Archives for September 2014

Wolves Vs Huddersfield Town Preview

Kenny Jackett reckons ten matches offer requisite evidence for the league table to paint a fair and accurate picture.

Powell

Victory tomorrow in game ten will put his side top of the Championship table.

But win, lose or draw, Wolves can feel pretty good about their immediate prospects.

Nine solid performances, 18 hard earned points in the bank and absolutely zero evidence that last season’s shining stars are struggling to make the grade.

Goals might have been in short supply prior to Sunday’s bonanza, but in almost every other respect it’s been business as usual for Kenny and co.

Huddersfield

HuddersfieldTownCrestChris Powell has a job on his hands up in Yorkshire with the Terriers languishing at the bottom end of the table in a league where easy points for struggling sides are often in short supply.

They’ve got enough firepower in the shape of former Bradford man Nahki Wells, Championship stalwart John Stead and Grant Holt, freshly loaned in from Wigan.

But goals conceded has been a problem and the 19 they’ve shipped thus far means only Fulham (20) have a worse defence.

Mark Hudson was brought in to help plug the gaps and he’ll hope his second trip to Molineux this season ends better than his last outing for Cardiff, when his comical own goal surrendered the points with the final kick of the game.

Wolves

The answer to the question we’ve all been asking is Yannick Sagbo. The Hull striker was a surprising addition and I for one don’t know anywhere near enough about him to make a snap judgment. But he hasn’t come to sit on the bench, so we’ll all get the chance to judge.

Wolves Huddersfield

If Nouha Dicko is available, I would expect him to start with Leon Clarke still struggling to make an impact. Sagbo will presumably make the bench at the very least so it will be intriguing to see who Kenny Jackett omits from the squad to make space.

There’s a question mark over Matt Doherty’s fitness and if he doesn’t recover in time, Sam Ricketts and Ethan Ebanks-Landell are waiting in the wings. I’d like to see the skipper finally given a run out personally.

Options galore for Kenny tomorrow though and with the squad further strengthened, it’s just a matter of getting the balance right, which can often be easier said than done.

The gaffer

Predictions

Well done to the handful of people who predicted a draw at the Mad Stad. At one point or another, everyone probably felt confident their prediction was going to come to fruition.

I think Wolves will win this one to continue a 100% start to the season at Molineux.

Maintaining performance levels at home will be crucial too, as away wins are harder to come by in the Championship than they were in League One.

3-1

Up The Wolves

Reading 3 Wolves 3

I’m a big fan of statistics but matches like this one demonstrate how little they actually count for.

Evans Reading

Wolves boasted the meanest defence in the Football League as they made their way onto the pitch at the Madejski Stadium, but that was made a mockery of inside the first twenty minutes as they were soundly punished for switching off on a smart short corner routine.

Reading themselves then had an impressive record to maintain, having won every game they’d taken the lead in this season, but ended up grateful for just a share of the spoils.

Kenny Jackett will also be cursing the numbers after his side, who for a second consecutive away game came from behind to roar into the ascendancy, weren’t able to convert long periods of dominance into a hard fought victory.

After Bakary Sako’s viscous in swinging corner was bundled over the line to give Wolves the lead for a second time, that really should have been curtains.

Trying to see the game out with a short corner when there was still several minutes of regulation time left to play (and as it transpired, five additional ones added for injury) was a questionable move and ultimately cost them the win.

Seconds later the ball had been transported forward and Glenn Murray found requisite space on the edge of the area to power home a sweet, albeit deflected, strike into the top corner.

Mad Stad

The obvious plus for Wolves was the three goals scored in the absence of Nouha Dicko. The load can and should continue to be shared around as it was today and last season.

That said, Leon Clarke’s reputation certainly wasn’t enhanced by another game that seemed to pass him by. His languid style, particularly when deputising for a livewire like Dicko, will continue to draw unwanted attention unless the goals start rolling in.

By comparison, James Henry and Lee Evans can feel good about their respective strikes and all round performances. They both seem to be relishing the challenge of competition.

As do Wolves in fairness, who haven’t looked second best against any of the nine teams they’ve encountered thus far.

Two winnable home games await and despite my predilections, I’ll be reminding myself that there’s only one statistic that ultimately matters.

The gaffer

Reading Vs Wolves Preview

Osborn, Gilkes, Williams, Hahnemann, Doyle, Hunt, Henry, Golbourne and Gorkks.

Reading

To coin a clichéd phrase from matchday programmes up and down the land – ‘they’ve worn both shirts’ (with varying degrees of success). This isn’t the only link between the clubs in semi-recent history either.

Wolves last two promotions to the top flight have also come at the expense of the Royals, as the clubs have predominantly yoyoed around the leagues. And because of that yoyo-ing,  this is actually the first fixture between the two sides in over five and a half years.

Reading have fine Championship pedigree of course, winning it twice in the last decade. Nigel Adkins came within a point of taking them into the playoffs last season too as they narrowly missed out on the final day.

Reading

200px-Reading_FC.svgI’m not sure I fear a trip to the Mad Stad like I would have done in previous seasons, but that’s more to do with my confidence in Wolves own performance levels of late.

Perhaps I should be more worried though? Reading have won three of their four home matches so far with a defeat to Huddersfield the only blotch on an otherwise impeccable record.

They’re an attacking side with some good players like Simon Cox and former QPR forward Jamie Mackie. Defensively though there seem to be question marks.

A late defeat at Sheffield Wednesday last time out pushed them back towards midtable so they’ll be keen to reclaim some ground in front of the Sky cameras.

View from the opposition

Thanks to Royals supporter Dan from The Tilehurst End Blog, for giving me the inside scoop on his team’s progress:

Reading are very much a team in transition. Takeover drama off the pitch and a gigantic injury list on it means that we’re really not sure what our expectations should be this season. Certainly if you had a fully fit squad and a bit of cash to spend in January then you’d be expecting at least a play-off push but with key players like Jem Karacan, Garath McCleary and Danny Williams out until around Christmas and a starting lineup currently full of inexperienced academy products, we could just as easily get bogged down in midtable. Credit has to go to Nigel Adkins for the way he’s handled such dramas and while we’ve rarely been spectacular, we’ve been solid throughout the season and the only game we’ve looked outmatched in was a 4-0 hammering at Forest.

Wolves

Whether it was tiredness from Wolves or an increase in performance from Bolton, the second half last week dipped well below the standard we’ve come to expect. I felt a lot of that came down to the substitutions.

Wolves Reading

The above team has good balance and shape, two facets we’ve come to expect from a Kenny Jackett side. But in trying to shut the game down against Bolton, I felt the manager abandoned the principles that have largely served him well.

I’ve seen Tommy Rowe in two substitute cameos thus far and in both instances he looked out of position and off the pace. Hopefully there’s much more to come from him when he gets a more sustained run.

Our other summer addition, RvLP hasn’t featured in the last two games, which seems odd given that he’s been consistently strong, particularly at Molineux. Maybe he’ll return on Sunday?

The fitness of Nouha Dicko will also be crucial, as without his pace and power, the team is undeniably weaker.

The gaffer

Predictions

Well done to the plethora of people who correctly predicted victory over Bolton. With more points to play for in the PL this year, it’s great to see the changes in the table every week. It’s look more competitive than ever.

I really fancy our chances at the moment. Even when the performance levels dip, I feel Wolves are almost playing within themselves and can go to another gear if they really need to, as we saw after falling behind at Charlton.

We’re never brilliant in front of the cameras, but I think we’ll do enough to get a result and I’m going all in for the three points.

3-1

Up The Wolves

Fans’ Parliament – Ben’s minutes

Following my first ever Fans’ Parliament meeting on Thursday September 18, I can now reveal to you all that proceedings went well and I found it a particularly worthwhile experience.

Ben at fans parliament

Featuring CEO Jez Moxey, head of marketing and communications Matt Grayson, head of supporter liaison Paul Richards and head of ticketing Lynne O’Reardon, I was able to ask one or two questions on your behalf, after taking a tour of the new academy building. I will write a separate blog on this at some point as it deserves one of its own.

Before I begin, there were one or two house rules, namely that I can’t post anything on the blog until the official minutes go live, hence the delay in getting this to you all. Also, there might be one or two items that are strictly ‘off-the-record’ at the meeting, which I won’t be able to bring up – however much I might want to at the time. This could be interpreted as being somewhat clandestine, but I understand the club’s rationale. Hopefully the quality of each meeting and the questions answered will offset this.

I’ll start with the questions I was able to ask on behalf of Wolves Blog, followed by some interesting other questions posed by fellow fans.

I am sorry I wasn’t able to ask all of the questions posed, but I managed to ask three or four which was a decent return in the room in comparison to others! The Q&A was shortened due to the academy tour, which I will report on in due course – a HUGELY encouraging aspect of the club, with so much music to my ears hearing the overall philosophies underpinning this.

I won’t report on every single item raised as it will turn this blog into war and peace. In short, the items that I didn’t think were of pressing interest won’t be on here. They will however, be on the official website under David Instone’s official minutes, so feel free to have a look there too!

(All notes taken with my 100 word-per-minute shorthand)

My questions to Jez Moxey

Ben: In March 2011, Jez Moxey said the following: “The aim is to get us back where everyone thinks we belong. We are kidding ourselves if we think we can usurp Manchester United, but we think we can get to just below that level – in the top three, four or five clubs where we can be competinghttp://images.intellitxt.com/ast/adTypes/lb_icon1.png in Europe.” Is this still an aim within the hierarchy of the club? What is the vision, the strategy today?

JM: It hasn’t changed. If you look at results from the beginning of time until now, we are in the top 10 in the country in terms of points and victories. Today, our natural pecking order is sixth in the Championship to wherever that place above might be. We are not going to usurp Manchester United or Manchester City. But why can’t we be an Everton, challenging?

Ben: For this to happen, what are the short term aims of the club? Surely promotion is necessary in 12 months or two years to make this aspiration likely?

JM: We are trying to manage pressure. We really have tried hard in the last two years to make sure we don’t set ourselves up for a big fall, so the stock answer is that we will try to do our very, very best. We want to get the fans behind us and create a special atmosphere around the club, which I think many of you can feel. But we will not be putting any pressure on the players with an answer to this.

Ben: A lot of fans contacting Wolves Blog are getting soaked in the North Bank. What is being done?

JM: We are aware of it. It will get better when we are able to take on the next phase of the Molineux redevelopment, which will be the Steve Bull Stand.

Another fan followed up with: When will this happen?

JM: We haven’t got an answer to that question. The time to do it would be now because we haven’t got capacity issues. It would take one to one-and-a-half years to do and it would coincide with us getting promoted. Bang! But the reality of life is not like that. We are not keen on mortgaging the club. We are not beholden to banks and thank goodness we haven’t been. We have to live within our means.

Ben (after taking a tour of the academy): Are there targets for youth players moving up into the first team to justify the investment in these facilities? Four players coming through per season for example? A couple?

JM: There are many KPIs that they must adhere to. It’s been said that if you produce one player per year you are doing really well. We believe we have been better than that recently. Sometimes circumstances change in and around the first team so it is difficult to put a figure on this.

(He also talked glowingly of Jack Price as an example, and how he’d love to see him playing after such a good season, what a great lad he is…but other players develop too, short-term circumstances change and it is the manager’s prerogative to send him on loan to give him the games he needs)

Other questions

1. Videowalls – what is the situation with them?

JM: We are looking at alternatives but nothing will be done in the short term. We might put a ‘digiboard’ in place at the front of the upper tear of one or two of the stands. We are not going to change the videowalls just yet, but will probably increase the advertising on them.

They could still be used as units / shells and we could insert new screens inside them, so we will not knock them down or restore them until we are in a position to develop the stadium.

2. Bakary Sako contract?

JM: We would love Bakary to stay long term. He is becoming a player that is developing a cult status amongst fans and has managed to establish himself from previous regimes, helping us to promotion.

But we bought him when our economics were different to what they are today. We would like to have success this season. We all want this season to end well and to offer him a new deal.

But he has always said to us: ‘If I can go to a Premier League club, then you have to know I would be interested.’ Forest offered big money but the deal was never quite right. That turned his head but he still said no.

In the summer we were thinking that he might well leave, which is one of the reasons we bought van La Parra.

We could have sold him in the summer, probably, but he was content to stay and we were delighted when the phone didn’t ring.

This issue will go to the heart of mine and Steve Morgan’s motives. Steve did not want him to leave. The relationship Bakary has with Nouha Dicko, both on and off the pitch, is a big thing. Unless we have to sell him we won’t. The relationship between Bakary Sako and the club is as good as it can be.

3. Jamie O’Hara decision. Was it more from his side or the club’s?

JM: We spoke to Jamie O’Hara and his agent, then he changed his agent, went back to his original agent and so on. When it became apparent that we were taking a stance at the club – that was wholeheartedly backed by Kenny Jackett – that we were taking the financial burden, then the message eventually sunk in that something has to change in his life in order for him to progress.

It was very amicable, very sensible and worthwhile. It wasn’t a big financial outlay either. He needed something to change and we wish Jamie well.

4. Has the club learned from this (and five year contracts?)

JM: We could talk about that subject for hours. You are buying somebody in the Premier League for that sort of money and you hope he turns into a £20 million player…

…But yes, lessons have been learned.

5. Why can’t fans pay cash on the gate, specifically in the Stan Cullis corner? It would add to the attendance.

Matt: There is a huge drive to get fans to buy in advance because it improves the matchday experience inside the stadium as a result, such as the flow of fans, reducing queuing times and catering for the right number of people.

Lynne: There is no ‘man in a box’ facility in the Stan Cullis Stand corner to allow this. We do cash on the day at the ticket office, with a wait of 10 to 15 minutes max. You can also buy on the day in the club shop.

We are trying to move forward from the traditional mode of purchasing.

(Lynne also talked about the print at home / flexi- ticket and various other online ticket provisions)

My take

Lessons have been learned at the club, which appeared obvious on Thursday night’s showing. While Mick McCarthy’s name was never uttered during the evening, you could definitely sense that his pig-headed refusal to play youth players during his tenure has had a perversely positive effect on the club today.

Again, without naming names, the academy manager Gareth Prosser did refer indirectly to the past, and how much better things are today. If, for example, Scott Malone came through the ranks today (only to get sold to a Bournemouth for a nominal fee, who then make £500,000 on him), you sense that hell would hath no fury, with the questions coming from Steve Morgan.

Was Mick held to account over his reluctance to play youth? I suspect not. As Jez Moxey said repeatedly: ‘Steve Morgan’s love for building includes the careers of young players. It is what he wants to see and gives him the most satisfaction.’ As I say, I believe lessons have been learned here.

The North Bank situation will surely provoke some more response here. I wasn’t able to ask specifically about the Perspex along the side or the rain coats due to time, sorry. It’s clear there is not an immediate solution, but he said the club is aware of this issue, as it is frequently raised. Following on from this, it feels that the stadium redevelopment will definitely take place at some point as it was talked about regularly – when it takes place is a different matter.

And my first impressions of Jez Moxey and the evening were very positive. Both Thomas and I know he is aware of the blog, and that he surely has little time for me and my particularly caustic commentaries during our dark times – of which I held him largely responsible!

However, he shook my hand firmly, answered all questions and for the first time in his 15 odd years at the club, I actually warmed to him and agreed with virtually all that he said. So there!

We’ll see what the next one brings.

Wolves 1 Bolton Wanderers 0

Standards and expectations are high at Molineux these days.

Wolves Bolton

A fourth straight league victory to maintain a one hundred per cent start at home will do little to suppress either despite Wolves stuttering over the line with a jittery, uneven performance.

Kenny Jackett himself admitted afterwards that Bolton merited something from the game after dominating a second half in which his own side failed to ignite.

Meanwhile, Dougie Freedman was happy to pin the blame on Owen Garvan for a meek penalty and comical follow up as Carl Ikeme made the smart double save.

Perhaps Jermaine Beckford should have been handed the responsibility for converting the spot kick he himself won after drawing a jaded lunge from the retreating Danny Batth?

The former Everton and Huddersfield striker seems to relish playing at Molineux and scored for both of those clubs in his two previous visits to the ground. Had he been standing over the ball instead of Garvan, I doubt the home team would be celebrating another maximum return.

That said, Wolves should again have been out of sight before the interval after passing Bolton into submission with the sort of classy approach play that’s underpinned their success in 2014.

Time and time again Lee Evans spread the play with scintillating efficiency and our wingers drilled balls into dangerous areas. But time and time again, the visitors cut out the danger.

Fortunately though, just when that uncomfortable sense of deja vu was threatening to cloud another commanding first half display, Nouha Dicko somehow flicked a header underneath the Bolton keeper to break the deadlock.

Scott Golbourne had a far easier headed chance right after the break too, storming in at the back post to meet an inch perfect cross only for the ball to be cleared off the line.

After that, Bolton were in the ascendancy and Wolves, usually so reliable in possession, began to surrender the ball and invite the white Wanderers forward.

Unusually for Kenny Jackett, his substitutions were also questionable. Clarke for Dicko was of course unavoidable, but he did little to enhance his plummeting stock, albeit with very little to feed off with his team mates looking jaded and void of ideas.

But Tommy Rowe for James Henry was a particularly curious change, removing what little forward thrust Wolves had in favour of giving game time to a player whose yet to bed into a new side. And boy did it show.

Still, the gaffer will no doubt feel vindicated as Wolves ultimately saw out the closing stages with a modicum of comfort.

And it certainly feels churlish to sound critical of manager and team while the bandwagon keeps on rolling.

I suppose really, it’s just a sign of the times.

The gaffer

Wolves Vs Bolton Wanderers Preview

First things first, I hate Bolton.

Freedman

Well actually, eleven year old me, locked in the grubby, lion cage away end at Burnden Park in the summer of 1995, hates Bolton.

The misery. The injustice. John Mcginley. Ergh.

20 years on, I haven’t been able to forgive and forget.

It doesn’t help that the Trotters have since bested Wolves on countless other occasions, albeit none quite as painful as that play-off semi final second leg.

Bolton

bolton logoI always rated Dougie Freedman as a player. He scored some of my all time favourite Wolves goals. As a manager though, the jury is still out.

Leaving high flying Palace to take the reigns at Bolton seemed a bit of an odd decision at the time. I wonder whether he will one day admit to an error of judgment on that one?

It’s been a tough couple of years at the Reebok and despite sporadic bursts of form they haven’t been anything other than Championship also-rans (at best) since relegation from the top flight.

This season hasn’t started much better either with Wanderers only notching their first win of the campaign against Rotherham in midweek.

Still they have some useful individuals (Davies, Spearing, Mason, etc) which suggests if they can put it together as a team on a consistent basis, they will begin climbing the table.

Wolves

Kenny chopped and changed throughout at Charlton and can feel reasonably pleased with all incarnations of the team.

Wolves Bolton

Personally I’d stick with the tried and tested starting XI but must admit I was impressed with what I saw second half at The Valley when the shape was switched to 442.

Leon Clarke rightly took pelters for the chances he missed but we looked a lot more threatening with two bodies in the opposition penalty area. As I say, I’d start with the above but it’s nice to see that plan B can also be effective when needed.

The Gaffer

Predictions

A lot of people correctly foresaw the draw at Charlton and most even got the scoreline, so I won’t list them all on this occasion. But well done to everyone. The overall table is shaping up nicely.

Until the team give me reason to think they’ll struggle I can’t predict anything other than wins.

Molineux is a nasty place to visit these days as Norwich, Cardiff and Blackburn have all discovered.

I think Bolton will keep the ball better than those sides but ultimately Wolves will prevail as they normally do at home.

3-1

Up The Wolves