Archives for March 2015

Worst case scenario

So picture the scene…

Sako

…Kenny Jackett masterminds a late push into the play-offs courtesy of some scintillating counter attacking football.

Sako mesmerises, Afobe dispatches and van la Parra progresses in equal measure as we elbow our way into the reckoning, overcoming Middlesbrough over two grueling battle royales.

With nerves frayed and fingernails chewed, we are within a coat of paint of beating Bournemouth in normal time at a sunshine baked Wembley Stadium.

But we lose in a five goal thriller through a deflected Harry Arter shot in extra time – Peter Beagrie lauding the best play-off final since 1993.

Amid teary eyes, Sako departs, Afobe’s head turns to WBA and van la Parra frustrates. Dicko meanwhile, becomes disillusioned.

Kenny Jackett then starts the 2015/16 Championship season in much the same way Solbakken did in 2012/13 – with one arm tied behind his back.

Is anyone to blame?

Would this not just be a depressing by-product of a once Beautiful Game, where long-term planning documents are chewed up and spat out by that ravenous, vulgar league above.

Would it not just be bad luck on Wolves’ part? An emotion-laden storyline for Morgan and Moxey to garner a bit of sympathy from when the going gets inevitably tough?

Lessons would be learned of course. Kenny wouldn’t get the sack when we’re 15th in the Championship at Christmas because the chairman knew his constraints too well.

We would build again. Iorfa and Hause would play 80 games between them, Batth and Price would become focal and who knows, Boukari might be injury free for a while, in the most unlikely Sako imitation act imaginable.

Some more young bucks would be blooded and by the end of the season, a play-off tilt might just become possible for 2016/17.

Do you buy this vision and more to the point, is there even an alternative to think of? We had so much fun in League One last season that it’s all pretty relative anyway, isn’t it?

Without a sugar daddy prepared to throw big bucks to make that Promised Land plausible, this is surely how it’s going to be from now on.

Aspiration is arbitrary these days and like those fans clamouring for a terrace from where to view it all, times change.

That we had the chance to rewrite this script from 2009 to 2012 adds to the pain, but that’s showbiz folks.

With no other scenario available, we surely embrace this hypothetical grudgingly and keep buying our tickets, even if the cyclical mingles with the Groundhog.

On the otherhand, we actually win the play-offs and get ourselves promoted!

Like that lick of paint scenario I conjure in the Wembley five-goal thriller, it’s a fine line.

Here we go

Four wins and two draws.

wolves run in

That’s what I reckon Wolves need to finish the season inside the Championship’s top six.

Getting those 14 precious points will represent a solid achievement too.

My blueprint for success has us drawing at Forest next Friday, before beating Leeds at Molineux three days later.

A point at St. Andrew’s in the derby follows and I’ve then allowed for a defeat at Middlesbrough to try and keep things realistic.

Then it’s simple, win all three of the remaining games against Ipswich, Wigan and Millwall to sprint over the line. Job’s a good’un.

By my reckoning, 79 points should be enough to narrowly see off the threat of Brentford and Ipswich having also totted up their remaining fixtures.

Brentford have some highly winnable games against the likes of Wigan, Bolton and Fulham, but must also navigate Forest at home and tough away contests at Derby and Sheffield Wednesday. I’ve got them finishing on 78.

Ipswich commence their run-in with a home game against Bournemouth but then have more presentable Portman Road fixtures in the form of Blackpool and Cardiff.

Their final three matches are Wolves away, Forest at home and Blackburn away though, so I’m hoping they’ll peter out and finish on 77.

Victory over Derby last Friday also brought the Rams within shooting distance, but I’ve got them roaring home on 84 points, which could conceivably put them back in automatic contention.

Of course none of this is close to scientific with the Championship anything but predictable and with such thin margins to play with, it’s clearly anyone’s game.

I’ve heard a lot of people suggest that the fact the table is so condensed this season is a reflection of a lower standard. I disagree.

Some of the football the likes of Derby, Watford, Bournemouth and Brentford have played against us has been better than I’ve ever seen in the second tier. Wolves haven’t been too shabby either I might add.

OK, there isn’t one outstanding side, but I think it’s harder than ever to be better than everyone else in this notoriously competitive league.

No doubt Chelsea’s Premier League procession will get all the column inches through April and May, but for sheer entertainment I don’t think anything has surpassed the Championship this year.

If we’re still in it next season, there are certainly worse places to be.

My predicted outcomes

Derby

Watford (h) – 1
Wigan (a) – 3
Brentford (h) – 3
Blackpool (h) – 3
Huddersfield (a) – 1
Millwall (a) – 3
Reading (h) – 3
Total = 17 (84 points)

Wolves

Nottm Forest (a) – 1
Leeds (h) – 3
Birmingham (a) – 1
Middlesbrough (a) – 0
Ipswich (h) – 3
Wigan (a) – 3
Millwall (h) – 3
Total = 14 (79 points)

Brentford

Fulham (a) – 3
Nottm Forest (h) – 1
Derby (a) – 0
Sheff Wed (a) – 1
Bolton (h) – 3
Reading (a) – 1
Wigan (h) – 3
Total = 12 (78 points)

Ipswich

Bournemouth (h) – 1
Huddersfield (a) – 1
Blackpool (h) – 3
Cardiff (h) – 3
Wolves (a) – 0
Nottm Forest (h) – 1
Blackburn (a) – 1
Total = 10 (77 points)

Wolves 2 Derby County 0

Now we’re cooking.

Celebrating Derby

And make no mistake about it folks, Wolves are contenders.

A wonderful win against an impressive and determined Derby outfit is proof positive Kenny Jackett and co are going the distance.

Fears they might simply be eased out in the scrum dissipated amidst another glorious night under the Molineux floodlights.

Steve McClaren will correctly rue one moment of refereeing madness that saw Batth escape punishment, but there was much more to the game than one controversial incident.

End to end would be a fair assessment up until Nouha Dicko’s well engineered opener, but much like Sheffield Wednesday three nights earlier, Derby struggled throughout to contain the pace of our forward line.

Afobe had the two clearest chances of the evening either side of Dicko’s goal and by his lofty standards, England’s top scorer should have done better.

The Derby tiki-taka was impressive but only ever seemed to culminate in shots from distance, which were kept out by goalkeeper and woodwork.

Wolves retreated and rode their luck at times, but when blocks and interceptions were needed, someone always came up with the goods.

Lee Grant’s moment of charity was gratefully received on an evening where both goalies opted to punch when a catch seemed easier.

Still, for all his circus juggling Tomasz Kuszczak kept everything out and that is the name of the game. You just have to go with it.

Sako was superb and drained the life out of Derby as they chased the game, using his strength and considerable portfolio of tricks to ride challenges and play some lovely passes.

His late dribble and dash warranted a better finish, but the slaloming run itself was worthy of the ticket price. I wonder whether all Wolves fans appreciate just how good he is?

But it wasn’t a night for individuals. It was a night to savour just how far the team have come under Kenny Jackett.

And a night to wonder just how far they might go.

The gaffer

Wolves Vs Derby County Preview

There wasn’t a single positive to take from the hammering Derby handed out to us back in November.

Derby

Individually and collectively, Wolves were simply brushed aside in what had to be the worst performance we’ve seen under Kenny Jackett.

Quite a few players (Clarke, Saville, Ricketts, McAlinden and Rowe) involved that day have since disappeared from the picture completely.

Those that have returned or come in to replace them are unquestionably an improvement, meaning the Wolves that Derby face tomorrow are a very different animal.

Hopefully that will reflect in a very different scoreline.

Derby

derby logoThe Rams are wobbling. They haven’t won any of their last five matches meaning even a play-off position is far from certain.

Injuries have been piling up, which is the kind of luck Steve McClaren could do without in the final sprint to the finish line.

The loss of strikers Chris Martin and Darren Bent has been particularly vexing, with goals suddenly in short supply. They’ve only managed three in their five game slump.

You get the sense they just have to dig in to get a result from his fixture and hope the cavalry return after the two week break.

A win could put them back in the frame for a top two finish. Defeat would see them reeled in by the play-off chasers, including Wolves. It’s beautifully poised.

Wolves

It’s a major boost to see Richard Stearman back in contention after being stretchered off in midweek. His experience is vital in big fixtures like this.

Team for Derby copy

I’ll be surprised if the above eleven isn’t the team that starts. Kenny Jackett revealed he hooked van La Parra for not tracking back so he’ll probably have similar concerns about the Dutchman facing the likes of Tom Ince and Jesse Lingard.

James Henry also did his prospects little harm with a hand in Afobe’s goal and a wonderful solo strike of his own. Another player who has looked back to his best in recent times is Matt Doherty. His marauding runs forward are a real asset.

The gaffer

Predictions

It’s time for Wolves to come to the party in a big fixture. We couldn’t do it against Bournemouth and we couldn’t get over the line against Watford, so now has to be the moment.

Given Derby’s woes and our recent home form, there’s nothing to be afraid of. In fact, we should probably be considered marginal favourites.

If Kenny can get the lads fired up, which shouldn’t be a problem considering what happened in the reverse fixture, and the team are anywhere near their best, I think they’ll do it.

3-1.

Up The Wolves.

Wolves 3 Sheffield Wednesday 0

It’s a shame the season didn’t start in January.

Sako penalty

Because since the beginning of 2015, Wolves have rediscovered the potency that saw them engage cruise control in last year’s League One run in.

Four goals against Huddersfield, five against Rotherham, three against Fulham and another treble last night against one of the meanest defences in the Championship are testament to the fact.

And much like last season, it’s so often the Sako Dicko axis spearheading the push.

Dicko, correctly recalled to the team by Kenny Jackett got things moving last night with a powerful run that drew the all important foul and allowed his compatriot to convert his good work into a vital early goal.

But even the Mali men are being overshadowed of late by the performances and goals of Benik Afobe.

That’s now eight in twelve appearances from a striker who doesn’t seem to lack any of the attributes required to play at the very highest level.

His inch perfect volley last night was probably the pick of the bunch, but the variety of goals he’s already plundered demonstrate what a versatile talent he is.

James Henry played a key role in Afobe’s big moment before proceeding to pip the former Arsenal man for goal of the evening.

Save of the evening (and possibly the season) goes to Tomasz Kuszczak for clawing out a goal bound header to preserve Wolves’ one goal lead.

The Pole sets nerves jangling with his unorthodox approach but saves like that one and a similar stop against Rotherham show why he was once considered good enough for the very top.

All over the pitch, nobody had a poor performance, which shouldn’t be a surprise because there are no bad players in this Wolves team.

Each and every component needed to be successful at Championship level is present and accounted for.

The manager and the team just need to put it all together for a concerted run of games.

But they’ve left it late, so it’s now or never.

Highlights

Wolves Vs Sheffield Wednesday Preview

Leon Clarke’s late winner at Hillsborough in December reignited Wolves’ season.

Wolves Wednesday

That crucial win up in Yorkshire simultaneously ended a five game losing streak and kicked off an eight game undefeated run.

It’s been hit and miss since, but we’ve just about clung onto the coat tails of the leading pack.

Wednesday weren’t quite able to last the pace and nine points back on Wolves with just nine games left to play, another year of Championship football beckons.

Hopefully they’ll be polite enough not to drag us down into midtable tomorrow.

Sheffield Wednesday

Sheffield_Wednesday.svgOnly Middlesbrough have conceded less goals than the Owls, but only Millwall and Blackpool have scored less. The problem is pretty obvious.

Still, to average comfortably less than a goal a game and not be anywhere near the bottom three is some achievement and testament to a well organised defensive unit.

Worryingly for Wolves, Stuart Gray’s mean machine are far more effective away from Hillsborough and have already wracked up eight wins on the road.

They pinned a lot of hopes on Stevie May being the man to carry the goal scoring burden, but the Scot has only managed 7 league goals so far in his debut season in English football.

Wolves

Kenny Jackett has been talking this week about the need to find the right combinations in the final third, but I think any combination should include Nouha Dicko.

Wolves team Bournemouth

An early goal is needed as Wolves have a frustrating propensity for running out of gas in the second half.

That should mean a recall for Dicko who, like Afobe, can run in behind and move around what will probably be a stubborn defence.

Teams that have come to Molineux and parked up have generally done pretty well, so hopefully Wednesday will show a bit more ambition.

Predictions

Four points from these two home matches is the minimum requirement. This looks the more winnable on paper and we’ve generally done well against the Owls in recent times.

Hopefully Wolves can rely on their attacking talents to lead the charge and make a mockery of the opposition’s defensive record.

It’s probably a tad ambitious, but I’m going for 2-0.

Up The Wolves.