Archives for July 2013

Preston North End Vs Wolves Preview

If the near 5,000 contingent of Wolves supporters heading to Deepdale is anything to go by, optimism has returned.

Kevin Davies Preston

I think Kenny Jackett deserves a lot of credit for that.

He’s done everything within his power to cultivate a strong relationship between himself, the team and the fans.

There’s now a genuine sense, for the first time in a long time, that we’re all in it together. That’s a very good place to start from.

Still, quite how much can realistically be expected from his young side is another matter completely.

For all the positives to come out of pre-season, nobody can say with any degree of certainty what this team is capable of doing until the competitive action starts.

I remain optimistic about our prospects, but cautious at the same time given that we’ve only added one player (a free transfer) to the squad.

Preston

The last time we visited Deepdale, Chris Iwelumo scored a superb hat-trick in a 3-1 win before getting himself sent off for a headbutt. Wolves went up to the Premier League as champions that year and Preston made the play-offs.

The Lilywhites finished midtable last season with Simon Grayson taking charge late in the day. Given his past success with Leeds and Huddersfield, you would think he’d be a good appointment at this level.

A quick look at this thread on a Preston fans forum suggests they feel promotion is a realistic objective. If that’s the case this should be a good barometer to see how our young side are shaping up.

Kevin Davies has been their marquee summer signing and, as he always does, will be causing lots of problems on Saturday. I’m not seeing many other names I’m familiar with in their squad. That could be a good or bad thing.

They won 8, drew 9 and lost 6 at Deepdale last season, which is a solid enough record. However, they’ll need to do better this time if they’re too mount a serious promotion charge.

Wolves

It’s likely that only 2 players (Elokobi and Sako) who started the game at Brighton back in May will be in the team on Saturday. That’s a good thing. Based on last weekend’s defeat to Real Betis, I would think the team will shape up like this:

Wolves XI Preston

That eleven shouldn’t be short of goals. I’m particularly excited to see if Leigh Griffiths can continue scoring regularly and if Sigurdarson can find consistency.

The defence continues to leak goals, but I look at that back four and believe it’s perfectly adequate for League One. I think Wolves’ defensive problems stem from how they defend as a team, not just as a back line.

I think if you take Sako out of the side we’re definitely short in the creative stakes. At some point we’re going to need at least one of Ismail, Forde or Boukari to make an impact.

Midfield is the area of concern for me so I’m hoping David Davis really finds his feet this season, Lee Evans lives up to the hype and Dave Edwards remains fit long enough to deliver.

The odds

Preston are slight favourites for this fixture with odds of 8/5 on the home win.

Wolves are just outside that at 17/10 and if you fancy the draw it’s 9/4.

A repeat of the 3-1 victory Wolves secured on their last visit to Deepdale, is available at odds of 20/1.

Predictions

The Wolves Blog Prediction League is once again open for business and as always, anyone can join in.

Simply leave your predicted scoreline for the game as a comment below and I’ll collate the results. Easy.

It’s 1 point for getting the correct outcome (e.g. a Wolves victory, a draw or a loss) and 2 points if you also get the scoreline correct.

As we’ve won one and lost one of our last two opening day fixtures, I’ll go for a draw.

2-2.

Up The Wolves.

Cards on the table

Nothing quite beats the immense smugness of being proven right, especially when it comes to football.

Dave Edwards

Admit it, we’ve all savoured that elevated sense of self worth when our personal little prophecies come to fruition.

I felt like Rain Man for a week after correctly predicting back-to-back 3-1 victories a few seasons back. Halcyon times.

Too often though these moments of inspiration are lost, meaning we’re robbed of the opportunity to revel in our genius.

To this end, I’m giving you all now the opportunity to make one (or as many) predictions as you like about the season ahead for our beloved club.

Think of this post as a time capsule that we’ll bury deep into the Wolves Blog archive, to be unearthed at the end of May when we can celebrate those who were gloriously correct and commiserate (mock) the woefully wrong.

I’ll get the ball rolling with three of my own:

1. Wolves will finish in the top 6, but fall short of automatic promotion.

2. Richard Stearman will be our best performing defender.

3. Dave Edwards will score at least 10 goals.

I also put the challenge out on Twitter, so here are a few of the predictions I collected on there:

Martin Swain prediction

Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 10.13.31 Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 10.13.44 Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 10.14.00
Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 10.36.59

As we sing to Norwich fans then, lets be having you.

From the sensible and reasoned to the downright outlandish, I want to hear them.

Put your cards on the table.

Wolves 2 Real Betis 3 (video highlights)

Chesterfield 1 Wolves 2

His palms were sweaty, knees weak, arms were heavy, there was vomit on the Proact Stadium carpet already.

Arthur leading out Wolves at Chesterfield

But my son was 20 minutes away from leading out the Wolves against Chesterfield as mascot, so he was understandably nervous!

Pre-season friendlies don’t usually provide too much of an insight into the season that lies in wait but thanks to the organisation of good friend Mark Davies, the kindness of Chesterfield FC and the youngsters at Kenny Jackett’s disposal, last night was different.

Smallmans on the pitch at Chesterfield

If I learned one thing from our 2-1 win in north Derbyshire, then it’s that however many misdemeanours the club has committed over the past 3 years, I still can’t help but love it.

Not when I look at my 5 year-old boy who was positively beaming at leading the team out with Sam Ricketts, irrespective of the magnitude of this particular fixture and the attendance of around 2,500.

Youth certainly wasn’t wasted on the young as far as Arthur was concerned, as he clapped the away fans as if he was one of the players in purple.

Nor for Kenny Jackett, who is now giving our young players the chances to impress that had never been available previously.

arthur and ben

Following in dad’s footsteps

Of the kids on show, Lee Evans and Zeli Ismail were particularly impressive in second half outings, while Leigh Griffiths looks every inch the striker we have been crying out for, for so long.

Playing on the shoulder of their last man, he was a constant nuisance and didn’t look too dissimilar to a fit and firing Kenny Miller of 2003 vintage.

But while there were many positives to the second half display, the first half still presented a number of questions, with Chesterfield looking the better side, exploiting our left back frailties to equalise through Drew Talbot.

With Sam Ricketts right back, George Elokobi was the man to struggle and with Sako offering no outlet in front of him whatsoever, he didn’t have an easy opening half.

David Edwards looked neat and tidy and opened the scoring, despite it looking to me as if Jake Cassidy had prodded home with the final touch.

In conclusion, this was a keenly contested run-out which offered some genuine signs of hope and progress. In the eyes of a five year-old boy, it was the game of the century, featuring the best side in the whole world who he is now in love with forever.

Video highlights

Barnsley 2 Wolves 2 (video highlights)

Wrexham 1 Wolves 2

The only thing Kenny Jackett learnt in the first half of last night’s third straight pre-season victory was the magnitude of the task he’s undertaken.

Wolves Wrexham

Outplayed and out-classed by a Conference side that showed the greater appetite and invention, there were major issues for the manager to evaluate throughout his young Wolves side.

With George Elokobi at the heart of the defence, calamity is never too far away. Dedicated and likeable he may be, but sure of foot he is not. Countless times simple passes were miscontrolled and crosses shinned in no particular direction.

Danny Batth too was out of sorts in a scruffy first 45, which saw Wolves fall behind thanks to a simple free kick routine that caught them completely off guard.

Wrexham Wolves

About to be caught out for the opening goal

Wayne Hennessey would have been disappointed to see the shot defeat him at the near post, but he was otherwise comfortable enough on his return to first team action.

Bakary Sako provided the only moments of attacking menace for Wolves in a dismal first half, spanking a shot at goal from 25 yards out that the Wrexham keeper did well to palm over.

Moments later, the Frenchman was hobbling off with a hamstring injury and the 600 strong away contingent were left wondering who could possibly spark the comeback.

Thankfully, in Leigh Griffiths Wolves have a genuine match winner. Lively but unrewarded in the opening exchanges, the Scot took the game away from the Welsh side with a livewire second half performance.

Moments after his smart run and cross from the left saw Jake Cassidy fluff his lines in front of goal, Griffiths repeated the trick on the opposite flank with his strike partner dispatching at the second time of asking.

The winner arrived moments later with Griffiths running at defenders before angling a low (slightly tame) shot into the opposite corner.

It was the first time I’d seen the striker and I was impressed with his neat control and relentless running. He was the only player constantly looking to make something happen and as the game opened up, he was finally able to do the damage.

After carving out both goals, he had countless other strikes on target, swung a handful of dangerous corners into the box and even rose between two defenders for a powerful headed effort that unfortunately went straight at the keeper.

He was direct, confident and in the faces of the opposition, all things we’ve lacked from our strikers for longer than I can remember.

Alongside him Liam McAlinden toiled, barely able to get a touch of the ball. The more physical presence of Jake Cassidy was an improvement after the break, but Bjorn Sigurdarson remains the player I’d most like to see lining up at Preston.

Overall, it wasn’t a great night for our young hopefuls.

Lee Evans, alongside the combative David Davis in midfield, struggled to cope against eager opposition on a bobbling surface. But credit to him for persevering. When gaps began to appear he exploited them with some accurate, raking passes.

Jack Price, still being asked to operate out wide despite preferring a central role, was enthusiastic but largely anonymous in his 45 minute cameo.

Anthony Forde, a more natural wide player showed glimpses of pace and trickery but was let down by his final ball. He could certainly be one to watch this season though.

As much as they’ve been lambasted in recent times, our senior pros helped turn this game in our favour. Dave Edwards played the second half down the right flank and without being spectacular put a foot on the ball and calmed things down.

Richard Stearman, replacing the hapless Elokobi, brought about a marked improvement in our defensive fortunes. On this evidence, he and Batth must be nailed on to start at Deepdale.

And finally skipper Sam Ricketts looked strong and confident throughout. His ability to use both feet and find neat passes out of defence is a real asset. I’m surprised Bolton let him go.

A pleasing conclusion then after an abysmal start. Barnsley on Saturday will provide a more thorough examination. A similar half-baked first half there and I doubt we’ll be able to maintain our 100% pre-season record.