Archives for August 2016

Chesterfield 2 Wolves U23s 1

Visits to Chesterfield have been frequent in the last few years, all in the early tenure of previous Wolves managers.

Mad Mick came to the old Saltergate ground and lost a penalty shoot out in a league cup game, and at the new Proact Stadium in KJ’s first preseason there was a friendly against Paul Cook’s side.

Last night was a step into the unknown as the EFL Checkatrade Trophy provided an untried format for both sides.

However a sparse crowd of some 980 home supporters and 120 hardy Wolves fans were treated to a really good game of football.

The pivotal moment of the game came in the 29th minute when Ethan Ebanks-Landell was dismissed for a two footed tackle.

Both ball and player were missed by the challenge, but the intent was enough to convince the ref. He could have, and should have stayed on his feet and the rush of blood was to make the game very difficult for the young Wolves side thereafter.

By then a good Wolves goal was disallowed for offside, and from a corner kick to the back post, the big home defenders out-jumped Flatt and the ball fell kindly to Sylvan Ebanks­-Blake to tap in from two yards.

Funnily enough, before the game I was enjoying hospitality in the Vice President’s Lounge and the Chesterfield Deputy Chairman asked if we were interested in having SEB back for free.

One of the home sides higher earners, the former Wolves man is not their most popular player. He missed a free header and several other chances during the game, so I can possibly understand why.

I’d been looking forward to seeing this young Wolves side play, having read good reports from Stuwolf and others, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

The captain was exceptional, frequently drawing applause from the home side as he went past players at will.

For me the whole side played very well, with the left back and left winger also very good. In fact the young lads rarely looked like they were a man short, their work rate, appetite for the game and sheer footballing ability were a joy to behold, I`m sure there are some future stars in that group.

Wolves scored a deserved equaliser, were unfortunate with Chesterfield’s second which took a wicked deflection off a defender and arched over our keeper, and then we sent the keeper the wrong way with a penalty but the ball cannoned back off the post, and a deserved point was lost.

Two matches left in the group, so plenty to play for, the club needs to practice taking penalties, as the last three we’ve missed.

Otherwise a very enjoyable and creditable performance against the odds.

Huddersfield Town 1 Wolves 0

It’s difficult to know if the reverse of this fixture will also be a top of the table clash but today’s contest certainly lived up to its billing.

With the home side irrepressible in the first 45 and anything but in the second, it was the cliched game of two halves.

The main takeaway for Walter Zenga though was another slow start, with the opening and ultimately decisive goal nothing short of shambolic. Despite our clean sheets against Reading and Ipswich, our defensive deficiencies are all too apparent.

Much has been made of Danny Batth’s improvement under Zenga’s tutelage but the skipper was caught out badly in the build up to the goal, with pantomime villain Rajiv Van La Parra also afforded far too much space to tuck home on the rebound.

Huddersfield fans clearly haven’t gotten to know their new number 17 all that well, given the adulation they bestowed upon him throughout proceedings, but nobody can deny the quality of his performance today. What a shame that he only bothers to muster up this level of effort so infrequently.

Coady was arguably our best player again, though his knack for breaking up opposition attacks was largely wasted at right back. On the opposite side, Doherty turned in another typically swashbuckling performance. I can’t recall a more drastically improved player from time supporting the club.

Less impressive were Edwards and Saville, both of whom were deservedly hooked. Their limitations were pretty glaring and the fact all of the substitutes improved us drastically is unlikely to do them many favours.

Both centre backs were also poor and I’d suggest recruitment in that area needs to be considered a priority in the remaining days of the window.

As I type up this report on the coach back to Molineux, a fellow traveler has already hit the nail on the head with a succinct summary that we can’t afford to be a ’45 minute team’ if we want to achieve success this year.

Sluggish starts have been an alarming trend of Zenga’s tenure to date and although almost every other aspect of the Italian’s management has been peachy it’s a habit that needs addressing.

Still, it’s important that we remain level headed given the turbulent nature of the club’s summer activities.

I doubt there’s a Wolves fan among us that expect today’s lineup to be anything like the one that finishes the season and one suspects that patience will be required for a good while yet.

With a host of new signings to bed in and some sorely missed first team players due back from injury, it’ll take time for Zenga to identify his key players and the correct system for them to play in.

Our second half display at least suggests in time we’ll have a very good side on our hands.

Today was a frustrating blemish on an otherwise solid start and it’ll be interesting to see how we pick up again in a fortnight.

Huddersfield Town Vs Wolves Preview

As positive as these early matches have been, we’re yet to face a decent side.

 

Blues and Ipswich are average by Championship standards and I’d say Reading and Rotherham are a few notches lower. The League Cup draws have also been kind.

That’s not to put a dampener on progress under Walter Zenga – we may not have got the results last season – but I’m looking forward to seeing how we get on against the heavyweights.

Huddersfield may fall into that category, but like us it’s too early to know whether they have the staying power and quality to keep it going.

This is a lovely little test for both sides though ahead of the international break.

Huddersfield

HuddersfieldTownCrestDavid Wagner was an inspired choice for Huddersfield after they sacked Chris Powell. An energetic and inventive coach, anything now seems possible for the Terriers, where as before you felt they’d hit a ceiling.

Some promising results towards the back end of last season and a busy summer of recruitment have raised expectations and results haven’t disappointed.

They’re top of the league having already seen off Brentford, Newcastle and Barnsley. A useful point at Villa Park means they’re unbeaten coming into this one.

We know Rajiv van La Parra well of course, but considerably less about the likes of Christopher Schindler, Jon Gorenc-Stankovic or Elias Kachunga.

With our own merry band of exotic new recruits, this game has a continental, anything could happen element of mystique.

Wolves

This section is not about a predicted lineup, as I’m no longer prepared to try and second guess a manager who picks eight midfielders. Instead, this is the team I would field.

Wolves for Huddersfield

That’s the form players from the last few games filling the midfield sandwiched by a well established back four and two strikers bang in form.

But there are more viable options on the bench for Walter Zenga than we’ve had for a long time and who knows how he’ll choose to use all these players?

Rotation has thus far been viewed as a favourable thing, but if results take a turn for the worse the pressure to define a strongest eleven will quickly intensify.

Walter Zenga

Predictions

Nothing exciting to read here I’m afraid – 1-1.

I can’t quite summon the confidence to go all out for the win, but based on everything I’ve seen so far, won’t back us to lose either, even against a good Huddersfield side.

Anything other than defeat would represent a very solid start and leave us ideally placed going into international fortnight and of course, the final days of the transfer window.

Up The Wolves!

Wolves 2 Cambridge United 1

It was no great revelation that a side containing no fewer than eight midfielders produced an uneven performance.

Costa Wolves

Walter Zenga’s maverick team selections are fast becoming a feature of the season, but thankfully, so is winning.

Chances were created, squandered and freely gifted as the manager’s experimental lineup just about carried Wolves into round three.

Credit Cambridge for showing great spirit, particularly from two down to make a real fist of things. They’ll feel with a bit more luck, they could have extended the tie.

Makeshift forward Helder Costa was the major plus point, scoring and assisting goals as well as winning the second half penalty that should have put the tie to bed.

We saw glimpses of ability in a short cameo against Ipswich, but this was his first real opportunity to make a meaningful contribution and he did just that, showcasing the pace and skill we all hoped he possessed.

Jed Wallace carried on where he left off against Birmingham, also scoring and assisting in another useful display. He probably should have found the net again at least once more, but can still feel pleased about his night’s work.

Anyone wandering down to Molineux hoping to see debuts for Ola John and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson will have left disappointed as neither featured despite the latter making it onto the bench.

Already you sense Zenga wants to feel his players understand precisely what they must do before they’re thrust into the action.

Prince Oniangue was given a soft launch at St Andrew’s on Saturday and a first start in this one, but struggled to sustain a promising start and soon faded. His mere physical presence alone in the middle of the park provides reassurance though.

Several of the old guard disappointed with James Henry, Dominic Iorfa and Kortney Hause all looking off their game.

Henry struggled to put things together and fluffed his chance to get on the scoresheet with a meek penalty, whereas Hause and Iorfa were less than convincing as a center half pairing.

With yet another new midfielder sitting in the stands last night, we still need that experienced head at the back to supplement the potential of those promising young defenders.

Similarly, there were no like-for-like replacements for Bodvarsson or Mason, hence the makeshift attack.

But in stark contrast to recent years, I fully expect those issues to be addressed before the end of August.

Onwards and upwards.

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Wolves Vs Cambridge United Preview

With the arrival of Ola John and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, that’s now eight summer additions through the door for Wolves and counting.

The challenge for Walter Zenga is making sure the new bodies are more help than hindrance.

For instance, we’ve been successful thus far by adopting a narrower shape and foregoing an out-and-out winger, so where does John fit in?

Matt Doherty continues to be a revelation at left-back, so do we really want to disrupt that progress by allowing Borthwick-Johnson to walk straight in?

These are the decisions that could define our season as greater strength in depth develops.

Cambridge

Cambridge_United_FC.svgAll I know about Cambridge is that they’re currently bottom of the football league after drawing 2-2 with Carlisle at the weekend and Shaun Derry is their manager.

Last season they finished a respectable 9th, just a handful of points shy of the play-offs so will be disappointed at such a sluggish start.

I’d like to offer greater insight but it’s been tough to find forums or media with anything of interest.

One obvious note of caution is that they dumped out Sheffield Wednesday in the last round, winning 2-1 after extra time with two very well taken goals.

But that was on their home patch against a much-changed Owls team. To come to Molineux and emerge victorious would be a much greater scalp.

Wolves

We know Walter Zenga is a fan of rotation as he said it himself after Saturday’s victory. Tomorrow will likely see at least five or six changes again and possibly even more with several Molineux debuts.

Team for Cambridge

That’s a complete guess at the starting XI based on those who didn’t feature at Birmingham and those who we don’t have replacements for.

Up front is where we’re lacking options and I hope to see at least one addition to further swell the ranks, with the hope Nouha Dicko will also be fit and firing after the international break.

We’ve been linked with Jordan Rhodes again today after seeing a big money bid knocked back for Derby striker Chris Martin a few weeks back. Either of those players would be great signings in my opinion and put a marker down about our immediate ambitions.

Predictions

Hard to foresee anything other than a comfortable home victory in this one. Even with a much changed team full of players who barely know each other, there should be a significant deficit in quality.

We normally find a way to concede but I’ll back us to score a few – 4-1.

That’s an unusually adventurous prediction for me but such is the feelgood factor right now, why not?

Up The Wolves!

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Birmingham City 1 Wolves 3

Last Christmas a family member bought me the autobiography of noted psychopath Roy Keane.

It was a predictably colourful read covering the final moments of a fiery playing career and latterly, his transition into management.

After a bumpy start in his first coaching job at Sunderland, Keane scouted Coventry striker Stern John. He noted how every ball forward to the Trinidad and Tobago man stuck and allowed his team mates to move up the pitch.

John made the move to the Stadium of Light in January and immediately established himself as a vital cog in the machine. Sunderland lifted the Championship title in May.

In case you’re wondering, I’m labouring towards a point about the Jon Dadi Bodvarsson effect.

We should all be giddy because Wolves finally have a forward who can make it stick and in this competition that’s massive.

Stand it up high, fire it in low, lump it down the channel – all service gratefully received.

Today the Icelander was the sole representative of the new blood, surrounded by players who last season showed themselves to be toothless.

But with a ruthlessly effective target man to feed off, the likes of Mason, Wallace and Coady were transformed at St Andrew’s.

Mason in particular is loving life and his stunning finish to draw Wolves level just after half time was one of many impressive contributions.

Busy would be a good adjective to describe Mason who can infuriate by wasting the many useful positions he occupies, but with the goals starting to flow he could be the season’s bonus ball.

Jed Wallace has had a stop-start Molineux career up to now and today was the first time he’d caught my eye, often turning sharply, demonstrating a useful turn of pace and getting shots away. With time and confidence you sense he could reach much greater heights.

Utility man Conor Coady was back in his preferred position and swarming all over the Blues midfield as he did so effectively in the same fixture last season.

He too had a powerful drive turned away by Tomasz Kuszczak in a good first half showing from Wolves in which they were unlucky to find themselves trailing.

Birmingham were direct throughout. It was all crosses and long diagonals up to Clayton Donaldson, but Che Adams always looked a threat and his crisp finish was exactly what the away side had been lacking.

Walter Zenga will have been frustrated that such incisive approach play and effective counter attacking from his side wasn’t rewarded with a goal.

He needn’t have worried though, as Mason’s bullet, Batth’s close range follow-up and Bodvarsson’s thumping third more than made up for that first half indecision.

In his post match press conference the manager spoke of his desire to bring in forwards and defenders to balance the squad and for sure, both would come in handy.

At the back, Hause is still struggling to marry consistency with obvious talent and an experienced head would be a welcome addition. Luisao anyone?

Up top, the sledgehammer Bodvarsson and the reborn Mason could soon be joined by Nouha Dicko, but further competition for places is a must.

With some hard graft off the pitch before the end of Augst to accompany the relentless spirit being displayed on it – this could be a season we really make it stick.