Archives for November 2016

QPR Vs Wolves Preview

‘Streetwise’ was the buzzword for Paul Lambert after the Sheffield Wednesday debacle.

We do need to be more streetwise but I think there are far more fundamental issues the head coach must address, some of which were of his own making on Saturday.

In simple terms, the team was unbalanced. Saville on left, Coady and Edwards in the middle – it was too cautious, too safe, too much about destruction and not enough about playing football to be effective.

With the game already lost at the interval his changes were equally perplexing; Connor Coady ending up on the right side of midfield for example.

There are two or three players who must come back into contention, but most important of all is a team selection that offers enough going in both directions.

QPR

512px-Queensparkrangersfclogo.svgJimmy Floyd Hasselbaink survived being embroiled in the corruption sting a few months back but floating around in midtable was deemed unacceptable.

One QPR supporter I heard speaking about his departure wasn’t unhappy to see the Dutchman go, saying the football was tedious at best. Seems to be familiar theme.

Tedious isn’t a word you can use to describe Ian Holloway or the teams he manages, so one imagines more exciting times lay ahead.

The encouraging debut win over Norwich was followed by a 3-0 thumping at Ipswich last weekend so the rollercoaster is already well and truly in motion.

It’s three wins, three draws and three defeats from their home games thus far, with 14 goals conceded (only Rotherham and Barnsley have shipped more) so Loftus Road far from a fortress.

As well as Karl Henry they have two forwards Wolves were heavily linked to last season in Conor Washington and Idrissa Sylla. In another twist, QPR came close to signing Bodvarsson in the summer before Wolves upped the anti and won that particular race.

Wolves

There’s a generally accepted idea that last season’s players are reliable and will run around, whereas the new crop don’t put in the hard yards but are more technically blessed.

team-for-qpr

But I disagree that it has to be one group or the other. There needs to be a mix. The above eleven (with the exception of Stearman) is the team that won our last two matches against Newcastle and Brentford. Predominantly new players.

Equally, the other two wins we’ve managed against Reading and Blues came with Walter Zenga using last season’s squad with the addition of Bodvarsson. But that team was more balanced than Saturday with the likes of Mason and Wallace heavily involved.

And that’s what it comes back to – balance. We’ve got to get a mixture of qualities into the team rather than just setting up camp to be difficult to breakdown and hoping for the best.

For me, Hause and Iorfa are making far too many clumsy mistakes in and out of possession to be considered. Saville and Coady should also be replaced for more forward thinking alternatives.

Ikeme should also be back in goal without question. Lonergan was slow off his line in the build up to the second goal and although he’s capable of making some fine blocks, Ikeme is the more reliable all round performer.

Paul Lambert

Predictions

Tough to foresee anything other than defeat after the misery of the weekend. My fear is that the defeat sends Lambert deeper into his shell in terms of team selection.

He’s talked about taking risks, going for it and playing on the front foot, which is all great. But you’ve got to have the footballers on the pitch who can do the damage. We didn’t have that Saturday.

I think QPR are very hit and miss, so hopefully we can at least capitalise on a few of their frailties while trying to disguise our own.

1-1.

Up The Wolves!

Wolves 0 Sheffield Wednesday 2

Claiming to have witnessed the worst Wolves performance in 30 years loses its meaning after a while, after saying it so often in recent times.

But that was, without a shadow of a doubt, the worst Wolves performance I have ever witnessed in 30 years.

On a day we celebrated Bully and Thommo’s magical milestone before kick-off, their modern day contemporaries blackened the shirts they wore with such pride.

Never mind ‘new manager syndrome’ for Paul Lambert. This was dead cat bounce of bottom-three proportions, doing absolutely nothing constructive other than cement our two heroes’ legacy further.

In this instance, Lambert brought it on himself by playing Conor Coady, George Saville and Dave Edwards in the same midfield. Not so much a recipe for disaster, but a lethal concoction to earn any head coach the sack before the ink has even dried on his contract.

It’s bad enough having one of your midfielders locked into your ‘worst ever Wolves XI’ side. It’s absolutely terrifying that there’s another one there alongside him, with deferential Dave Edwards shuffling between opponents with all the impact of a junior waiter between the Toby Carvery tables.

‘Everything ok for you sir?’ he’d politely enquire, after the ball has been zipped from whence he’d came.

We got relegated with Edwards as a mainstay four years ago and if Lambert plays that midfield for a single game ever again, then we’ll be heading the same way.

Back in 2012/13, the prospect of the drop didn’t dawn until February time. This season, that rotting stench is there already – and we haven’t even reached December yet.

Back then, we had Bakary Sako, Karl Henry, Ebanks-Blake and Kevin Foley in our squad. This time around, we are caught between two stools:

1. Play the proven dross that got Jackett and Zenga the sack

2. Play the batch of waifs and strays who are probably no better

My own opinion, for what it’s worth, is that option 2 cannot be any worse than 1. And I never want to see the likes of Coady, Saville and Edwards in the same midfield ever again.

On this latest performance, we need eight new first team players (unless Saiss, Oniangue and one or two others can convert into first team material).

Only Kortney Hause, Price and Costa looked anything like respectable against Wednesday, while Stearman also gets a modicum of sympathy for being largely fine, but still unable to eradicate the one howler-per-game that always ends up in the back of our net.

Bodvarsson looks spent – and starved of any service – Doherty looks half arsed, while Iorfa appears to be unable to control his own faculties, let alone the ball to feet. His shocking loss of form is arguably the most depressing sight of all.

The one paced plodders ahead of them speak for themselves and frankly, they’re not fit to lace the boots of Phil Robinson, Nigel Vaughan and Keith Downing back in the day.

It’s not like we’re hankering after those Old Gold heroes anymore – never mind dear Bully and Thommo.

So passionless, leaderless and rudderless is this side that I’d settle for Nigel Quashie.

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Wolves Vs Sheffield Wednesday Preview

Walter Zenga often talked about his desire to see a full house at Molineux.

Ironic then that his successor will (almost) achieve that aspiration in his first home game in charge.

OK, it’s more to do with half price tickets and tremendous visiting support than an insatiable appetite cultivated by last weekend’s pulsating draw with Preston, but all the same it’ll be nice to see a big crowd.

27,000 plus are expected and after a solid if unspectacular start at Deepdale, we’re all hoping Paul Lambert can extract more from the group.

He himself said we need to take more risks as a team, so it will be interesting to see if that’s reflected in the starting lineup.

Sheffield Wednesday

Sheffield_Wednesday.svgTwo defeats and a draw at Fulham last time out have seen the Owls slip from their par position in the play-offs down to ninth.

There have been murmurs of discontent amongst the Hillsborough faithful as a consequence, which I suppose is understandable.

They couldn’t have come much closer to promotion last time out, losing the play-off final to Hull and further investment in the team over the summer meant expectations of a top two push didn’t feel unrealistic.

Carlos Carvalhal said this week he expected more from the new signings, as it hasn’t real clicked for the likes of Almen Abdi, Adam Reach or ex-Wolves pair David Jones and Steven Fletcher.

But that’s the risk you take when you add lots of new players to an already well-established team. Perhaps  there’s been too much change too soon?

Already 10 points off second placed Brighton and with Newcastle rapidly disappearing over the horizon, the play-offs look like a best case scenario.

Wolves

With Danny Batth suspended and Dave Edwards returning from his ban, Paul Lambert has some decisions to make.

team-for-sheff-wed

I think on recent form Edwards has to play, not least because he frequently seems to be the only one capable of getting on the end of crosses.

Price’s steady presence is always welcome and I think the combative Coady give us the necessary running to allow the likes of Costa and Cavaleiro to thrive.

Cav should start and do exactly what he’s done in his last two appearances, which is to say, make half a yard and deliver. If both he and Costa could do that consistently, they’d take some stopping.

Bodvarsson is labouring, but again a chronic lack of service has been an issue. You could start Dicko, but he himself isn’t up to speed.

A straight Stearman for Batth swap seems the smartest and easiest choice, but moving Iorfa central and playing Silvio or Borthwick-Jackson down the left is another avenue.

Paul Lambert

Predictions

I’ll be brave a go all out for the win. I’m expecting Sheffield Wednesday to be the better team for periods, but hopefully the lads can tough it out and do more in the final third.

The Owls have only scored 18 goals, which is the lowest of any of the teams in the top 11 of the table and one less than Wolves.

And given that they’ve only conceded one fewer than us, there’s no reason to feel we should get swept aside.

2-1.

Up The Wolves!

Preston North End 0 Wolves 0

“We have a threat going forward but we have to be stronger at the back than we have in the last few months. So I decided to come here and be strong.”

“The whole team has been too wide open, the game was too wide and you can’t defend like that – no slight on Walter Zenga.”

Probably a touch difficult to not see that as a criticism of his predecessor, but I’m inclined to agree with Paul Lambert’s assessment.

The team has been too open. They haven’t got close enough to the opposition and that’s been reflected in the goals that have been conceded lately.

A cleansheet and a respectable point isn’t too shabby a debut, even if the attacking performance left much to be desired.

There were few surprises in defence with familiar personnel in a familiar setup and after our first successful shutout since the middle of September we shouldn’t grumble.

That said, the same frailties and individual errors surfaced at crucial moments, which could easily have taken the game away.

Dominic Iorfa was lucky to escape punishment after a clumsy challenge in the box and Kortney Hause’s slip (albeit in an otherwise strong showing) in the final minute sent their striker through on goal.

Focus and decision making are two key attributes for any defender at any level and unfortunately these are the precise areas our promising young stoppers have repeatedly been found lacking at the crucial moments this term.

I can’t help but feel the team would benefit from Richard Stearman’s experience in attempting to navigate this difficult period. He must be close to a start.

Many point to a ‘one big mistake every few games’ track record, but his colleagues are averaging one a game so that argument goes flying out the window.

Further forward, Lambert did raise eyebrows by bringing in Jack Price and George Saville who’ve seldom featured in recent times, as well as a shock start for Bright Enobakhare.

Two of those changes were in line with the head coach’s ‘lock it down’ game plan but the inclusion of Enobokhare was the major statement of intent.

If the young striker can suddenly jump the queue, it’s a reminder that nobody’s position is safe and there’s opportunity for all.

Not much went for Bright in a tight, congested contest and it was only in the final knockings when Dicko, Cavaleiro and Wallace entered the fray that Wolves began to threaten.

Cavaleiro produced the two best crosses of the afternoon for Wolves, both for Dicko and both unfortunately squandered.

Still, there will be an expectancy for those forward thinking players to start next Saturday in Lambert’s Molineux curtain raiser.

He alluded to the fact that the team needs to be setup differently to play at home, so I would expect at least some of those changes to happen.

It’s a scrappy, low key start. But maybe a few months of ‘low key’ is exactly what we need?

Preston North End Vs Wolves Preview

It was a real treat to be invited down to Compton Park last week to sit with Paul Lambert.

The new head coach gave us two hours of his time, answered every question we could throw at him and even returned fired with a few of his own.

He spoke passionately about his time spent shadowing some of the world’s best managers at the world’s biggest clubs and the lessons he’d learned.

In particular, how to manage an entire club. Not just the team, but the whole infrastructure. I like that big picture thinking and his early actions already center on creating a strong, united front.

As others have commented he looks refreshed, energised and full of ideas. But as he himself admitted, we need results quickly.

Preston

pne_fcSimon Grayson’s men had a terrible start to the season, but six wins in their last ten matches have elevated them up to eleventh.

That run includes wins over Norwich, Huddersfield and Aston Villa so it certainly isn’t a case of favourable fixtures.

I look at Preston and think ‘Steady Eddy’. That’s reflected in their 22 goals scored, 20 conceded record. There’s never much in their matches.

They got spanked 5-0 at Brentford but other than that all of their games have been tightly contested.

Their talisman Joe Garner left for Rangers in the summer, but Jordan Hugill has stepped up to fill the gap. He has 5 league goals so far.

Former Villa striker Callum Robinson and perennial thorn in our side Jermaine Beckford are two others to watch.

Wolves

Paul Lambert did offer two contrasting views that made me wonder how he’ll go about setting up his team.

team-for-preston

On the one hand he talked about ‘going for it’ and playing on the front foot. But equally he was keen to stress we need to be compact and tough to beat.

Dave Edwards is suspended so that opens the door for someone like Jack Price to fill the void. Plenty of people in the meeting were vocal about the fact he should be in the team.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see two up front and the experienced head of Richard Stearman brought in at the back either.

I should state this is a total guess loosely based on a few thoughts from Lambert about how he likes his teams to play. Little was said about specific individuals as you might expect.

Paul Lambert

Predictions

Obviously we’re hoping for that ‘new manager bounce’, which we got to a degree with Walter Zenga.

I fully expect a Paul Lambert team in the short term to reflect the sort of eleven we saw in those early season wins.

That will probably disappoint a lot of people, but whoever plays and however they play, we need to get some points on the board.

A workmanlike draw would be a decent start tomorrow.

1-1.

Up The Wolves!

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Who is Paul Lambert?

We already know a lot about Paul Lambert’s achievements with Norwich as well as his tumultuous time at Aston Villa.

But, as I did with Walter Zenga, I wanted to dig a bit deeper and found out more from those who witnessed the highs and lows of his managerial career first hand.

First stop: Livingston, West Lothian, Scotland

Livingston (June 2005 – February 2006)

Although Lambert did not take up his first managerial post until 2005, he had made it clearly for a number of years beforehand that he intended to move into coaching.

In 2004, Celtic allowed him to take part in two four-week-long coaching courses organised by the German FA. Lambert chose to return to Germany, where he had previously been a Champions League winner with Borussia Dortmund, because he believed the continental influence would separate him from other British coaches that all have similar methods and mind-sets.

So, he was given the opportunity to try out his German-influenced philosophy in West Lothian. However, things didn’t quite go according to plan as Livingston supporter Andrew Semple explains:

Lambert’s appointment was met with a muted response from the Livingston faithful. Here was an inexperienced coach coming into his first manager’s job – no one really knew what to expect. But he had a good track record as a player and many people endorsed him as an aspiring coach.

Unfortunately, his football was utterly dreadful – and that is putting it politely! There were lots of long, aimless balls and we relied on opponents making mistakes. Of course, he didn’t have a great team at his disposal but that’s no excuse really.

Lambert’s tenure came to an end after just eight months at the helm when he resigned after only winning five of his 32 matches in charge. Semple added:

We were all relieved when Lambert resigned. One of the worst nights in the club’s history came when we travelled to Hibernian on a Tuesday night and lost 7-0. But the scoreline could – and probably should – have been so much worse! Fans threw scarfs away and Lambert was hounded.

Amazingly he remained in charge until the following Saturday evening after we lost yet again. During the game a banner was unfurled by the fans which read ‘Lambo Out’. Fortunately, he resigned later that evening.

So we start with a black mark on his CV, but things can only get better from here.

Next Stop: High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

Wycombe Wanderers (June 2006 – May 2008)

Just four months later, Lambert was unveiled as the new manager of Wycombe Wanderers; following an endorsement from his former Celtic boss Martin O’Neill.

Phil Slatter, Chairman of Wycombe Wanderers Independent Supporters Association, admits that Lambert’s appointment was very much a leap of faith.

Given his relative lack of managerial experience, we had no idea what to expect so at the time it was a case of ‘wait and see’. His record as a player was impressive but he had a poor record at Livingston. He did seem to come with a recommendation from Martin O’Neill (a god at Adams Park) so that was a plus point.

Nevertheless, Lambert proved to be a good fit for The Chairboys and his winning mentality soon won over the sceptics. No more so than when he led the club to glory in the League Cup, where they were eventually knocked out by Chelsea having reached the semi-finals. Slatter commented:

Paul took over from John Gorman whose gung-ho style of football was absolutely thrilling but suicidal at times. Lambert was more measured and focused on winning. A good comparison is our League Cup campaigns from that time. In 2005, we were 3-1 up at half-time against Aston Villa and Gorman instructed the team to go out and get a fourth goal instead of shutting up shop. We lost 8-3. A year later, Lambert took us to the semi-finals on the back of resolute second half defensive displays at Fulham and Charlton.

Overall, his style of football was relatively defensive minded and our shape was very narrow – Lambert was not a fan of wingers and tried to play through the middle an awful lot. There is no denying it was effective though as he got us to the League Cup semi-finals and then into the play-offs, even if at times it was hard to tell what his actual tactics were.

In the season that followed their glorious cup run, it looked like promotion could be on the cards for the club as Lambert led them to a seventh-place finish. However, it wasn’t to be as Wycombe lost out to Stockport in the play-off semi-final. Slatter concluded:

I personally don’t think Lambert was appreciated in his time at Wycombe. He had a bit of a rocky relationship with the fans which was partly due to the style of football he employed (at a time when there were resources available) and because he was something of a part-time manager – during his first season he still lived in Scotland and commuted on a weekly basis.

That said, the League Cup run was terrific and he took us into the play-offs at a time when League Two was arguably the strongest it’s ever been. I think if he had stayed he may well have achieved promotion – the following year Peter Taylor did so with a similar brand of football. But quite how well we’d have done in League One under Lambert is anyone’s guess.

The fallout from the Stockport defeat was instant: Lambert resigned shortly afterwards, saying it was time to “hand over the reins to someone else”. He would take a short break from football before returning to club management later that year.

Next stop: Colchester, Essex

Colchester United (October 2008 – August 2009)

Firstly, a disclaimer – trying to find a Colchester United supporter willing to speak objectively about Paul Lambert was akin to trying to find ice in a desert.

I had several leads, but no one seemed willing to talk. One responded by saying he had an unjust banning order during Lambert’s days and didn’t pay much attention to football. Another flat out refused to answer any questions and labelled some of football from that time as ‘soporific’ – admittedly, that had me reaching for the dictionary!

Several more messages went unanswered until long-time Colchester Gazette reporter Jon Waldron answered my SOS.

Lambert’s arrival came as something of a surprise. He wasn’t high in the bookmakers’ list of candidates for the job, so it was a bit of a turn up for the books when he got the role, especially as he hadn’t had any previous links to the club. It was the first appointment that Robbie Cowling had made as chairman so the U’s fans were willing to give him a chance, especially given the results in the opening weeks of that season.

Lambert had arrived midway through the 2008/09 season with the U’s in 20th place in League One following a miserable start to the season. Within a few months, he had Colchester on the cusp of the play-offs until they faded later in the season and finished mid-table.

When asked about how Lambert was able to turn things around so quickly, Waldron commented:

He came in with fresh ideas and decided pretty quickly who he wanted at the club and who he didn’t. It seemed to work, as Colchester went from having won only two league games to taking seven points from a possible 12 during his opening weeks in charge.

It took him a little time to get his style across but that was mostly due to personnel and he made a number of signings that made a difference, such as Marc Tierney, Magnus Okuonghae and David Fox. Certain players were deemed out of favour and a number of players were rather clinically left out of the squad for a pre-season trip to Germany.

He made changes off the field, too. He changed the dressing rooms around in the new stadium and ensured that the away changing room was a lot less comfortable for visiting teams, instructing that it be painted battleship grey and making it considerably smaller than its previous size.

He began the following season with a 7–1 win over Norwich City, who then proceeded to sack Bryan Gunn and appoint Lambert as his successor. It’s safe to say that the Colchester faithful have never forgiven him for the manner of his exit. Waldron added:

By the time Lambert quit Colchester, he had moulded a team capable of playing stylish football but also one that was able to grind out results, when needed. His methods were not always popular but he got Colchester playing, as their 7-1 win at Norwich ultimately proved.

The manner of his departure as Colchester manager will forever taint the memory of his brief reign at the club and what he achieved in the eyes of many U’s supporters. Nevertheless, he left his mark and will always be remembered for masterminding one of the club’s greatest-ever wins; the magnificent opening-day triumph at Carrow Road.

Finally, I asked Jon what his lasting impression of Paul Lambert is. He replied:

A driven, no-holds-barred manager who knows what he wants. Paul Lambert knew exactly what he wanted to achieve and create at Colchester and arguably, he left them in a better position than the one he found them in.

A solid if unspectacular spell, but his greatest managerial success would come in his next position.

Next stop: Norwich, Norfolk

Norwich City (August 2009 – June 2012)

The fallout from Lambert jumping ship to Norwich was nothing short of incredible. The two clubs were unable to reach a compensation deal and relations at boardroom level were hostile for months on end.

The Scot was seemingly appointed on the strength of that humiliating loss his Colchester inflicted on the Canaries. However, Michael Bailey, Norwich City correspondent for the Eastern Daily Press, doesn’t think the result was the sole reason behind the appointment:

Then chief executive David McNally was new to the post and also knew of Paul Lambert from his time at Celtic. He wanted him – but that extraordinary result certainly greased all the wheels with the rest of the board.

Despite being surrounded by controversy, Lambert quietly got on with his job and by the time he returned to Colchester for the return fixture, Norwich were second in League One and heading for promotion. They would win 5–0 that day and go on to win the league at a canter. The following season was even better, as Lambert led Norwich to their second successive promotion when they finished second in the Championship.

Here Bailey explained the secret behind Lambert’s success:

Lambert got the players and fans bonded together. He got his side to run for him and for themselves, and he picked the right players to sign so that they had strong characters – that all brought the drive and hunger everyone needed to succeed.

I then quizzed Michael on a comment I’d heard from another journalist, who claimed that Lambert was only successful at Norwich because Grant Holt organised the dressing room. He replied:

Grant was a major part of the success, and we never got to see Paul Lambert without him at Carrow Road. The rise was so miraculous – and PL’s success since has been remarkably limited – that it does beg the question his time at City was just the perfect chemistry of several things. I’m genuinely stunned it’s been so fallow for him since – and I’m yet to be convinced he can be as successful without his team of Ian Culverhouse and Gary Karsa.

But certainly Paul, his coaching staff, the chief executive and numerous other players all played a major role in the club’s success. Grant was just one piece.

A year later, Lambert would guide Norwich to a 12th place finish in the Premier League – which is still his highest-ever finish as a manager. However, it would be his last season at Carrow Road, as he left the club in June 2012 to become manager at Aston Villa. His departure left a sour taste in the supporters’ mouth. Bailey added:

When he left, many were very angry. But I’d say with the passing of time, he’d get a very good reception back at Carrow Road – and in truth, quite a few City fans would have him back in charge of the club right now.

Next stop: Birmingham, West Midlands

Aston Villa (June 2012 – February 2015)

Aston Villa are a club that have been in steady decline since the departure of Martin O’Neill in August 2010. After Gerard Houllier and Alex McLeish both tried and failed to restore Villa’s reputation as one of the top clubs in England, the board turned to Paul Lambert in the hope that the Scot could bring a winning mentality back to Villa Park.

Aston Villa blogger Justin Hawthorne felt that Lambert was the right man for the job:

Lambert seemed to be a great choice at the time. He had worked wonders at Norwich and had a very good reputation in the game as a progressive up-and-coming coach. His appointment was welcomed by the fans, but to be honest given that he was replacing Alex McLeish we would have probably welcomed anyone! Nevertheless, he received our full backing from the get go.

Unfortunately for Lambert, his tenure at Villa did not go according to plan. Given the hugely difficult circumstances he faced, some may argue that he did well to keep Villa in the top-flight during his first two seasons. Those campaigns were hamstrung by cash constrains and an increasingly disinterested chairman. It seemed like Lambert’s position was under scrutiny from day one, but he always managed to claw his way back from the brink of disaster. Hawthorne commented:

He was methodical in his approach and his German influences really shine through in the way that he sets his sides up. He wanted to play football and initially had the team playing through the midfield. The signing of Benteke was a masterstroke as he became the focal point of our attack, and we were at our best when we played to his strengths.

Lambert was often plagued by heavy defeats, such as the 8–0 loss to Chelsea, but somehow he always managed to nick a result when he needed to. He also didn’t take other competitions seriously enough and we suffered embarrassing losses, none more so than the League Cup semi-final loss to Bradford.

In his final season at Villa, Lambert’s trusted aides Ian Culverhouse and Gary Karsa left the club due to allegations of bullying he appointed the capricious Roy Keane as his number two. Initially, it proved to be a shrewd move with Villa yielding 10 points from their first four games. Following that they registered just two wins in the next 21 matches. Keane left in December and Lambert was dismissed just two months later.

Hawthorne believes that Lambert’s decision to completely overhaul Villa’s playing style was the catalyst for his departure.

His demise came as the result of his change of style. Suddenly we went from a direct attacking style to a possession based system the goalkeeper playing it out from the back. That style of play is fine if you have Barcelona or Bayern Munich’s players at your disposal, but not when you have our team.

While Lambert had to do his job under difficult circumstances, with our owner downing tools and stopping the spending, let’s not forget he was in charge of a side that the likes of Benteke, Cleverley, Delph, Vlaar, Grealish and others. His tenure was very boom and bust,  but with more downs than ups, and he managed to break every negative record we had including the longest run without scoring, and he could never get us winning at home.

So I do feel a change was needed and it was the right decision to let Lambert go when we did.

Following his dismissal from Villa, Lambert spent much of his eight-month sabbatical travelling through Europe observing the likes of Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen. But by the end of 2015 he would be back in football at a rather surprising destination.

Next Stop: Blackburn, Lancashire

Blackburn Rovers (November 2015 – May 2016)

Last November, Lambert was unveiled as the new manager of Blackburn Rovers. Admittedly, joining a club owned by the Venkys was a strange move for someone who had experienced two-and-a-half years at a club run by another disinterested owner. Blackburn had fallen to 16th in the Championship under the stewardship of Gary Bowyer and, as Rovers fan Mikey Delap explains, supporters were desperate for Lambert to succeed.

It’s safe to say that when Bowyer left his post at Rovers the club itself is much you like you see now – lacking in direction and any real leadership behind the scenes. At the time Lambert’s appointment was greeted with more or less universal approval, which given the last few years of growing disinterest and widespread apathy was nothing short of a miracle.

Lambert’s arrival gave Rovers an immediate lift, collecting 11 points from his first five games in charge. However, after selling top scorer Jordan Rhodes and long-serving defender Martin Olsson in the January transfer window, a run of eight winless games followed and Blackburn found themselves hovering precariously above the relegation zone.

Rovers were also under a transfer embargo, meaning that Lambert had to work minor miracles in the loan market to offset to loss of key players. Delap commented:

We marginally improved under Lambert compared to Bowyer’s reign but not to any significant degree. Rovers were far from exhilarating to watch under Lambert. The formation was compact and the aim was to make us difficult to beat…which sort of worked, but at the cost of any substantial enjoyment.

Danny Graham, Jordi Gomez and Tony Watt were all bought in on loan with varying degrees of success. Not most people’s preferred tactic but they seemed to do a decent job of keeping us ticking over until the summer.

In April 2016, once Blackburn’s Championship status had been confirmed for another season, it was announced that Lambert had activated a release clause in his contract that would allow him to depart in the summer. In the days that followed, the Scot admitted that he wanted to go in a different direction to the club. Delap added:

Although Lambert’s reign wasn’t an unqualified success, there are other factors at work at Blackburn Rovers which simply don’t exist elsewhere. I thought given the ‘right’ backing he would have done a good job here. But this is Venky’s we’re talking about – the right backing was never going to materialise. When he left it felt disappointing to me but I could understand he had just got a tad annoyed at being messed around by the omnishambles that is our owners.

Next Stop: Wolverhampton, West Midlands

So overall, what conclusions can I draw from Paul Lambert’s CV.

He’s had success, he’s had failure. Name me a manager who hasn’t tasted both of those at some point in their career.

His time at Blackburn and, of course, Aston Villa has been mentioned by several critics, but there is no denying the success he achieved with a Norwich squad that wasn’t overly dominated by star names.

With all due respect, if he can take the likes of Grant Holt and Zak Whitbread to the Premier League, surely he should be able to utilise the talents of Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro more effectively than his predecessor did.

His past is not important. What’s important is what Paul Lambert does next.

Lambert has taken over a set of players who belonged to someone else. With the exception of the luckless Mike Williamson during his time at Wycombe, he has never worked with any of the current squad.

Can he galvanise a squad that has failed to register a single win in their last seven games?

Fortunately he has a reputation for making his teams hard to beat and that in itself is a good place to start.

This was originally where I intended to wrap up this article, but last week I was invited to join Tom, Ben and a few others at the training ground for a meet and greet with Mr Lambert himself.

The first thing I noticed was how different he looked compared with the last time I last saw him in person. He looked bright, refreshed and purposeful – a stark contrast from the visibly stressed-out demeanour he exhibited in 2014.

I could see a man desperate to prove everyone wrong, he had that steely glint in his eye; he was hungry and wanted success.

He recognised a number of facts that have been all too evident this season: we play too open, the squad is too big and we are not scoring enough goals.

He also expressed concerns about whether the players are currently fit enough to play a 46 game season and spoke about how the noise from the South Bank should be motivating players to drive towards it.

In reality there is no time for pleasantries and promises. Wolves could be in big trouble if they fail to get a positive result against Preston on Saturday. They need results and quickly.

But when quizzed on that very topic, Lambert replied: “I’m not aiming for survival. I want to us to be up there with the Newcastles and Norwichs. We’re going to go for it!”

Desire – something that has been not too prevalent around Molineux in recent years. Paul Lambert has desire in abundance.