Archives for April 2011

Birmingham City Vs Wolves Preview

I’m still having flashbacks to the atrocities of Tuesday night, which I had the misfortune of witnessing first hand, so you’ll forgive me if I sound slightly more downtrodden than usual.

Wolves are aiming for a league double over Blues

It’s sad to contemplate but despite there being four games to go and all very much still to play for mathematically, the meek surrender under the Britannia floodlights just felt like the end of the road for Wolves in the Premier League.

As horrific as the negative team selection and lack of tactics were, the most disappointing aspect of the performance, for me at least, was the absence of any fight or pride in the shirt. Stoke wanted it from the get-go, Wolves didn’t and given our plight, that’s entirely unacceptable.

So we now kick-off back-to-back derbies on the verge of total collapse, with both Blues and Albion licking their lips at the prospect of administering the knockout blow. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of.

To talk about form, statistics and tactical insights seems trivial. I have little to no idea what side Mick McCarthy will field at St. Andrew’s, but whoever starts, we need to find a massive performance from somewhere.

Here is the team I would pick.

Hennessy

Foley
Stearman
Craddock
Mancienne

Hammill
Henry
O’Hara
Milijas
Jarvis

Fletcher

If Fletch isn’t fit enough to start, hopefully SEB will return, as I’m not overly enamoured by the thought of Ward or Vokes leading the line.

Hunt and Guedioura might also come into the reckoning as they at least showed some pluck in their short cameos at Stoke.

Prediction League

Myself, Jed, Bagsy, Rob in Dubai and Stourbridge Wolf all correctly predicted defeat at Stoke but only Bazza got the correct score too. We all pick up a single point and he collects the full three. Well done Bazza.

I’m saying a draw for this one. Tuesday was so bad that I’ve got to believe we’ll see an improvement.

Blues home form is respectable and they’ll be tough to breakdown but I think we’re due some luck on their ground.

1-1.

If you’re making the short trip down the M6 on Sunday have a great time and get behind the lads. The support at Stoke, despite the catastrophe on the pitch, was exceptional.

Up The Wolves.

Stoke 3 Wolves 0

Less than 24 hours after one of the most shambolic, depressing performances in Premier League history and it is still impossible to decide which sight was worse.

The clueless shambles on the pitch – as Stoke City fans rejoiced in our pathetic surrender – was torture enough, before a near lifeless Wolves fan piped up with: ‘Play for the goal difference Mick’.

He wasn’t even being sarcastic. Just pragmatic.

Can I play you every week?

And that’s how life is as a Wolves fan under the dystopian, totalitarian world in which we live.

We’re off to Wem-ber-ley, you’re off to NPower League sang the Stoke City fans, who packed into a ground which looked far, far too big for them only four years ago.

Yet we’re the ones who are expected to be grateful, as our manager chooses to pack his team full of the same players who most of the home ‘supporters’ wouldn’t have seen a few years ago.

When I was last at this unimaginably noisier stadium back in 2007/08, so too were Stephen Ward, Michael Kightly, Karl Henry, Kevin Foley, Wayne Hennessey not to mention Jody Craddock, who didn’t play in a 0-0 draw in front of a measly 15,000 fans, in a season when we finished 7th.

Of Tony Pulis’ team, only Manchester United graduate Ryan Shawcross and Rory Delap remain.

In 2007, we gleefully sang about empty seats being here, there and every f**king where, as a scattering of weathered Clayheads turned the other cheek.

In 2011, there were more wanky Wanderers chants as there were Stoke City attacks (of which there were many) as football in Staffordshire finally eat itself.

One team is in need of a new stadium to keep the jubilant throngs of fans in place, while the other is knocking their stadium down in readiness for Championship football.

And during this painful, gut wrenching, irreversible cycle, one set of fans are told to think of the bigger picture or forever be a nugget, while the other lot prepare for a 2nd day at Wembley and told to have a bloody good time.

A trophy that our current Hall of Fame is built around, while we build our team around Stephen Ward instead, who was pitifully exposed by Jermaine Pennant down the left hand side in a sight all too familiar.

The very same Stephen Ward was then moved up front to try and prize the ball from the big bad Stoke defenders, who brushed him off like a bug on their trouser leg.

Sam Vokes then came on to join in the game, as Huth and Shawcross stifled a yawn.

Meanwhile, our tried and trusted failures in defence cut a similar pose, as Kenwyne Jones bullied them all over the pitch, just like he did when playing for Sunderland last season when we shipped 5 goals.

You’d have thought Mick would have learned his lesson wouldn’t you? Progression? Pah! Time to swat up on that ‘3 M’ manifesto again methinks.

‘This was Stoke City away. We were never going to get anything from this one. They’re a big strong side.’

In a day or two, we’ll get the: ‘Now has never been a better time to be in the bottom three in the history of the Premier League, because we are so close to getting out of it.’

On Friday it will be: ‘We are more battle hardened in a relegation fight because we’ve been in the bottom 3 all season.’

At the final whistle last night, Mick said it was all too unfathomable to explain.

Steve and Jez…care to give it a go?

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.

Wolves 1 Fulham 1

Deflated.

That’s probably the best adjective to employ when describing the huddled masses of gold shirts pouring out of Molineux at 5.30pm yesterday.

Indeed, not even the glorious weather could mask the grave disappointment of Andy Johnson’s late equaliser that denied Wolves what would have been a vital, not to mention morale boosting, three points.

Yes!

As it is, we have to settle for one and in many respects, we were lucky to even get that.

After Johnson had rifled home with his first touch, there was only one team capable of winning the game and sadly, it wasn’t Wolves.

Gaël Kakuta came within a whisker of bagging victory for the visitors at the death, twisting our defence inside out before unleashing a fierce low drive that Wayne Hennessy did well to palm away from danger.

Had that gone in and we’d left with nothing, few could have had many complaints.

Wolves were desperately poor in the second half.

The players worked hard and grafted in an attempt to see out the game, but were far too often guilty of gifting the ball back to the opposition and inviting pressure.

I also believe we paid Fulham far too much respect tactically, with Mick McCarthy seemingly content to allow the opposition to camp out inside our half in the hope we could cling on or pick them off on the break.

This approach is understandable against the likes of Man Utd, Arsenal, etc, but I can’t help but feel we’d have been better served pushing forward against a side who sit just six points ahead of us in the Premier League table.

We saw in the first half what a short spell of pressure can achieve. Fulham had bossed possession for the opening 20 minutes or so, but the first time Wolves managed to get a foothold in the final third, we made a breakthrough.

It was a lovely goal too, with Adlene Guedioura skipping passed a challenge and cleverly slipping Karl Henry in to deliver an inch perfect cross for Steven Fletcher to nod home.

Our lone forward deserved that for what was probably his finest performance in a gold shirt. Fletch brought all his best attributes to the table in this one, showing excellent touch and an eye for goal as well as a real appetite to the lead the line and carry the fight to the opposition.

No!

He repeatedly won headers against the giant Hangeland, battled for possession and held the ball up expertly. The Scot nearly added to his tally further in the second half too, seeing a fine individual run and goalbound shot deflected into the arms of Schwarzer.

When he went off with a quarter of an hour to go, I felt we really lost the impetus and SEB struggled to make any kind of impact on the game. That left us hamstrung going forward so once Fulham got back on level terms, a point was realistically the best we could hope for.

Defensively, I felt Wolves were a mixed bag. Stearman, despite one slip in the second half, was quietly effective at right-back. I felt it was clever of Mick to shift him out there, as Fulham repeatedly looked to hit Clint Dempsey with long diagonal balls out wide. Foley would have struggled aerially against the big American.

In the center of defence, I thought Berra had a poor game. I’m probably one of his biggest fans, but he struggled in this one, too often giving away soft free-kicks and finding himself a yard off the pace.

Craddock was better and pretty much did what you’d expect from the veteran, kept things simple and competed for everything that came his way. I still feel we’re better served with him in the side for the remaining fixtures.

Ward had a lot to contend with down the left and struggled at times. Simon Davies is a clever player and asked a lot questions of our make-shift full-back, but didn’t cause any real damage. Late on, the dangerous Kakuta, on loan from Chelsea, pretty much ran riot and Ward was clueless as to how to nullify his threat.

One thing I would say in Ward’s defence, is that Matt Jarvis was often pushing inside or getting caught in advanced positions, leaving the left flank exposed. That certainly didn’t help. It should also be said that Ward was excellent going forward in the first half and he was involved in a lot of our best link-up play. Overall, I think our most criticised player can be reasonably satisfied with his efforts.

The midfield trio of Henry, Milijas and O’Hara all worked hard and got around the pitch, but failed to impose themselves against Fulham’s slick pass and move style, which often left them chasing shadows. Milijas in particular had a quiet game and it was no great surprise to see him replaced by Mancienne on the hour mark.

Down the wings, I thought Jarvis had a poor game. He’ll always be a threat with his pace and trickery, but by his lofty standards this wasn’t a particularly strong performance.

Guedioura blew hot and cold. One minute he’ll do something amazing i.e. his dribble and pass in the lead up to our goal or the thunderous 30 yard smash that Schwarzer did well to hold onto, and the next he’ll give away possession and land us in a spot of bother. But the fact he’s not afraid to show a bit of invention is admirable and he could yet win us a match with a moment of brilliance.

And perhaps that is precisely the positive we can cling onto. Despite recent poor form, we do have matchwinners within our squad. The likes of Guedioura, Fletcher, O’Hara and Jarvis are players that can make something happen, so if we can keep things tight at one end, it’s entirely plausible we can get the results we need.

A point from this match certainly wasn’t the result we all hoped for, but it’s far from a disaster. A point at Stoke on Tuesday would lift us out of the bottom three. A win would likely catapult us to 16th.

We don’t need a great escape. Just an escape.

Wolves Vs Fulham Preview

Wolves sank to the bottom of the Premier League table without playing last weekend to cap a miserable month of demoralising blows.

Since the sweet taste of victory at Villa Park, we’ve been soundly outplayed and beaten twice, shipped seven goals, lost our most important player and watched on in agony as both Blues and Albion put clear daylight between themselves and the bottom three.

Talk about depressing.

It seems like out of nowhere, we’ve hit a low point.

Remember me? van Damme scored the opener at Fulham back in September

But as critical as we’ve all been of the manager, the tactics and the players in recent weeks, the one thing you can always guarantee from this Wolves side is a response and I fully expect another one this weekend against Fulham.

Mark Hughe’s side travel to Molineux looking for the result that would, in all likelihood, guarantee their Premiership status for another year. If that’s not incentive enough, they’ll probably also look back on the so-called ‘rough treatment’ Wolves dished out to them in the reverse fixture at Craven Cottage earlier in the season.

I felt we were harshly judged in that game. Yes, it was unfortunate to see Bobby Zamora sustain such a serious injury, but the tackle from Karl Henry was perfectly fair. Berra’s sending off was absolutely correct for two obvious body checks, but the furor stoked up in the aftermath of the game was absurd.

Still, the events of that feisty afternoon should add a little extra spice to this one and if that gets the home crowd going, it can only be to our advantage. Bring it on I say.

Fulham’s away record is nearly as bad as ours, which is to say horrendous. They’ve won just once on the road this season and although they do have 8 draws to their name, they’ve been beaten 7 times.

They’ve got some excellent players throughout the team though and it’s going to be a real scrap if Wolves are to take anything.

With George Elokobi out injured, we already know Stephen Ward is set to deputise and I suspect there will be one or two more changes this weekend. This is the team I believe Mick will pick:

Hennessy

Foley
Stearman
Berra
Ward

Hammill
Henry
Milijas
O’Hara
Jarvis

Fletcher

I know Mick has been quoted in the press lauding the 442, but I think he’ll do the right thing and revert to 451. We need that extra midfielder to make sure we’re not overrun in the middle of the park and that should see Nenad Milijas correctly recalled to the side and Adam Hammill also restored. The likes of SEB, Guedioura and Kightly can also offer good attacking options from the bench if needed.

The only change I would personally make to that starting eleven, is a return for Jody Craddock. I think we’d benefit from his experience at this time not to mention the threat he brings when we’re attacking from set pieces.

Prediction League

Not many people picked up points last time out against Everton. Many foresaw a vital win but as we know, that sadly didn’t transpire. Only myself, Stourbridge Wolf, Jed and Rob predicted defeat but nobody said 3-0, so it’s a point for each of us.

This weekend, I find myself torn. Heart says Wolves win, head says draw.

I’ll back the boys for a narrow win – 2-1.

If you’re at Molineux this weekend, have a great time and lets really get behind the lads.

Up The Wolves.

Old flames

“He’s a complete f***ing embarrassment and I can’t wait to see the back of him … absolute piece of sh*t of the highest order … a complete joke … I was gutted when we signed him as every club he’s played for thinks he’s a clown … the worst player to ever play for the club.”

These are just a sample of quotes that can be discovered within a couple of minutes of trying to find out how Neill Collins is faring at Sheffield United. The Blades currently lie bottom of the Championship and are set to drop into the third tier for the first time since the days when Brian Deane and Tony Agana were trading goals with Steve Bull and Andy Mutch all those years ago.

And yes, our Neill has certainly made an impression.

I'll be back

It’s also proving to be a difficult time for another darling of the Molineux terraces, Andy Keogh. The somewhat meek Irish forward has endured a torrid time this season lurching from one disaster to the next. If things had gone to plan he’d still be at Cardiff – the club arranged a season-long loan move with a view to a permanent deal – but a string of insipid displays saw Dave Jones bring the curtain down on his time there.

Next came Bristol City but, after just a solitary goal in his time at Ashton Gate, the club has now decided they don’t fancy going ahead with the arrangement either. Maybe the deal-breaker was this horrendous miss for the Republic of Ireland in a rare international start last month.

So what’s the point of all this? Surely there’s no need to put the boot in on players who tried their best for the club and have now moved on? Well you’re right. But something still jars at the back of the throat. It’s all the times Mick McCarthy made me feel like an idiot for questioning these players. There’s no need to go down the road of ‘Numptygate’ but why not just check out these comments from McCarthy after our opening away win of last season:

“Keogh has been the stand-out player in pre-season and as soon as the season started he has been terrific. From coming back on day one he has been great. I’m thrilled for him. It is all right playing well in the Premier League but as a striker the key is scoring goals in it and Keogh has done that. He is perfect for that role. He has just got the lungs of a racehorse and just keeps going and going. But his football and his set-up play was good as well. Andy has proved he can score in the Premier League.”

Needless to say, that goal will almost certainly remain the only goal Andrew Keogh ever scores in the Premier League.

This is not a rant about Mick McCarthy. One of the most important factors in the club’s success over the past five years has been the manager’s ability to get everyone at Molineux pulling in the same direction with a fantastic work ethic. Sticking up for your players is a big part of that.

But, as we see the careers of Neill Collins and Andy Keogh slide inexorably towards League One, all those words of praise take on air of foreboding. Those two men played over 200 games for Wolves. Keogh may yet reappear in the old gold and black. So next time you hear about how amazing it is that George Elokobi has made the step up; How wonderful it is that Stephen Ward can play anywhere; Or we are told how Karl Henry has taken the Premier League by storm; Maybe it’s worth taking a step back and remembering that we’ve been here before.

Mick no doubt has faith in his boys. The £40m question right now is – should we?

Make sure you check out Adam’s rather brilliant football blog at Ghostgoal.co.uk.