Archives for October 2015

Birmingham City Vs Wolves Preview

When we lost at St Andrew’s in April it was probably considered a minor upset.

Birmingham

How times have changed.

Currently it’s Blues leading the play-off charge and Wolves drifting in no man’s land.

The balance of power shifts quickly and often in the Championship and the reality is there probably isn’t much to choose between the sides.

But confidence is key and you wonder how much is left in the tank after three straight demoralising losses?

Birmingham

356px-Birmingham_City_FC_logo.svgWell done Gary Rowett. The Blues manager has made a mockery of the club’s well documented problems and a lack of spending power to build a stable, consistent side.

Only table toppers Brighton have won more games this season and even after last weekend’s defeat at Hull, they’re still just a single point outside the automatic promotion places.

There’s a lot of experience throughout the spine of the side like Tomasz Kuszczak, Paul Robinson and Clayton Donaldson.

The talented Demarai Gray brings pace and trickery. No doubt speculation will once again resume about his future in January.

Home form hasn’t been spectacular thus far, with three wins, a draw and two defeats. St Andrew’s is far from a fortress.

Wolves

Realistically, Mike Williamson was probably as good an acquisition Wolves could make given the timing and circumstances.

Team for Blues

I expect he’ll go straight into the team even if Dominic Iorfa is considered fit enough to take part. I doubt he’s come to sit on the bench.

The five man midfield worked quite well against Boro, particularly in the first half, so I reckon we’ll see it again on Saturday.

I think Kenny might go narrower though, sacrificing one of the out and out wide players in favour of Jed Wallace.

Other contenders for a start include Jack Price, the returning Jordan Graham and possibly even Carl Ikeme after some accused Martinez of being softly beaten last time out.

The gaffer

Predictions

Perversely, whenever we’re doing well I hate the thought of a local derby, but on current form, I think it could be just the tonic.

To lose a fourth game in a row and against our near neighbours would be a new level of misery, but I think we might pull a performance out of the bag.

I’m going for an unlikely, narrow victory.

2-1

Up The Wolves!

Magic Mike

So Mike Williamson has signed on loan for a month.

Mike Williamson

After selling our player of the year and captain Richard Stearman to a championship rival and replacing with this, then you’ll forgive me for being a little deflated by the news.

I.E. this whole scenario, like a few others in this underwhelming season, was completely avoidable.

After raising such concerns with the Express & Star’s Tim Spiers on twitter last night, I was effectively told to stop whinging and give the bloke a chance.

From this, a Pied Piper stream of invective followed, using a word that is banded about more liberally than the term ‘pant-wetter.’

Fickle.

Yes folks, it appears I am a fickle pant wetter.

The insinuation seems that any other supporters daring to express concerns over this arrival are also fickle pant-wetters too, and should gleefully celebrate the news as a beacon of progression.

Spiers tweeted this: ‘Getting lots of negative comments, saying NUFC are delighted. Well how many were pleased when Saville left? Doing a great job for Millwall.’

I replied with this: ‘It’s as if you’re suggesting Wolves fans have no right to be cynical. We sold Stearman for this? Should I buy some champagne?’

And then the religious cult kicked in, essentially blaming fans for daring to express their consternation on Twitter, as if the social networking site is fair game to amplify the opinions of the entire world – including ISIS followers – but not a Wolves fan questioning the loan signing of Mike Williamson.

One even inferred that we should be grateful, being as Gerard Pique didn’t fancy the move.

Don’t you just love being patronised? Or being called fickle?

Anyway, I won’t be booing at Mike Williamson as was implied and will be getting behind him as I do every player in a gold shirt I see.

I just had an opinion that this deal, coupled with the Stearman sale, is illogical.

I was wondering what your opinion was? Don’t worry, I won’t tell you that you’re a fickle fan in a glib statement of superiority, whatever your thoughts.

The team that could have been

It’s bad enough losing yet another game where our hopes were smashed like a Stale Solbakken dugout.

Dugout

It’s even worse that George Friend – yet another ghost of Mick McCarthy-past – was a major scourge, winning the all-important penalty and generally infuriating us throughout our defeat to Middlesbrough.

So because my levels of depression have caused me to plumb the depths of my tortured mind, I have concocted an entirely plausible Wolves XI that could well be in place now, but for a less cantankerous old relic of a manager, a board with a modicum of foresight who had the balls to challenge him and a current head coach who is suffering from an affliction known as ‘the brainfarts’.

1. Carl Ikeme

Ikeme

To call him competent would be a disservice. Ikeme was a huge presence between the sticks during our recent renaissance, made numerous top-class saves and offered a sense of reassurance to our back four after developing an understanding that comes from years of hard work. Now in his pomp, with a call-up to Nigeria under his belt, he is dropped for a flaky Arsenal loanee. Quite possibly a shadow of his former self as a result.

2. Nathaniel Clyne

Clyne

Remember when Crystal Palace were on their knees, deep in administration and desperate for any pennies they could lay their hands on?

It was barely five years ago. Oh how times change.

Anyway, Neil Warnock said we made a £1.5million bid for Nathaniel Clyne AND Victor Moses in a bid he described as ‘laughable.’

Of course, Jez Moxey denied this, but did admit in Feb 2010: “We did make an offer for Nathaniel Clyne but it was more of a speculative bid. We like young players and thought he was one for the future. But we’re inundated with right-backs at the moment, so it wasn’t high on the agenda.”

Suffice to say we didn’t get an England star in the making, presumably because we wouldn’t pay the required rate. Southampton did, eventually selling him for £12.5 million.

3. George Friend

Friend

Good old Mick McCarthy eh? Identified Friend as a talent in the making, refused to ever play him owing to an obsession to a laughably useless Stephen Ward, and then sold him for peanuts.

Funnily enough, Friend actually was a talent in the making and was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year in 2014/15 for his marauding exploits as a Boro left back.

4. Richard Stearman

Stearman

No more questions M’Lud. (In a dark sense of jovial banter, Jackett has hilariously bemoaned that experienced defenders are currently hard to come across. Stop it Kenny you wag!)

5. Jason Shackell

Shackell

The only chance I remember centre-half Shackell ever getting was at Deepdale, Preston, as an emergency goalkeeper when Wayne Hennessey was sent off.

Brought to the club as a no-nonsense general with a sweet left foot and a huge on-field presence, Norwich’s player of the year (before joining us) surprisingly went on to blossom for Derby, signed up for Burnley as skipper, spearheaded them to promotion to the Premier League and returned to Derby. Last seen grinning in a 4-2 thrashing the other week. For info, we opted for Neill Collins.

6. Adlene Guedioura

Guedioura

The day after Stale Solbakken signed for Wolves, Guedioura was sold to Notts Forest having been farmed out there while we were in the Premier League with 24 players in a 25 man squad.

Deemed a player of the year candidate in only a handful of games at Forest and primed for a Championship crack with Wolves, we sold him, causing Jez Moxey to say at the time: “The manager makes the decisions on the buying and selling of players.”

A strange quote to pin on our new manager, when he’d never seen him in the flesh.

So a player we bought for £2million with oodles of ability was sold for £1million* Job. Done.

Guedioura then came back to haunt us with a thunderbolt in a 2-1 home defeat to Forest and is now starring in the Premier League with Watford.

Newsflash: It was never a footballing decision and the manager was hung out to dry. An enraged ‘close source’ called me on my mobile at the time to say it had nothing to do with football and Solbakken didn’t have a say. Something to do with an unsavoury training ground bust-up with Sylvan Ebanks-Blake.

Honesty clearly wasn’t the best policy in July 2012, in much the same way that it isn’t in 2015.

*Probably my mistake, as the fees were ‘undisclosed.’ My bad.

7. Elliott Bennett

Bennett

A talented young and hungry player who was either deemed not hungry enough, or just not good enough.

One man’s rubbish was another man’s treasure as Paul Lambert soon picked him up and played him in the Premier League after winning promotion before that.

The thought of a rasping winner at White Hart Lane still makes me feel physically sick to this day.

8. Mark Davies

Davies

‘Ooh, he’s such a horrible little cheat’ shouts one club apologist. ‘He’s a terrible piece of work’ screams another.

For all the scurrilous rumours about Mark Davies’ personality – concocted to cover the arse of an incompetent manager – Mark Davies committed just two cardinal sins as far as I can recall.

1. He went on loan to Leicester City in 2008/09 and played out of his skin.

2. He came back and had the temerity to enquire if his performances warranted first team start any time soon.

Like Oliver Twist asking his master for more food, Mick McCarthy boomed: “MORE?!” and tried to pack him off to Leicester again.

So a lad we’d reared from the age of nine, representing England u16s, u17s and u19s, asked to leave his hometown club.

Apparently he was offered a new contract, the terms of which will never be known. Hmm…

…Oh well, he wasn’t fit to lace Nigel Quashie’s boots anyway.

9. Sam Vokes

Vokes

Correct me if I’m wrong, but Sam Vokes scored more league goals than Andy Keogh in the season we won the Championship.

Also correct me if I’m wrong, but sycophantic, happy clappers wouldn’t have a bad word ever said about Keogh, as I believe I missed out on the monthly Keogh Cult Meetings while I was watching Chris Iwelumo score for fun with Ebanks-Blake.

One player is still fawned over for a single goal at Wigan. The other slated for a miss against Manchester United.

One player now plays for the mighty Ratchaburi in Thailand. The other plays for Burnley who are miles ahead of Wolverhampton Wanderers.

And those nasty ‘boo-boys’ are called fickle?! Hilarious.

10. Leigh Griffiths

Griffiths

Despite nobody ever substantiating the claim that Leigh Griffiths was homesick and wanted to leave Molineux, we have all taken it as read that he’d had enough and wanted to go home. We must count ourselves unlucky then, being as two of the three homesick players in the history of football played for Wolves (Griffiths, Jelle van Damme and Swindon Town’s Joey Beauchamp, for info).

My recollection is we signed Leon Clarke before our top scorer had even left for Celtic, causing Griffiths to retweet an Official Wolves tweet

saying we’d agreed to sign Leon Clarke. I know how I’d have felt.

So off Griffiths went and my dreams of a Dicko / Griffiths strike force was dashed precisely because:

a) You’re not allowed to dream (unless it’s an impossible dream on the back of a songsheet strapped to your faded plastic seat)

b) Wolves would not entertain the prospect as we wouldn’t be so stupid as to keep both when one can pay for the other.

Whoops, silly me…

…Like Mark Davies, Griffiths is scum of the earth and a poisonous character that we can well do without. Got it? He is scum. Repeat after me. Leigh Griffiths is scum. Or homesick? Or both.

11. Jordan Graham

Graham

I’ll throw in Graham’s name in an attempt to prove that I, Ben Smallman, can actually be wrong when it comes to Wolves players, being as I have been 100% correct on the other 10 names above and almost always am correct. And this isn’t in the benefit of hindsight either. Ask Thomas.

Another close source revealed that on the training ground, Jordan Graham was the most technically gifted player week after week after week last season, but never got a look in.

Another Oxford supporting friend told me he’s already earned cult status at Oxford United for dismantling arch enemies Swindon on his own last month.

I predict he’s a better player than anyone we currently have on our left hand side, and that we’ll sell him for around £100k without ever playing him, preferring Jed Wallace instead.

I then predict his new employers will cash in a year later for around £1.5 million, as the words ‘Golden Tit’ echo around my tortured mind.

So there you have it.

A certified numpty has come up with a team that I’d wager would be doing a heck of a lot better than anything out on the pitch at the moment.

What does this prove?

Nothing, other than that I’m a better qualified judge of a football player with a stronger faith in my convictions to challenge any manager’s decision to ostracise said players, were I a chief executive of a football club on around £500,000 per year.

Wolves 1 Middlesbrough 3

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this third straight defeat is that it felt entirely avoidable.

Wolves Boro

Unlike Derby and Brentford, Wolves remained in the box seat for most of this feisty encounter.

But injuries, fatigue and a chronic lack of defensive cover ultimately allowed Middlesbrough’s quality to shine through in the final knockings.

After Kortney Hause was stretchered off and Conor Coady deemed his most suitable replacement, you always sensed the visitors would open the gates.

Aitor Karanka even had the luxury of introducing £6 million summer recruit Stewart Downing to crank up the heat.

And it was Downing’s neat reverse pass that created the space for the equaliser before his classy free kick sealed the deal.

Meanwhile, we’re all left to wonder what might have been had Kenny Jackett been armed with even adequate options to finish the job.

Nobody knows the anatomy of Wolves’ transfer dealings and who is truly to blame for the glaring imbalance to the squad, but as one fan put it to me yesterday: The chickens are coming home to roost.

While it’s unfortunate Kenny finds himself without Ebanks-Landell, Iorfa and Hause, it’s poetic justice for the head scratching decision to offload Richard Stearman.

Equally, Nathan Byrne’s desperate lunge that handed Boro the lead is a direct consequence of his inexperience.

And if you sign young, unproven players, they make those types of mistakes and you have to suffer the fallout.

With all this considered is it overly simplistic to suggest that the two teams respective transfer policies are where yesterday’s game was won and lost?

On a more positive note, there was much to be admired about Wolves’ performance for three quarters of the contest.

A classy opening goal showed that there’s requisite talent within the squad to open up even the meanest defence in the league.

Benik Afobe had chances too and occupied Boro’s back four with an encouraging display of power and menace.

It’s just a shame Afobe and a few other guilty parties couldn’t provide the killer second goal that may have won the day.

But on such fine margins games are won and lost in this league and those small percentage points normally come from individual talent.

Talent that Wolves seem loathe to pay for.

Wolves Vs Middlesbrough Preview

If Wednesday’s game was supposed to be the more winnable of our Molineux double header, you worry about what’s to come.

Boro Wolves 2

Back-to-back losses is bad enough but with Boro tomorrow and a horrible looking fixture at Blues next weekend, things stand to get considerably worse.

Brentford were achingly average, but thoroughly deserved their win having pretty much controlled the game for the duration.

Wolves were creaky at the back, overrun in midfield and lacking punch in the final third, despite the best efforts of their talisman.

You just wonder how much of that can be fixed within the space of a few days.

Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough_crest_oldI fancy Boro will be well organised and even more difficult to breakdown than Brentford given that they’ve been consistently disciplined for well over a season.

Aitor Karanka’s team have only conceded 8 goals so far in the league, making them the meanest defence in the division.

Recent form has been flaky with two losses to Reading and Cardiff sandwiching a stalemate against Fulham so perhaps that offers some cause for optimisim?

Prior to that, they’d won five in a row and looked dead set to be among the automatic promotion contenders.

Unlike Wolves, they invested heavily in proven talent and I still believe the likes of Nugent and Downing will give them that extra percentage required to achieve their ultimate goal.

Wolves

I think Kenny Jackett made at least one mistake with his team selection in midweek.

Team for Boro

Dropping Jack Price – who seems to continually be scapegoated for losses without much supporting evidence – was a major error in my opinion.

Conor Coady isn’t doing enough to justify his place in the side individually and there’s no sign of a blossoming partnership with Kevin McDonald.

I would restore Price tomorrow, put another body in midfield (Edwards or Wallace) to try and get control of the ball and push Afobe right up the pitch.

Nathan Byrne should also be given an opportunity to show what he can do, otherwise what was the point of signing him in the first place?

The gaffer

Predictions

In the above video Kenny admits we’re light on numbers at the back and in forward positions. You wonder who is to blame for that situation?

It was obvious to everyone that bodies were required in those positions for the duration of the summer, even before injury and mystifying sales came into play.

Something is going on and the my interpretation of the manager’s comments is that he doesn’t feel he’s been adequately supported.

Anyway, I think we’ll lose tomorrow but hopefully there will be something to be taken from the performance.

2-1 Boro.

Up The Wolves!

Wolves 0 Brentford 2

October 21 2015 was the date we’d all been waiting for.

Price end of Brentford

Flying cars, self-tying trainers and hovering skateboards was the adrenalin-fuelled prophecy, but sadly over at Molineux there was nothing half as progressive.

Not so much Back to the Future, but back.

Back to the dark recesses of our endless failed seasons, in a performance to suggest that the near distant future isn’t worth looking at, let alone the year 2040, which is too horrific to contemplate.

Faded, ripped old banners of Billy Wright and Bill Slater will billow from a decaying old monument, a smattering of old souls will be buffeted by the wind and Jez Moxey will still sit in the best seat in a crumbling old house, regaling his remaining few friends of the good old days in the Championship, when gags included ‘not doing a West Bromwich Albion’ and qualifying for Europe. How they all laughed.

Last night’s 2-0 defeat to Brentford was so regressive, so clueless and so frighteningly inept that it actually transcended subsequent debates about team selection, the league table, or forthcoming fixtures with Middlesbrough and Blues.

Played out to mortified eyes – mingled with swathes of empty seats – it actually acted as a bolt of lightning on the South Bank clock, spiralling us to a future when scenarios like this are the norm.

What for players like Leigh Griffiths and Michael Jacobs from 2013, never mind a Keith Curle or an Allan Neilsen from a Colin Lee era.

Adam le Fondre, a marginal improvement on Tomasz Frankowski, wouldn’t keep John Paskin out of a 1990 side.

James Henry, on last night’s performance, could only clean Tim Steele’s boots in 1989.

And so ponderous were McDonald and Coady that Nigel Vaughan and Phil Robinson would have breezed in and around them back in Staw Distribution shadow striped shirts.

As it was, Brentford right back Alan McCormack emasculated the pair of them as a makeshift midfielder in the most depressing sight of the entire night.

The bald Irishman is 31 apparently, making him literally unattainable to a hapless club like Wolves, who still adorn the walls of the Molineux stands with past legends, but bastardise their legacies in the corporate seats inside.

We don’t sign experience. We don’t sign anybody come to think of it, only a deal to emblazon yet more Red Row branding on a digital scoreboard on a stand that bears Steve Bull’s name.

What Steve Morgan has done to this once great club isn’t naïve or misguided…

…It is sick.

While the latest instalment of this increasingly grim storyline was playing out on the pitch, Kenny Jackett stood with his hands in his pockets, resigned.

His fizzy bottle-of-pop coach Joe Gallen was flat.

The ground was empty, the team was spiritless and the substitutions mattered little because the future has been set.

And as the boos shook my seven-year-old son to the soles of his little trainers, I really can’t bear to look at it.