Archives for May 2011

Report card – part 2

In part two of our report card post, I share my end-of-season thoughts on the individual performances of our midfielders and attackers.

Karl Henry

Started the season impressively before ‘that’ tackle at Wigan derailed his progress. Wasn’t the same player when he returned from suspension and injury set him back further. Still, he came good when it mattered in the wins over West Brom and Sunderland that ultimately kept us up.

End of season grade: B-

David Jones

Carried on where he left off last season with a scorcher of a free-kick in the opening day win over Stoke, but slipped down the pecking order towards the end of the year before vanishing completely. Out of contract and heading for the exit door, but he’ll be remembered fondly I’m sure given that he played a major role in getting us promoted and then keeping us up. Vastly underrated in my opinion and will be a fantastic acquisition for someone.

End of season grade: C

Adlene Guedioura

Started the season on the bench before a horror tackle by Steve Sidwell saw him sit out the lion-share of the action. Returned at the death and weighed in with vital contributions against Fulham and Albion, but ultimately didn’t play enough games to make a huge impact. Would like to see him given more of a chance in the middle next season, rather than shoe-horned in on the right. A bit of a maverick, but capable of brilliance, which is why he’s a real favourite.

End of season grade: C-

Nenad Milijas

Whenever the Serb isn’t in the side I always find myself thinking ‘how can that be?’, such is his quality. In the middle chunk of the season he really came to the party and a vital goal at home to Man City will live long in the memory. Shame he book-ended that impressive run in the side with prolonged spells on the sidelines. Mick must know something we don’t. I’ll be gutted if we sell him. Gutted.

End of season grade: B-

Jamie O’Hara

Swaggered into Molineux at the end of January when it looked like we wouldn’t make any substantial additions and quickly set about making himself a cult hero. Belted in a beauty at the Hawthorns, ran the show against Blackpool and generally looked at home amongst the very best. We must make his move permanent as soon as possible.

End of season grade: B+

David Edwards

Plagued by injury for much of the campaign but his stock has undoubtedly risen with epic performances in the home wins over Man City and Chelsea. His mobility and eye for a goal make him a useful player to have in the squad. Doesn’t have the quality of a Milijas or O’Hara but gets around the pitch and makes life difficult for the opposition. Thrives as the attacking prong in a three man midfield.

End of season grade: C+

Matt Jarvis

Players player of the season, fans player of the season and to top it all off, a first England cap. Hats off to you Jarvo. He’s obviously worked hard to improve his final ball and it’s showed, with pinpoint assists against Spurs and Sunderland, to name but two. Weighed in with a few goals, including a beauty at Villa Park, but there’s definite room for improvement when it comes to finishing. I suspect we’ll likely have to fend off interest from other clubs this summer, with Liverpool reportedly interested. We don’t need to sell and we shouldn’t.

End of season grade: A-

Stephen Hunt

We knew we’d have to wait to see the best of Stephen Hunt and boy, did we have to wait. Has the pleasant knack of being in the right place at the right time, scoring vital goals against Blues, Sunderland and of course Blackburn, which ultimately kept us in the Premier League. I don’t think anyone will forget that tenacious performance in the win over Albion either. If only he’d been fit all year.

End of season grade: B-

Adam Hammill

Where the hell did he go? Immediately looked the business after signing from Barnsley in January, bringing balance to our five man midfield. Mick obviously didn’t fancy him in a 442 because he vanished quickly after Doyler got injured. Looking forward to seeing much more of Hammill next season. I just hope the manager feels the same.

End of season grade: C+

Michael Kightly

I don’t think I’ve ever wanted a player to rediscover their best form more than Kites. At his best, it was like having two players, such was his work rate and appetite for the game. This season, he finally made it back from injury towards the end but still doesn’t look anywhere near the 2008 vintage. Injured again now, but hopefully nothing serious. Pre-season is massive for him. Needs to get fully fit and rediscover his confidence.

End of season grade: D-

Geoffrey Mujangi Bia

Apparently he made one substitute appearance in the league this season, but I certainly can’t remember where (anyone?). Spent the entire campaign rotting in the reserves, which is a shame given that he looked tasty in pre-season. I’ve only just figured out how to say his name too. Typical. Oh well, laters.

End of season grade: F

Kevin Doyle

Despite the arrival of Fletcher and the marked improvement of SEB it quickly became obvious, Doyle was still the main man. Mick was happy to have the other two sitting on the bench, but if Doyle was fit, he inevitably played. A colossus for Wolves and just a wonderfully gifted player. Sat out more of the season than he’d have liked, but will hopefully remain injury free next time out. 442 with Fletcher anyone? Lets hope so.

End of season grade: B+

Steven Fletcher

With a full season to reflect on, the £7 million we spent on Fletch seems like excellent value. 10 goals from 15 starts in the league says it all. Those strikes were priceless in keeping us in the Premier League. Mick’s been criticised for not playing him more regularly, but Doyle was always going to be ‘the one’ in the 451 and the resurgence of Ebanks-Blake complicated things further. However, when the chips were down and we needed a hero, Fletch delivered in style. If the season started tomorrow, he’d be the first name on the teamsheet.

End of season grade: B+

Sylvan Ebanks-Blake

Much like Fletcher, SEB can feel pretty pleased with his return of 7 Premier League goals from just 11 starts. Improved dramatically on the horror show of the previous season and started to look like the ruthless finisher we know he can be. Lacks the mobility of our two record signings, but has proven beyond doubt that he’s capable of scoring goals at this level. If Mick wants to play 442 consistently next season, it will benefit SEB more than anyone else.

End of season grade: B

Stephen Ward (based on performances up front)

It’s certainly no coincidence that all of Wardy’s best moments this season came when he was playing as a striker. Let us not forget, that’s his natural position. Slotted home the winner at Anfield, played superbly in the vital derby wins over Blues and Albion at Molineux and proved an effective foil for Fletcher at the death. Much like his compatriot Andy Keogh, he works hard, competes for everything but doesn’t offer much of a goal threat himself. That said, he should be pleased with his efforts and like it or not, he’s made a significant contribution to the cause.

End of season grade: C+

Sam Vokes

Made two league appearances off the bench and never really had the chance to make an impact. Injuries destroyed his season and despite going out on loan to three different clubs, he never managed a sustained run of games. He’ll surely be sold or loaned out again next season. Probably needs a fresh start to reignite his career.

End of season grade: F

Andy Keogh

In his only brief appearance as a substitute in the home win over Stoke, he was himself substituted, which probably tells you everything you need to know. Loaned out to Cardiff and then Bristol City, where he struggled to make an impact, despite bagging a few goals. Will surely be sold in the summer and I suspect Mick will have to drop the asking price from the reported £2 million he wanted last year.

End of season grade: F

Report card – part 1

In the first of a two-part post, Ben grades the performances of Wolves’ goalkeepers and defenders for the 2010/11 season.

Wayne Hennessy

Bearing in mind Arsene Wenger praises an opposition player once every 25 years, it is testament to Wayne that he got a glowing endorsement from old squirrel head after his defining performance at the Emirates. Started the season number 2 behind Hahnemann, ended it as the top keeper – and justly so. Still needs to cut out the indecision, which he reminded us of for Blackburn’s second on Sunday. Much improved.

End of season grade: B+

Marcus Hahnemann

Best anecdote of the season was hearing Bolton’s Stuart Holden talking about Hahnemann in USA’s World Cup squad last summer. Apparently the big man from Seattle went hunting in South Africa to kill some time – and some beasts. The bald marksman dispatched a Springbok, dragged it back to the team hotel, skinned it and cooked it on a spit for his team mates. He then posted the head home to America so he could mount it on his wall. As for matters on the pitch. He began to show signs that his reflexes might just be betraying him, as seen in his last game at Blackpool if memory serves. I personally wouldn’t have had any qualms if he’d have played all season, such is the trust he’s instilled into us all. Probably going back home in the summer, and he’ll go with our unconditional love. Thank you Marcus.

End of season grade: C

Stephen Ward (Based on performances at left-back)

Oh God. Judging him solely as a left back, Ward struggles to get a single mark. Yes he is keen on getting forward, but the amount of goals we’ve conceded from the right hand side of the pitch tells its own story. Spurs away, Villa home, Man Utd away, West Brom away, just off the top of my head. He has never been a left back and never should be ever again. But you know he just will, so you know he’ll provoke more vitriol and discussion for however long he’s playing there, which can only be a good thing for a blog, I guess.

End of season grade: D-

George Elokobi

Considering Big George was once given a 1/10 chance in ever playing again after that injury at Ipswich – after once running amok on Hackney Marshes – it’s tough to ever be hard on the big man, however bone headed he can be. The ease in which he shackled Marc Albrighton at home to Villa, following the young winger’s ridiculing of Stephen Ward, suggests he is more than capable. A point then underlined in our seismic wins against Chelsea and Man Utd. Shame he then goes AWOL like he did at home to Everton, just like he did at Goodison 12 months before. In essence, George typifies the spirits of a typical Wolves fan. His highs are incredibly high, and his lows are horrid. Destined for a centre back slot? Hope so, because he can’t be destined for 38 games in a number 3 shirt can he?

End of season grade: C+

Kevin Foley

F-O-L-E-Y he’s F-O-L-E-Y, he played midfield and then got dropped, I really don’t know why. Foley was bought as a right back, got a player of the season award as a right back, and should only be considered as a right back. Unlike George, his distribution is wonderful, and let us not forget his starring role at Anfield and many other times he has played in midfield around Christmas. The fact he always appears to have more time on the ball than his team mates should be used as a positive, not a reason to shoe-horn into a midfield space. Looked something like his old self when adopting his favoured right back spot for the final few games, not withstanding the slip for Jason Roberts at the South Bank end.

End of season grade: B-

Jody Craddock

Cometh the hour, cometh the Craddock. When the defence began to look at its most porous at the worst possible moment, back came the ever reliable, ever willing defender and hey presto, back came some stability. Suffered from a hip injury for most of the season and then had to bide a bit of time when Berra and Stearman were performing decently. But when he came in, he offered a sense of calm, and an air of leadership. Oh, and a goal threat, as seen away at Sunderland. If he gets his new contract, nobody could argue could they?

End of season grade: B

Christophe Berra

There’s been a long held view that Berra would grow into his position as a defensive leader once he had got the miserable experience of SPL football out of his system. More than two years on and I’m still waiting. At best he does the dirty stuff well. At his worst he’s doing the dirty stuff badly, pulling down more shirts than a fat family of dole seekers in Primark. I’ve never seen Berra play within himself somehow. He seems to be at full tilt, straining every sinew in his body – and that’s as he’s jogging off the pitch at half time. Undoubtedly stoic, but will be disappointed if he is in the starting 11 come August.

End of season grade: C-

Steven Mouyokolo

Wanted: One towering, quick centre half last seen getting tiptoed around by Elmander at the North Bank end. Of all the summer signings, this one excited me most. But like so many under Mick’s reign, we never saw enough of Mouyokolo. Half the fans I speak to have labelled him as a waste of money. The other half want to see more of him before making judgement. Oh, and one solitary Hull fan I know thinks he’s a class act and wants him back. Hmm.

End of season grade: D

Richard Stearman

When he’s ‘on blob’ (another Mick-ism I love!), Stears is the defender we’ve been missing since Lescott. When he’s not, he’s a hairbrained mentalist, yomping around the pitch like a pissed up pervert in Oceana. All he needs is a bit more consistency and we’ve got some player on our hands. Improved immeasurably since the Championship, when he was actually voted into the team of the season by his peers. Jamie O’Hara seems to love him and rates him as a future England defender. If his taste for budding centre halves is anything like his taste for women, we’ll be okay with Stears around.

End of season grade: B

Michael Mancienne

Ryan Giggs’ lawyer has more idea about tackling twitter than Mancienne does a big centre forward. Too weak, too error prone and too bloody expensive for us to be pursuing in the summer. It’s a shame though, because he is undoubtedly good on the ball, and should surely have been viewed as a left back when we all know his limitations as a central defender. Also offered a terrible argument for a defensive midfielder at the Britannia.

End of season grade: D

Jelle van Damme

Whether he was told to do one, he told McCarthy to do one, or he just got homesick is secondary. Jelle Van Damme wasn’t good enough. We needed a mobile, pacy left back and we got a rangy one paced Belgian who was never trusted to play left back in the first place. I was probably the only Wolves fan sat in the Elland Road main stand in pre-season (present from Leeds supporting brother-in-law) when Max Gradel skinned him about 24 times in one game of football. A terrible buy who failed to address the most problematic position of all.

End of season grade: D-

Ronald Zubar

Saving the best ‘til last? Ronny is a bit of a cult figure and when he’s fit, it’s easy to see why. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been fit very often this season to offer us the height and athleticism from right back. Defining moment was swatting Ashley Cole out of his way at home to Chelsea, before leaving him in a trail of dirt as he marauded forward (eventually leading to scuffed Doyle shot). I love my conspiracy theories, and thought his absence for so long at the beginning of the season was down to his stupid foul which led to Carroll’s equaliser at home to Newcastle. He seemed to vanish after that. I’m sure it was just injury though, and I’m sure there’s no greater sight than the Frenchman opening his legs and showing us all his class (to quote the great David Coleman!).

End of season grade: C+

Make sure you check back for Thomas’ end of season grades for midfielders and forwards.

Tactical season review

This is a chronological look at Wolves’ season, exploring the tactical issues and themes that came up along the way.

Summer Plans

Mick McCarthy’s summer spending appeared to be designed to re-establish a 4-4-2 formation. The decision to spend £7m on Steven Fletcher would not have been made if he was intended to be Kevin Doyle’s deputy – this was a clear statement that a return to two up front was planned.

Fletch - came good in the end

McCarthy also signed Stephen Hunt, a player he had long admired having named him as one of the best players in the Championship back in 2008-09. Given that Wolves had used Kevin Foley, Adlene Guedioura and David Edwards all out of position on the wing during their first season in the Premier League this could also be regarded as a positive step.

Curiously, Wolves’ defence had been regarded by the national media as a strength in 2009-10, with many citing a lack of ability to score goals as the club’s chief concern. This overlooked the fact that McCarthy had regularly used a 4-5-1 with Karl Henry, Michael Mancienne and Foley in midfield. Put bluntly, Wolves were often attacking with just Doyle and Matt Jarvis and the defensive solidity was due to the protection afforded the back-line rather than the ability of it.

As such, the signings of Steven Mouyokolo and Jelle Van Damme – even without the benefit of hindsight – felt a slightly half-hearted attempt to address the club’s defensive weaknesses.

Ambitions Scaled Back

A positive start against Stoke City at home seemed to vindicate McCarthy’s decision to revert back to 4-4-2. But the fragility of this more expansive approach was soon exposed. Wolves scored in the first eight games of the season – but conceded in all of them. By the middle of October, the Stoke win remained a one-off and failure to beat West Ham at Molineux left Wolves in 19th place and in need of a change of approach.

The result was a switch to 4-5-1 as McCarthy identified the need to keep the ball. It saw the return of Nenad Milijas to the midfield and the Serbian achieved the desired effect as Wolves outpassed Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Incredibly, there followed a run of games in which McCarthy’s men outpassed a number of the biggest clubs in the country.

McCarthy is perceived to be a coach who favours a direct approach and so this increased emphasis on short passing appeared to be something of an epiphany for the manager. It didn’t last. The results were not really improving and late goals were starting to undermine Wolves’ season.

Late Goals

By this point, late goals were becoming a theme of the season – and not in a good way. Fulham, Spurs, Villa and Man Utd (twice) had grabbed late winners against Wolves and it was happening too often to be a coincidence. At the end of the season, Wolves finished 11th in the half-time league table – six places above where they ended up after 90 minutes.

There are various reasons for this. The players themselves have admitted they have struggled to keep up the intense play of the first half. Karl Henry said: “We usually run so hard in the first half that you can’t do that for 90 minutes, especially against the top-quality sides. Sometimes you might be drawing 1-1 away from home and you say, ‘OK we’re not getting as close to them anymore, we’ve run out of steam, let’s sit back and soak it up a bit and approach it in a different way.”

McCarthy himself has also contributed with negative substitutions at key points. For example, against Newcastle at Molineux, he elected to withdraw Van Damme from the right-wing and bring on Ronald Zubar, pushing Foley forward into midfield. Zubar promptly conceded the free-kick from which Andy Carroll equalised. Against Fulham at the opposite end of the season, McCarthy removed Milijas and brought on Mancienne to shore things up – instead he barely got a kick and the visitors soon got a deserved equaliser. They are minor examples but indicative of a negative approach and a desire to merely ‘hang on’ to a lead.

Return to 4-4-2

As the poor results continued, it was Sylvan Ebanks-Blake’s dramatic late winner off the bench against Sunderland in late November that seemed to once again convince McCarthy that 4-4-2 was the way to go. Gone were the ambitions to outpass sides and it instead became a typical Mick McCarthy approach.

The plan was to win the ball high up the pitch and play from there. With Doyle and now Stephen Ward as attacking options, they certainly had the players willing to battle for the ball and run after lost causes down in the channels.

There were 1-0 wins against Birmingham and Liverpool with Ward and Ebanks-Blake up front and in January this became three 1-0 wins from five games when champions Chelsea were beaten at Molineux. This time it was Fletcher and Doyle as the front two and McCarthy was now revelling in 4-4-2 a la Mike Bassett.

Such was his commitment to the system he even asked Milijas to play up front for the last seven minutes against Chelsea when fellow substitute Ebanks-Blake was injured. As McCarthy said: “To go 4-4-2 I asked a lot of the players because it was against the favoured 4-3-3 everybody plays, but they just bought into it.”

Indicative of defensive weakness

The statistics above probably give a good indication of how weak Wolves were defensively this season. They were high on the passing table and had the ball in the opposition half more than every team other than Everton. They also had overall possession stats of 50% – placing them 10th in the table. And yet, they still conceded more than every team except Blackpool, West Ham and West Brom. This is surely a damning indictment of the side’s defensive capabilities. In truth, one only has to look back at the plethora of howlers that marred the season – Zubar at Bolton; Mancienne at Birmingham; Richard Stearman and Ward at Tottenham; Berra at Wigan; Foley against West Ham; Elokobi versus Everton. The list is long and less than distinguished and none of the defenders are exempt from criticism.

Back to 4-5-1

Despite some successes, a 3-0 home defeat to Liverpool proved the final straw for McCarthy. He’d taken enough blows and decided it was time to ‘cover up’ and switch to the 4-5-1 with Doyle ploughing a lone furrow up top once again. This was the tactic that served him so well the previous season.

It encouraged Jarvis to get up in support of Doyle as Wolves relied on their width to get behind the opposition – usually utilising the left-flank for their attacks. The return to this tactic brought victory over Manchester United and earned Jarvis his England debut.

Fletcher and Ebanks-Blake

Of course, this 4-5-1 meant that both Fletcher and Ebanks-Blake could not be accommodated in the side. Fletcher’s late run of goals meant that he finished the season with 10 Premier League goals and just 15 starts. Ebanks-Blake’s record was nearly as good with 7 goals and 11 starts. It says much for the imbalance in the squad that these two strikers could finish the season with such impressive goal returns and still remain out the side – while some of the defenders could retain their place despite numerous errors.

Over-reliant on Doyle & Jarvis

Meanwhile, the problem with Wolves’ 4-5-1 was perhaps that they became something of a one-trick pony. After his England debut, teams identified Jarvis as the key threat and he struggled to deal with the increased attention. You could almost sense the mantra of opposition coaches – stop Jarvis and you stop Wolves.

When this was coupled with the loss of Doyle, the two most important cogs in the 4-5-1 were loose and McCarthy lost faith in the system – abandoning it when 1-0 down at St James Park just 30 minutes into the game.

He perhaps felt pressured by the fact that Fletcher and Ebanks-Blake had both been scoring goals but not getting a chance and eventually felt compelled to play them both. A disastrous run of results followed as Wolves picked up just two points from five winnable games.

Last throw of the dice – Hunt and Fletcher

It was ironic that after chopping and changing his line-up and formation so many times in the campaign, McCarthy eventually found salvation in turning to the two men he had identified to improve his side the previous summer. In an incredibly gutsy move, the manager bit the bullet against West Bromwich Albion and dropped Jarvis for Hunt. In recalling the shaggy haired winger, McCarthy was pairing him and Fletcher in the starting XI for only the fourth time all season. They were both pivotal at the death – producing goals and assists galore in the final three matches to see Wolves over the line. It was vindication of sorts for the club’s summer transfer policy.


This was a season in which Wolves never really settled upon a favoured system and were constantly fighting to cope with the defensive problems that were not addressed in the summer. Many of the statistics suggest that Wolves’ playing style befits that of a midtable side and McCarthy will feel he has the attacking threats at the club to achieve this goal. To use a footballing cliché – at the end of the day – it was these attacking strengths that proved to be just about enough for survival.