plundered 32 goals at home, which is only bettered by Manchester United.

With all this considered surely there’s never been a better opportunity to return from the Tyne with a positive result?

The Wolves XI should pick itself, save the one enforced change up front, which I strongly believe will signal a return for Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, who scored a superb goal in the feisty game between the two sides back in August. That means a team of:

Hennessy

Foley
Berra
Stearman
Elokobi

Hammill
Henry
Milijas
O’Hara
Jarvis

SEB

That’s definitely the team I’d pick too, although I’ll certainly have no objections if Steven Fletcher got the nod up front. Both he and SEB deserve the chance to shine in Doyle’s absence.

I do hope that Mick doesn’t adjust the shape as there’s a lovely balance to the midfield at present and I’d hate to see that compromised.

Prediction League

12 of you wise gentlemen correctly predicted victory at Villa Park last time out but only one person got the score too, so well done to Casper. Three points are yours my friend.

I’m jumping on the positivity bandwagon this weekend too and plumping for another barnstorming away win.

This is a good time to be playing Newcastle and I think we’ll get the job done.

Let the good times roll. 3-1 Wolves.

If you’re heading up to the land of Toon this weekend, have a great time and get right behind the lads. If it’s anything like the first fixture at Molineux earlier in the season, it should be interesting to say the very least.

Up The Wolves.

Opportunity calling

Kevin Doyle limped off in the Rep of Ireland’s 2-1 win over Macedonia last night and reports surfacing this morning are that his season could well be over. Medial knee ligament damage is the prognosis and an early estimate of two months on the sidelines is being thrown around.

If that is true, it’s a hammer blow to Wolves, particularly as Doyler and team with him in it has been hitting top form in the last month or so. And anyone who suggests his absence from the eight remaining games doesn’t have the potential to decimate our chances of survival is fooling themselves.

But unlike last season, Wolves are (hopefully) equipped to deal with the loss, with two strikers who have proved in recent weeks that they’re capable of producing the goods.

Now is the time to shine

So, step forward Steven Fletcher and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake.

Oh, but before I continue, let me address the issue of Ward. Surely even Mick wouldn’t stake our survival on his favourite squad-player when he’s got his resurgent number 9 and a bloke he paid £7 million for in the summer waiting in the wings?

Yes, Wardy came in and did a great job alongside SEB for the games against Blues and Liverpool in December, but deploying him as a lone striker in a 4-5-1 formation is unthinkable, particularly with two fit and highly-capable alternatives on standby.

I could very well be proved wrong, but I don’t think on this particular occasion our manager will turn to the prodigal son.

With that put to one side, I’m putting my full-support behind SEB to start up front at Newcastle next weekend.

I think his game is better suited to the lone-striker role than Fletcher’s and he’s shown a real appetite this season to up his game and scrap for every ball. We need that kind of desire with eight cup finals still left to play.

But more than that, SEB is evidently stronger and quicker this time around. When the ball is played into him, it’s sticking and when he gets a chance, you feel like he’s going to take it. This marriage of improved confidence and ability has transformed a player that many wrote off last season.

More than anyone, he deserves his chance.

Steven Fletcher brings a very different set of skills to the table and his close control and ability to emerge from tight spaces with the ball could come in very handy. There’s definitely an argument to say he should be deployed as our lone striker at St. James Park, but I just feel long balls up to him won’t stick.

I’m also not entirely convinced he’ll give as much for the cause as SEB and we need maximum effort from everyone between now and the end of May.

But that of course is just my opinion.

What’s yours?

Three lions or one wolf?

It wasn’t so much the crushing annihilation of England in the Aviva Stadium last weekend that brought this old hypothetical poser back out of the locker, but the grating jingoism that came with Ireland’s emphatic rugby win.

No sooner had Brian O’Driscoll underlined his status as an ethereal outside centre than the tub thumping, badge kissing quotes were offloaded like a Gilbert size 5.

Club vs Country

According to wing Simon Trimble, Ireland captain Paul O’ Connell’s pre-match speech was laden with anti-English venom.

“I can’t give too much away about what exactly he said and I’d be paraphrasing, so I couldn’t do him justice. It was very inspirational though…Real hatred.”

With self gratifying anecdotes like these in rich abundance ever since Saturday March 19, I issue the following conundrum ahead of England’s Euro qualifier with Wales.

If given the choice, which success would you rather bask in as a football fanatic?

The Wolves to gloriously defy their critics (and wage bill) by staying in the Premier League this season, or for England to win Euro 2012?

Forgive the possible monotony of having to consider this one, as it may well have been done to death on the school playing ground or the sixth form common room.

I just find the question so timelessly teasing.

While none of us know what the implications of a season in the ‘Leccy League will have on our beloved club, isn’t it worth the short-term sacrifice for the sight of our national team defining an entire generation and sticking Braveheart and his mates back in their box?

Sure, the misery of 25,000 Albion fans crowing would hurt, while another 20,000 Blues fans smirking would rub salt into the wounds, but compared to millions of Welsh, Irish, Scottish, French, laughing at us and there is no comparison, surely.

It feels like yesterday when my brother-in-law and I were in a sleepy little town called Enniskillen on the cusp of Northern Ireland for the biggest weekend of his life. He was getting married and it just so coincided with England’s Euro 2004 qualifier with Portugal a few days earlier.

Blissfully unaware of the geographical tempestuousness of such a place, we bounded into Willy McRamblers to watch the game at a ‘warm and welcoming local pub.’

To say there were more replica Portugal shirts than V-necked T-shirts was an understatement.

A sea of bitter, contorted faces spat bile into their beers as they compensated for their own country’s pathetic underachievement by basking in our obligatory near miss.

At the point Vassell fluffed his lines from the spot, we thought Steve’s wedding was the very definition of wishful thinking, as the footballing gods stuck two big fingers in our faces and zoomed back home to Sepp, leaving us alone to face the music.

Of course, John Terry doesn’t bring the brilliant white out of our national shirt, while Ashley Cole is too busy at the rifle range to trouble himself with wearing the jersey in the first place.

But isn’t it understandable to crave success at a major tournament for the first time in 45 years over any other domestic success currently available in the game?

Moreover, does it make you a bad Wolves fan if a tiny part of you would swap the success of the next two months for the elation of next summer to last a score year and ten?

When will I be famous?

If you’ve been walking around Molineux recently you might have picked up on the faintest of whiffs.

And no it’s not the gourmet treats being dispensed from the Mr. Tikka van, it’s actually the unmistakable pong of celebrity.

I wonder what Mick makes of the celebrity culture?

What with Matt Jarvis rubbing shoulders with tabloid poster boy JT in the England training camp and Danielle Lloyd wagging into the Billy Wright, the profile of all things old gold surely hasn’t been higher for many a year?

Oh and I haven’t even mentioned that Robert Plant just happens to be vice president of the club.

Talk about Rock N’ Roll football.

It’s all good fun of course but if Mick starts using the Just For Men, I’ll know the whole world has officially gone mad.

On a cautious note, the stark reality is that this fleeting moment in the spotlight will quickly vanish down the plughole should we find ourselves in the bottom three come May.

Can’t imagine Danielle sitting in the stands for a subzero midweek evening kick-off with Barnsley. I don’t blame her either. I’m not overly keen on the idea.

Anyway, enough talk of peril, lets savour the moment.

Here’s Matt Jarvis’s interview with the press yesterday:

Just another day in Wolverhampton

Aww, what a nice lad. Couldn’t help but feel his answers were a little on the safe, predictable, lack-of-a-personality side of things though. Probably because he’s scared shitless of putting a foot out of line and scuppering his chances of a cap.

Very clever Matty, play it safe.

Meanwhile, the O’Hara’s have jetted off to Dubai and would you Adam and Eve it, they’ve only gone and been snapped by the paps. What a shocker.

Question: Is it wrong to enjoy seeing Wolves mentioned in the entertainment sections of trash celebrity mags?

I did grow up watching mediocre second-tier football so please cut me some slack.

Bumping into Keith Curle on a pub car park was about as close as I got to a brush with fame (well, actually what happened was my friend accidentally stepped out in front of his car and he scowled at us and drove off).

I’ll end with a legitimate question: Have you ever met any Wolves players (past or present) and were you starstruck?

Aston Villa 0 Wolves 1

As pundits and stattos proudly trotted out the line that this was Wolves first victory at Villa Park for 31 years, I couldn’t help but indulge in a wry smile.

You see, what outsiders would never even think to mention is that Mick McCarthy’s side should have ended that winless record last season.

Indeed, the old gold of 2010 led Martin O’Neill’s Champions League chasing Villa team 2-1 heading into the closing minutes only to be undone by a long punt upfield and a scrappy finish.

Eat that!

Watching yesterday’s game, a similar conclusion would have been unbearable given that Wolves thoroughly deserved the three points, having produced a performance that oozed Premier League class mixed with trademark McCarthy endeavour.

Nobody encapsulated those attributes more than Matt Jarvis. A month ago, I lambasted the speedy winger for squandering a trio of golden opportunities in recent outings, but he’s made up for that and more since, opening the scoring against Blackpool and firing the sweetest of volleys to bring home the bacon in this one.

Karl Henry, another player from the Championship-winning vintage, produced a masterclass in the school of holding-midfield play, out-battling and out-thinking Reo-Coker and Makoun to ensure we saw plenty of the ball throughout. Sure the distribution remains questionable at times, but his defensive qualities are a crucial ingredient of this resurgent Wolves side.

Ahead of the skipper, Milijas and O’Hara have the composure, skill and requisite attacking menace to make the most of this 4-5-1 system. Twice Milijas forced Friedel into smart saves  as the Villa defence backed away. O’Hara too rampaged forward in the second half only to see his goalbound effort blocked when he perhaps should have rolled in Jarvis.

Still, with two such intelligent players operating in the middle of the park and wingers on both flanks asking questions all the time, creating chances and scoring goals shouldn’t be a problem.

But perhaps of even greater encouragement is our ever-improving defence. That’s two cleansheets in the last three games and five for the season, all of which belong to Wayne Hennessy. The Welshman kicked and handled impeccably throughout in this one and mercifully, on the one occasion he was beaten, the underside of the crossbar got us off the hook.

Richard Stearman also benefited from some luck when he chopped down Darren Bent seemingly just inside the penalty area. But when the whistle went, it was for a free-kick just outside, which Bent himself blasted against the wall. Let off.

If that was good fortune, the rest was all about the rising stock of our two young center-backs. Both Berra and Stearman deserve a huge slice of credit for shackling Bent and giving him nothing to feed on for the duration of the 90+ minutes.

Kevin Foley too was imperious, going about his business with customary assurance and always using the ball cleverly. I’m a big fan of Ronald Zubar, but even I can see the consistency Foley has brought to the defence of late and his ability in possession is far greater than that of the Frenchman’s.

On the other side, Elokobi struggled in the first half, with Albrighton and Downing constantly threatening. A stray backpass that gifted Villa a corner seemed to suggest his head had gone, but an improved second half saw George grow into the game and wrestle back possession on a number of occasions.

I can’t quite decide where Kevin Doyle was more impressive in this one. He imposed himself on the inexperienced Villa defence in the first half and was unlucky to see a goal chalked-off following a cross that was only fractionally out of play (if at all). But when Mick brought on SEB and asked Doyler to play out on the right, he did so without hesitation and flourished in the role, constantly driving into space and finding passes to feet.

Indeed, the fact that Wolves saw this game out with such assurance, bossing possession as the clock ticked over to 90, was perhaps as satisfying as any other aspect of the performance.

Departing the Premier League just seems unthinkable, given that now, after nearly two seasons of struggle, we’ve arrived.

Aston Villa Vs Wolves Preview

Not so long ago, this fixture would have been considered a straightforward ‘home win’ on the pools coupon. But a sneaky look at the Premier League table suggests the gulf in class between Aston Villa and Wolves might not be quite as vast these days.

Sure they can boast a talented squad, an £18 million striker and a manager with considerable experience, but the facts are that they’re just four points above us and two outside of the bottom three. So although it seems unlikely, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they could go down.

Heskey scored a late winner at Molineux earlier in the season

However, Villa Park remains a difficult place to visit and despite a poor campaign by their standards, The Villains have still notched up 6 wins and 5 draws from their 14 home matches to date. The majority of their problems, like Wolves, are on the road, where they’ve lost 9 games and managed just 2 wins all season.

They’ll want the maximum return from this game and anything less will probably be considered a mini-disaster.

By contrast, a point for Wolves would represent a decent result and extend the unbeaten run to four games.

Mick McCarthy is boosted by the return of a number of key players. Jamie O’Hara returns after missing the last game against his parent club, Michaels Kightly and Mancienne are back from injury and the likes of David Jones and Stephen Hunt are also available.

I’d be surprised to see anything other than a 4-5-1 shape containing the following players:

Hennessy

Foley
Berra
Stearman
Elokobi

Hammill
Henry
Milijas
O’Hara
Jarvis

Doyle

That would definitely be the eleven I’d pick also.

There’s a nice balance to that side and if we can keep things tight defensively, there’s enough going forward to cause a shaky Villa defence problems. Lets not forget they’ve conceded one more goal than us this season, so we should get chances.

Prediction League

Seven armchair pundits correctly predicted Wolves and Spurs would share the spoils last time out, but nobody got the correct score. Nevertheless, well done to me, Jon Sidwell, Super Kev Doyle, Bagsy, Jed, These are the days and Rob for adding to their respective totals.

I’ll go for another score-draw this weekend.

I think we’ll score but I can’t see us keeping a cleansheet either. Ashley Young always seems to make a significant contribution and I can foresee him once again being our tormentor. Hopefully I’m wrong.

A repeat of last year’s scoreline I reckon – 2-2.

If you’re making the trip to Villa Park on Saturday, have a great time and get behind the lads. This is a derby after all.

Up The Wolves.