Archives for August 2011

Ticking over

The message coming from Molineux ahead of tomorrow’s transfer deadline is loud and clear – don’t expect much.

Jez Moxey has issued a statement explaining that Wolves won’t be making any significant moves, although he did hint that a loan signing could still happen.

Logic dictates that this one potential addition to the squad will be a striker, with cover up front in short supply, particularly with SEB limping out for a few months.

Macheda - young, talented and available?

Who this mystery forward might be is intriguing.

The immediate assumption is that it would be a young player from one of the top clubs. Macheda from Man Utd maybe? Gaël Kakuta from Chelsea?

I’d be very happy with either of those.

Alternatively, the three M’s could be looking further afield and it certainly wouldn’t be a great surprise to see Mick take a punt on an unknown, unproven foreign player.

He’s certainly done it before, albeit with mixed success.

Whichever avenue they’re exploring, I hope a striker with pace is the deal they’re chasing.

If only one player is (maybe) coming in, you’d assume that means nobody is heading out.

Nenad Milijas appears to be the only name linked with a move away before tomorrow’s deadline, but selling the skillful Serb at this late stage would be a terrible mistake in my eyes.

For all the paper talk, Wolves haven’t (publicly at least) received any offers for Matt Jarvis or Kevin Doyle.

Given the way the club does business, it’s difficult to see a rush-deal being pushed through for one of our best players, even if one of the big clubs does come calling.

All the same, it will be a relief to see the window close with both of the above players still sporting the old gold and the best squad we’ve had in over 30 years still intact.

You see, for all the huff, puff and bluster from fans (including this one) demanding further reinforcements, the reality is that we have an excellent group of players already.

So if tomorrow comes and goes with no new faces forthcoming, perhaps we should give Mick and the boys the benefit of the doubt.

7 points from 9 suggests they deserve it.

Aston Villa 0 Wolves 0

That’ll do Wolves.

7 points from 3 games. 2 cleansheets. Top of the league (as of 1.58pm).

And although this Villa Park stalemate might have felt like your average bore draw to the neutral, Mick McCarthy will rightly see it as a sign of forward progress.

Put bluntly, we probably would have lost this game last season.

No way through

With the home side finally showing signs of life in the second half and putting the Wolves defence under a sustained spell of pressure, instead of buckling or giving away a silly goal, the back four held firm and weathered the storm.

And when Mick rung the changes with 20 minutes to go, the team rediscovered their composure, dominated possession and comfortably saw out the game.

I’m not going to say it felt like a win, but it was highly satisfying nonetheless.

Equally satisfying was the performance of Wayne Hennessy, who kicked and handled impeccably throughout, palming countless balls away that flashed dangerously across his penalty area.

In front of the big goalkeeper, the back four kept things tight for the most part, only really troubled when Agbonlahor was able to find space to dash into.

And whilst Stearman, Johnson and Berra were all solid, it was Ward who once again impressed me. Not only did he shackle the dangerous N’Zogbia throughout, he also scampered forward himself to occupy some of Wolves best attacking positions.

None of the above take home the ‘Man of the Match’ champagne though. That, for me, belongs to Karl Henry.

I lost count of the number of times the former skipper tracked back to cover team mates who’d carelessly turned over possession.

And when we needed to calm things down towards the end, it was always Henry offering for the ball and keeping things simple with intelligent passes.

Although he might frustrate at times, his contribution should never, ever be taken for granted.

If there was a negative to take from the game, it was the lack of opportunities we calved out ourselves.

Apart from Hunt’s far-post header, we never troubled Villa at the back. Dunne and Collins swept up everything, with Doyle and Fletcher isolated by a lack of service.

I wasn’t surprised to see the two wide players withdrawn. Neither had much impact, particularly when Villa took control early in the second half.

That said, I cursed Mick’s name for bringing on Foley and Elokobi. It seemed like such a negative move and I truly thought it would leave us toothless going forward.

Quite the opposite, the boys suddenly remembered how to pass the ball, with Foley instrumental. What an important player he could be this season, even if his role is restricted to ‘utility substitute’.

This wasn’t a sensational performance by any means, but it turned out to be a pretty effective one.

And if you can’t win a game, don’t lose it.

That was something we forgot last season.

Aston Villa Vs Wolves Preview

With both Wolves and Villa currently vying for a Champions League place, this top of the table clash is the perennial six-pointer.

The winner will cement their place amongst the elite, the loser will likely slip down into the (urgh, yuk) Europa League.

Jarvis blasted in the winner last season

I jest of course, but why shouldn’t we savour the moment?

After all, on our last sojourn to Villa Park we were languishing inside the bottom three, frantically scrapping for our Premier League lives.

Things are somewhat different this time, with Wolves being the only side outside of Manchester to pick up two wins from two.

Confidence is high, tails are up and there’s a genuine belief we can hope for more than mere survival.

Interestingly, Villa have played the same two sides in their opening fixtures, plundering a 4-point return themselves in a solid start for Alex McLeish.

And despite Wolves lofty position, the home crowd will be expecting another win against a side they’ve failed to beat on their own ground on the last two occasions.

The Team

Assuming there are no injuries, I fully expect Mick to retain the same starting eleven that delivered back-to-back wins against Blackburn and Fulham.

Hennessey, Stearman, Berra, Johnson, Ward, Hunt, Henry, O'Hara, Jarvis, Fletcher, Doyle

Had we been playing Man Utd away, there might have been an argument to sacrifice one of the front two and bring in another midfielder, but with all due respect to Villa, they’re not Man Utd.

I think the above team is more than capable of getting a result in this match and they’ve earned the right to try and get it.

Prediction League

You know confidence is high when a 50 people (yes that’s five zero) correctly predicted Wolves would beat Fulham last Sunday.

Of that huge crowd, 13 people got the score spot-on to collect the maximum 3 points on offer.

So well done to The Wanderer, sleachy, Gold Wolf Sven, MrAussieWolf, Kwolf, Craig D, martin, gebb, Vladimir, Andrew N, CrazyPete, Irish Wolf and dboy.

Crazy Pete, Andrew N, dboy, sleachy and Irish Wolf, like Wolves, have six points from six. Good work boys.

Once again, thank you to everyone for taking part in the Prediction League. It’s becoming a somewhat arduous task updating the table, but it’s worth it to see so many people involved.

This weekend, my head is telling me that all good things have to come to an end.

However, since Wolves have given me absolutely no reason to doubt them of late, why should I?

2-1 to Wolves.

I think Villa have some strong attacking players, not least the likes of N’Zogbia and Bent, but they can certainly be got at defensively.

I’m expecting us to cause them problems and create chances so it will probably come down to how well we ourselves can defend.

If you’re going to Villa Park on Saturday have a great time and get right behind the lads. Things haven’t been as good as this for a long time.

Up The Wolves.

Guest house: Aston Villa

Ahead of Saturday’s West Midlands Derby we invited Villa fan Adam into the Wolves Blog Guesthouse for a chat.

Thomas: Hi Adam. Welcome to the plush surroundings of the Wolves Blog Guest House. What’s your poison?

Adam: Guinness.

Thomas: Nice. While we wait for that pour, lets get down to business. There were a lot of comings and goings at Villa Park over the summer. Lets start with the most obvious, what’s your opinion on Alex McLeish?

McLesih was a surprise choice for many

Adam: When I first heard the news about Mcleish coming to Villa I was very unhappy. Having relegated Blues I didn’t see the logic in having him at Villa. The way the board responded to the fans telling them to “butt out” was arrogant and against traditions at Villa. It could have been handled better, but after seeing the signings he has made, N’Zogbia, Given and the way we have played so far he is slowly turning me into a fan of his.

Thomas: That all seems fair enough and for what it’s worth, I think he’ll do a good job for you. Along with a change of management there were two high profile departures with Young and Downing both heading for the exit. How sorely missed will they be this season? Can the likes of Albrighton and N’Zogbia fill the void?

Adam: Young and Downing no doubt will be sorely missed, it’s taken the fans a while to get used to seeing them in their respective Liverpool and Man Utd roles. Albrighton definitely has the ability to replace Young as a great winger but I think his goal scoring ability needs work, as for Zoggy he already has the skill and passion to replace Downing. I predict great things for both Albrighton and N’Zogbia this season.

Thomas: The jury’s still out on Albrighton for me but N’Zogbia is a proven performer. A good signing for you. Tell me, what constitutes success for the Villa this season?

Adam: I think as we are now we could win the Carling Cup but we really need another player to come in, preferably Joey Barton or someone of same skill and passion. As far as the league is concerned I think with our little spending power it’s going to be hard to make top 5 but with belief and hard work I’d say 6th place is attainable for us this season, especially with the likes of Arsenal in turmoil.

Thomas: 6th seems ambitious to me. If you achieve that you’ll have had a very good season indeed. Who would you say is your most important player?

Adam: Oooh that’s a hard one. I think it has to be Gabriel Agbonlahor. You can instantly see a difference in the squad when he is not playing, e.g. Villa vs Hereford. I think he brings a sense of togetherness and familiarity to the squad which helps the team to flow as one. Without him it’s kind of like a wall with one brick missing. I think he deserves to be captain instead of Petrov as he has put his heart and soul into Villa.

Both teams scored an away win last season

Thomas: I think you need a big season out of him, that’s for sure. What did you make of the two games between Wolves and Villa last season?

Adam: I only saw the highlights as was in hospital, but they were both tough games for Villa and I have no doubt Wolves will test us on Saturday.

Thomas: They were certainly both good contests. What’s your opinion on Wolves as a club and is this considered an important derby for Villa?

Adam: Although Wolves record against Villa is not the best, I have always had respect for Wolves. I remember the Steve Bull days and what a great player he was, many legends have been made at Molineux including Andy Gray. As a Villa fan I feel no animosity against Wolves they are a proud club with a proud history just like Villa and unlike Birmingham City. Ha!

Thomas: Kind words. Are you as complimentary about Mick McCarthy?

Adam: Mick McCarthy is a very good manager, very stern and straight forward and a great player in his day. He was great as a player for Ireland but unfortunately it fell apart for him as manager, I blame Roy Keane for that. I think the 2008-09 season cemented him as the manager Wolves need for success and I think he will make the most of what he has, it will be a good season for Wolves and Villa I think.

Thomas: Who do you see as our best players?

Answer: Sylvan Ebanks Blake is my personal favourite. I think he’s got great potential and will score goals for Wolves this season.

Thomas: Interesting answer. You’ll probably be pleased to hear he’s just been ruled out for a month! How do you think we’ll fare this season?

Adam: I’d say it’s a bit early to say but with what I have seen I think Wolves will finish about 8th or 9th.

Thomas: Wow, I think we’d be pretty pleased with that. Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday?

Adam: I think it will be close, but I wouldn’t be a good Villa fan unless a said 2-1 to Villa.

Thomas: A fair point. Thanks for your time Adam.

Do you want to know all the latest Premiership football scores? Football scores is the place to be, giving you live scores from every Premiership game.

Northampton Town 0 Wolves 4

Almost five years ago to the evening, I sat in the same seat in my living room, turned on the same radio set and listened to Wolves crash out of the same Carling Cup that we are now marching along in.

A much, much different Wolves this time though.

Once upon a time, a fixture like this would conjure up all manner of hellish scenarios, not to mention accompanying headlines the following morning.

Sylvan thanks Foley for laying on the first

In 2006 it was a Saltergate horror show, starring cast members Denes Rosa, Tomasz Frankowski and Jamie Clapham.

Roll the clock forward and these heady days as a Wolves fan have never felt so far removed.

No grimacing, flinching or biting of the fingernails. No commentator cursing and certainly no need for the many unexplainable OCDs in an attempt to stave off the inevitable.

Where once we’d moither we now meditate, basking in a blissful feeling of serenity that a dose of Tramadol couldn’t touch.

Far from removing the huge momentum gained over the first two league games, Mick’s  11 changes added to it in the League Cup, with young Jamie Reckord and Matt Doherty boasting star turns in the full back positions.

Beautiful strikes from Sylvan and Milijas in the first half were supplemented with similarly clinical efforts in the second, with another from SEB and Vokes, who completed the scoring.

If it sounded processional then it most probably was, with the commentary suggesting that Hammill shaded Kightly, even if the latter created Sylvan’s second perfectly.

Without being inside the Sixfields to see the action and no anxiety to keep me honest, a picture was painted of Flushing Meadow in a rather tenuous tennis analogy.

In round one of the US Open, we are the Roger Federer to Nothampton’s Tommy Robredo, cranking up the quality when it mattered to win in straight sets. (6-4, 6-2, 6-4)

Supporters acknowledge the ‘Premier League’ gulf, Tommy shrugs his shoulders and Andrew Castle tells him where he went wrong.

Meanwhile, Roddick (Norwich), Ferrer (QPR) and Tsonga (Swansea) crash out on the outside courts to suggest their seasons might be more problematic.

‘Tougher tests ahead,’ the flippant Castle will say, not appreciating the five years of hard work that went into this one.

Well done lads!

Talking tactics

Wolves Blog regular Adam Bate returns for the first time this season with a tactical analysis of Sunday’s win over Fulham.

Johnson to the Rescue

The signing of Roger Johnson has obviously excited Wolves fans. It seems too much to dare to hope that one man can transform last season’s 17th leakiest Premier League defence into a formidable unit. However, he’s made a positive start and he’s done so by doing the things that earned him such praise at Birmingham City – tackling, blocking and intercepting. Johnson managed more successful interceptions than any other player on the pitch on Sunday.

Henry Still Important

The dirty Wolves tag is one that haunted Mick McCarthy and his side for much of the 2010-11 campaign and, for many, Karl Henry personified all that was wrong with that team. The player himself was clearly affected by the controversy but he has begun this season in encouraging form by doing what he does best – tracking runners, pressing the ball and making interceptions.

Henry intercepted the ball high up the field on five occasions on Sunday. Astonishingly, this was four morethan the entire Fulham team combined. Jol’s side preferred to sit back before pressing the ball but only succeeded in inviting Wolves onto them. The contrast between Henry and one of his chief detractors, Danny Murphy, was stark. The Fulham captain did not attempt let alone succeed in making a tackle in the entire contest.

Stearman’s Role

The inclusion of Richard Stearman at right-back was arguably the most controversial selection at the start of the season. Kevin Foley remains a firm favourite and Ronald Zubar has become a cult hero. In particular, the case for Foley’s recall was enhanced by an assured second half performance at Ewood Park during which the Irishman completed more passes than any other Wolves player.

However, Mick McCarthy has expressed concerns about the size of his midfield and clearly favours Stearman’s height in the back line. Although it was Stephen Ward who made the most high profile interception of the day, Stearman actually made five to Ward’s spectacular one and it was noticeable that he frequently tucked in and won key headers at the far post. Indeed, the heat maps show the contrasting roles that the two full-backs had on Sunday.

Stearman had a higher percentage of the ball than Ward in every equivalent zone within Wolves’ half, while the attacking left-back enjoyed an astonishing 51% of his possession in the opposition’s half. Foley may be the ball player but that is not currently the role that McCarthy is looking from his right-back.

Shoot, Shoot, Shoot

Wolves’ shoot on sight policy may have veered into the self-indulgent in the second half, with some fairly ambitious efforts, but Jamie O’Hara and Stephen Hunt in particular have added a goal threat from midfield. The twenty shots attempted against Fulham were more than Wolves had managed in any home game last season.

Left is Right for Jarvis… not Hunt

Inverted wingers have been de rigueur for several seasons now and Mick McCarthy seems to finally be embracing the trend. Although Matt Jarvis provided the assist for Steven Fletcher against Blackburn with an orthodox cross from the right byline, McCarthy saw enough at Ewood Park to decide to utilise Jarvis and Stephen Hunt on the opposite flanks from the outset against Fulham.

He got his reward as both wingers cut inside onto their stronger foot to help set up the goals – with Jarvis even coming inside to fire home for the second. While Jarvis has long enjoyed more success on the left-wing, there had been some debate as to Hunt’s preferred flank but playing from the right appears to allow the busy Irishman greater options with the ball at his feet. Lacking Jarvis’ electric pace, Hunt is less focussed on getting to the byline and more keen to drift around in search of space.

This is borne out by the heatmaps that indicate Hunt enjoyed 25% of his possession in central areas compared to Jarvis’s 12%. As with the full-backs, McCarthy appears less concerned with symmetry – instead keen to allow the players to play to their strengths.

Don’t forget to check out Adam’s excellent blog Ghost Goal.

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