Archives for December 2016

Wolves Vs QPR Preview

In a typically flamboyant interview with Gary Lineker earlier this year, Jurgen Klopp gave a brief insight into his footballing philosophies.

One of the tidbits that stuck with me was when he said his main objective was to have ‘memorable games in a row‘, adding:  ‘you (the fans) leave the stadium and you want to see the next game. You can’t wait for the next game‘.

Paul Lambert seems to have taken a leaf out of the German’s book with the last two home matches anything but forgettable. I can’t wait for the next one.

Interesting also to note it was the Scot pulling the troops together at full time on Boxing Day to get the Thunder Clap going in front of a packed out South Bank.

There’s no doubt Lambert is going the extra mile. Sitting down with supporters whenever he gets the chance, listening, engaging and pretty much doing anything within his power to get Molineux bouncing.

If you expected defensive and dour, what we’ve been served up of late is anything but. Long may it continue.

QPR

Things certainly haven’t been dull at Loftus Road since Ian Holloway returned but an upturn in entertainment value hasn’t equated to an upturn in results. Quite the opposite in fact. The Hoops come into this fixture on a six game losing run.

Wolves inflicted one of those defeats and I felt in that particular contest they paid the price for the manager’s attacking impulses.

They could have shut up shop after going down to 10 men but instead kept things very open and were eventually picked off by the extra man.

On a more positive note they fought right to the end and nearly pulled off an unlikely comeback suggesting they’re not a team to just lay down and die.

Scoring goals has been the problem. With only 20 on the board (averaging less than a goal a game), they’re the joint lowest scorers in the league.

It was another blank and another sending off against Brighton on Tuesday. As such captain Nedum Onuoha will sit out this one after being the latest QPR man to take an early shower.

Wolves

Same again for Paul Lambert? It’s hardly been a taxing festive programme so no obvious reason to change a team that’s secured back-to-back victories.

It’s difficult to see the above eleven not creating chances with so much pace and ability across the front line.

Cavaleiro has stepped up his game and been excellent in his last two home performances. When you’ve got wingers causing problems down both flanks it stretches the game and that’s exactly what’s happened of late.

With Dicko still not scoring there’s an argument to give Jon Dadi Bodvarsson another run in the team, but the former’s performances and all round play have been improving so he’s worth persevering with. We all know what he can do at the top of his game.

Defensively you could change the personnel but it would be the same individuals who’ve shipped goals all season. I think we need to look outwardly to solve the problem.

Predictions

If ever you were going to predict a victory it would be now. QPR are sinking, their skipper is suspended and they haven’t scored a single goal in their last four matches.

Wolves should be full of confidence and starting to look up the table now there’s a comfortable buffer below.

Things seldom go to plan in games like this but I’d like to think we’ll once again do enough going forward to get the job done.

3-1.

Up The Wolves!

Wolves 3 Bristol City 2

As far as Christmas presents go, a scrappy home win against a team ranked only marginally higher in the lower echelons of the Championship table is hardly the most grandiose of gestures.

But considering this was our first win at Molineux since September 24, it really did feel like Santa had come to town.

Prior to Tammy Abraham’s equaliser, you’d be forgiven for scoffing at the suggestion that the Robins were capable of causing a swashbuckling home side too many problems.

Another goal from Dave Edwards, his fifth in eight games, gave us a deserved early lead and a second seemed inevitable given the gusto with which we attacked a seemingly overwhelmed opposition.

However, profligacy in front of goal proved our undoing and, in scenes eerily reminiscent of our first half showing against Fulham, we headed in to the break trailing.

The aforementioned Abraham was irrepressible for most of the afternoon so our defence can perhaps be excused for being outdone by City’s first goal but nothing can justify the paucity of their efforts for the second strike; you simply cannot defend set pieces in that way and expect to go unpunished.

One has grown to suspect that Paul Lambert’s remedy for our fragile back four is to simply outscore the opposition and our second half showing enforced that theory resoundingly.

Despite a stuttering start, the players were reinvigorated in their attempts to level things up and, after a series of near misses and questionable oversights by referee and pantomime villain for the day James Adcock, were deservedly rewarded for their efforts.

Helder Costa’s strike was beautiful to behold and offered a glimpse as to how potent an attacking force we could grow to be under Lambert’s stewardship, given a clean bill of health and some wily recruitment in the next transfer window.

Adcock was presumably keen to atone for his prior sins when he awarded a not so blatant penalty in the final ten, one which was dispatched with aplomb by the ever improving Ivan Cavaleiro.

Ours was naturally a lead that was far from easy to defend but retain it we did, though the chagrin of the opposing manager and traveling support suggested that video technology would have deprived us of the three points.

However, given the gratingly bullish demeanour of Lee Johnson, this detail only served to sweeten the taste of victory.

Before signing off, a word on some of the individual performances seen yesterday.

Connor Coady is not so convincing as to suggest he is the long term solution to our right back conundrum but he certainly looks a better immediate fit that Dominic Iorfa.

Danny Batth is in greater need of a fully fit Mike Williamson than anyone else; whether as a defensive partner or much needed competition for a starting berth, our captain is sure to benefit from his presence in the squad.

Jack Price is more crucial to us than any other player barring Costa, such is his ability to calm proceedings around him and more crucially quicken the transition between defence and attack.

Finally and most obviously, Costa and Cavaleiro offer the key to a surge up the league table. When on form, these pair are arguably better than any other winger in the division. Keeping them fit has to be a priority moving forward.

Reasons to be cheerful have been in short supply this season but yesterday offered more signs of life than have been seen at any point since the early throes of the campaign.

Let’s hope they’re not just for Christmas.

Wolves Vs Bristol City Preview

We managed four wins on the bounce this time last season, which briefly catapulted us from the bottom half right up towards the play-offs.

A repeat would be nice and with two winnable home games to come after victory at Forest, there’s certainly an opportunity to put a run together.

Still, it’s probably optimistic to think our consistently inconsistent team will overcome both Bristol City and QPR. History also tells us to be wary.

The last time we had back-to-back home games in Christmas week we got well and truly sorted out by both Peterborough and Ipswich on the way down to League One.

All things considered, I’m permitting myself to feel cautiously optimistic.

Bristol City

With six defeats in their last seven matches, the Robins are sinking like a stone. The top six looked a realistic objective a few months back, but now they’re on the cusp of getting pulled down towards the other dotted line.

If Wolves win this match, they’ll move ahead of Lee Johnson’s side and he’ll know as well as anybody history is against his side in this fixture.

They haven’t tasted victory at Molineux since 1931, which is a 19 game run. And despite the odd home win in that time, you can definitely call us their bogey team.

Much like Wolves, they’re not air tight defensively or prolific going forward so it’s anyone’s guess how this match will unfold.

On loan Chelsea forward Tammy Abraham was banging in the goals early doors, but seems to have found the going tougher lately. I’m looking forward to seeing what he has to offer.

Wolves

Paul Lambert is obviously a fan of changing his team to combat the opposition rather than sticking to a rigid preferred eleven. He said as much after the victories against QPR and Forest. I wonder what he has in store for this one?

The team that started at the City Ground was surprisingly attack-minded with the only disappointment being we didn’t create a fat lot aside from the two goals that went in.

There’s a lot of pace and mobility in forward positions, which is something we haven’t seen enough of particularly at Molineux.

Conor Coady was a surprise choice at full back but isn’t a bad short term solution with Silvio injured, Borthwick-Jackson out of favour and Dominic Iorfa struggling for form.

It would be great to see Bright Enobakhare and Connor Ronan play a part. They both have the talent to make a meaningful impact in the here and now.

Paul Lambert

Predictions

QPR seems like the more winnable of these two winnable festive home fixtures so I’ll play it safe with a draw this time.

I think City have some good individual talent in their ranks, like Tammy Abraham and Lee Tomlin, so they possess enough firepower to cause damage if we allow it to happen.

It’s complete finger in the air guesswork right now given how up and down the performances have been.

2-2.

Up The Wolves!

On a separate note, a very Merry Christmas to everyone connected to the blog. Good tidings to one and all!

Fans’ Parliament – Ben’s minutes

It’s funny how the fans’ parliament meetings you look forward to the least end up offering the most insight.

Maybe this one was so informative because Jez Moxey wasn’t there, speaking so prolifically as he would, but ultimately saying so little.

In this instance, manager Paul Lambert, sporting director Kevin Thelwell and managing director Laurie Dalrymple were upliftingly honest and in Lambert’s case in particular, quite inspirational when signing-off his two-hour appearance with an unscripted, spontaneous rallying call.

With the asset stripping old regime gone and their hairbrained stupidity no longer occupying my notebook, I was expecting a somewhat sanitised meeting of little genuine substance. In my humble opinion, it was anything but.

My highlights of the evening were as follows:

  • We’ll only be bringing in two or three players during the January window. These will walk into the first team. The pressing need is to cut the squad back to a ‘manageable level’ featuring a more ‘domestically balanced group.’
  • We won’t be releasing as many as 10 or 12 in January though. Lambert: “Some need to go out and play, some will not make it with me.”
  • Kevin Thelwell on Jeff Shi and the 13 summer signings: “Jeff would be the first to say he has learned quickly.” (It was Jeff who decided to opt so exuberantly in the transfer window after watching the Rotherham game.)
  • Paul Lambert would walk away from the club if he wasn’t able to bring in the players he wants, stating: “I’m no shrinking violet, I hope you know that. If a player comes in who I don’t want then I won’t be sat here. If it doesn’t go my own way then there may as well be a mannequin sat here.”
  • We’d need to ‘re-mortgage Molineux’ to afford Helder Costa. We do have an option to buy him, but virtually impossible if we are outside the Premier League. Thelwell said: “But we are talking about other options and ways to be creative to keep him here.”
  • The club was ‘dead’ when Lambert arrived, who now believes we are ‘miles ahead’ of where we were when he first walked in.

But I’ll start with Paul Lambert’s concluding sign-off, which was spontaneous, off-the-cuff and absolutely rousing. His voice quiet, his accent monotone, but his role as unlikely orator quite spellbinding as a packed room could hear a pin drop.

After answering each question honestly and openly, Lambert politely – but firmly – interrupted supporter liaison officer Paul Richards’s wrap-up (and request for appreciation for Lambert’s attendance) to provide his own:

“You have a brilliant club, but you’ve just come off the rails a bit and need to get back on track. But forget it, it’s gone.

You have got the history of the club, great togetherness here and I will do everything I can to be successful for you. It might work. It might not work. But we need a bit of time.

Your support is brilliant. You are on the cusp of something really special. The club is in good hands but it just needs a bit of help. If we all pull in the same way then we can have a really successful club.”

<cue spontaneous round of applause>

Onto the minutes themselves, I will go through topic-by-topic raised by fans, with my shorthand notes scribbling everything down as quickly as possible!

Why are players playing so badly? Some of them, particularly defensively, look to have lost all their ability and can barely control the ball!

PL: “I’m not seeing that. The feeling around the football club is a lot stronger than when I came in. I think it was dead when I came in. It could be exciting but we have got to make some changes.”

On the size of the squad

PL: “There have been so many players to see and the size of the squad is far too big. Ideally you would bring in two or three in the window. Bringing in 13 was nigh on impossible. Lads that have come in don’t know the league. Look at Henrikh Mkhitaryan at Man Utd. Helder Costa has hit the ground running, Ivan Cavaleiro is starting to do it but others have taken time to adapt.

On the make-up of the squad:

PL: “I think that the squad is unbalanced and not just a little bit unbalanced. You have got to have two players for each position. We have too many in one place and less in other places. There is too much of a gap in quality. There is a discrepancy. We are top heavy in the centre of midfield and the balance is out.

What is our style of play?

PL: “You need young, energetic lads to play the way we want to play. They are fearless, they have got speed if we press or counter-press. They are quick lads who can hurt you. We have got to be better on the ball. Jack Price is excellent on the ball so he is one who can retain the ball. But we don’t lose that pressing aspect. We have got to get into the habit of pressing the game. To be fair, they are miles ahead from when I first came to the club. There has been a major difference in going to get the ball. If you look at Fulham, they should have won that game, let’s be honest. But we kept pressing.”

What is your formation? Is there a Plan A?

PL: “Yes. I look at who we are playing against and judge it from there. For the Nottingham Forest game on Saturday, I watched them in the week against Preston. Then I had the idea of going the way that we did. I thought that the front four we chose would cause them problems. In modern day football, you have got to be flexible. It is better this way than playing in one particular formation.”

On Bakary Sako possibly coming back?

PL: “There’s no doubt he had a brilliant time here. You have to respect that he is a Crystal Palace player. Do I like him as a footballer? He is a handful. An absolute handful. But he has the African Nations Cup, so there would be a lot to weigh up. But there is no doubt that he was a massive success here.”

On Helder Costa signing permanently:

Kevin Thelwell: “He is on loan until the end of the season with no recall clause, you will be pleased to know. We have an option to buy. We might have to re-mortgage Molineux to get him. It would be difficult to buy him if we are outside the Premier League, but we are talking about other ways to be creative and keep him here.”

Kevin Thelwell on fair play rules:

KT: “You can’t continue to keep spending money with the financial fair play that is in place. We paid a lot in the first window which has to have implications on the next window. So it will be more out than in, but without question we do want to improve the group, so on that basis we will look at one or two who can come in and improve the team.”

LD: “We do have an owner who is happy to invest but we can’t flout the financial fair play rules.”

Why didn’t we think about this at the start of the season? Asked one fan…

KT: “Jeff will be the first to say he has learned very quickly. There are a number of people that support ‘the process’ here (in terms of recruitment). It was fair to say that after the Rotherham game, we had to make a number of changes quickly, so we turned from an evolved plan to a number of players which hasn’t worked. Nor has replacing Kenny Jackett with Walter Zenga. I’d love to say that we all sat here and said ‘let’s get 13 players from across the globe but that wasn’t the case. We are where we are.

“We need to reduce the squad to a manageable level. We’ve got to get back to a more domestically balanced group who can help us to move up the league.”

What is Kevin Thelwell’s role and what is the process on recruitment?

KT: “A sporting director role was created because the club does not want to subcontract the football club to one particular person (I couldn’t help but think of Mick McCarthy here folks!)

Let’s get more transparency, more diligence, go and meet the player. Will he fit with the style of play? And so on and so forth. That’s part of the role. Not all of it, but part of it. I would speak to Paul Lambert and say ‘you want a centre back, let’s sit down and talk about these types of players.’

“The only way we can sign a player is if Paul Lambert wants him.

Did this happen with Joe Mason? Asked one fan…

KT: “Kenny Jackett wanted Joe but he couldn’t find the right place for him.”

Did this happen over the summer? Asked another…

KT: “I want us to look forward rather than back. I think it is pretty clear how we want it to operate.”

Are you happy with this Paul?

PL: “I’m no shrinking violet. I hope you know that I left Blackburn Rovers at my own free will because I was not going to get my own way. If a player comes in who I don’t want then I won’t be sat here. If it doesn’t go my way then there will be a mannequin sat here.”

The message of only bringing in two or three isn’t clear amongst fans who will be expecting more…

PL: “If we keep bringing players in then we will be top heavy. I don’t think that there would be many more (than two or three). If you bring in four, five or six in January and don’t get rid of the ones you want then you have got too many to work with.

“I don’t expect 10 or 12 to leave.  Some need to go to play, others will not make it with me.

“We need two or three new faces to freshen the place up a little bit.

KT: “Absolutely. We have got to get players in who are going to play.”

Will we be paying players off to leave:

KT: “We are not at that point yet. I think that would be counter-productive. Without giving too much away, we have got a number of solutions for a lot of the players. I just don’t think we are at that point.”

What do you think about the youngsters?

PL: “The best I’ve seen in years. Really, 100%. When you’ve got that bigger squad, you are stopping the development of Bright, Connor Ronan and Herc. You may as well scrap the academy. Bright, touchwood, is going to be a major star. Ronan the same, too. There are about six or seven of them. If you keep bringing in six or seven players then how do they develop? Young Niall Ennis is a terrific prospect too. I’ll be disappointed if a couple of them have not come through by the end of the season. It’s exciting!

“They need the right manager, at the right time, at the right moment. If they have fire in their bellies, the right attitude and the right ability then I will play them.”

One fan was worried about decisions to sell our best players, and used Kevin McDonald as an example, and worried Jack Price might be next:

PL: “Let me stop you there on Jack Price. As soon as I saw Jack Price I said he needed to play. Jack Price was great against Preston and did well against Sheffield Wednesday. The reason I took him out for two weeks was he was not ‘at it’ physically. If I’d have played him we’d have lost him for weeks on end. I was close to playing him together with Connor Ronan.”

A fan asked about bringing German players into the club, as Lambert has links with clubs there.

Lambert said it was difficult to prize players away from that country because they have such a great set-up there and players don’t want to leave. He could only really think of Ballack and one or two others.

KT added: “We are probably around 60/40 ratio (in terms of foreign players v domestic players). It is more 75/25 or 70/30 for successful teams that have got out of the league.

Other points were raised in the meeting, such as safe standing, new website (the company behind this gave a short talk about how it will be better than the current one) and ticketing. I didn’t take notes here as I needed to rest my hand for the points I felt were of most interest to you all. Please refer to the official minutes for these.

Some final bullet points:

  • Roman Saiss is the only player in the group who might be affected by the African Cup of Nations
  • Paul Gladon: KT said: “He probably needs to play more games. He has struggled to adapt to a strong, tough league. Intensity in Holland not nearly as high as in England. There is lots to work on, including making Paul more physical and competitive. An individual development plan is being drawn up to get him closer to the first team.”
  • A lot of staff have departed / will be departing, including Matt Grayson, Lynne O’Reardon and Richard Skirrow. Existing members of staff promoted, with new opportunities being created for good people.
  • Laurie Dalrymple talked about his role. Nothing groundbreaking here. A brief to be more efficient for Fosun, despite their deep pockets, I did warm to him generally. Quite a dry sense of humour, and you sense there is less spin and less appetite to grab a soundbite like his predecessor (who I note is at it again at Carrow Road, glibly talking of ‘promotion, promotion, promotion!)

In conclusion:

While this might sound convenient to many, there seemed to be an onus on looking forward, rather than dwelling on the past. Lambert alluded to this in his spontaneous sign-off, while Thelwell did likewise when reflecting on our summer spending spree.

Maybe the festive season is finally seducing me, but I would tend to agree – and hold no blame to Kevin Thelwell for our crazy recruitment policy. As our sporting director said, Jeff has learned his lesson there.

The bigger points for me are:

  1. Our penny pinching, expectation shrinking regime of seasons gone has left.
  2. Thus, those deep lying roots of evil have finally been removed, which stifled any hope of growth.
  3. For a flower to grow in its place takes time. If lessons have been learned, then I expect some buds of recovery in the spring. Due care and attention is already in place.

Before this meeting, I don’t mind saying I wasn’t looking forward to it. Having been, I do maintain that – to coin a phrase from our manager – that we’re on the cusp of something really special.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Here’s to a happy 2017.

Ben

Nottingham Forest 0 Wolves 2

When we got to spend a bit of time with Paul Lambert last month I told him there were five players I felt were our key performers based on their contributions prior to his arrival.

They were Carl Ikeme, Matt Doherty, Dave Edwards, Helder Costa and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson.

With the possible exception of the big Icelander whose form has tailed off after that international break, none of the above have let me down.

Costa has continued to be our leading light, stepping up another level under Lambert by adding better end product.

He netted from the acutest of angles yesterday and was also instrumental in Ivan Cavaleiro’s second half goal – the two bright moments of an otherwise drab encounter.

That’s why he was brought in though – to help us rise above the opposition in these scrappy, horrible Championship slugfests by providing moments of greater quality.

Dave Edwards fulfilled a slightly different role as part of a two man midfield, using his energy to close down opposition and win back possession.

He did that with great aplomb and was rightly lauded as a Man of the Match contender.

Whatever you want to say about the guy, his goals and appetite to win the ball back have kept us afloat when we could have totally melted away.

Matt Doherty has arguably been our most potent attacking force behind Costa but many have questioned whether that’s come at the expense of his primary purpose.

There was less razzle dazzle yesterday in a more steady defensive outing for the Irishman.

Personally I wouldn’t want to put the leash on him going forward. Direct running from deep is tough to defend against. But I do agree he needs to defend with greater purpose and aggression himself.

Carl Ikeme just reassures in a way that Andy Lonergan and Harry Burgoyne perhaps don’t. That’s harsh on the youngster but we saw moments of brilliance and frailty against Cardiff, suggesting this isn’t his time just yet.

Our number one was strong and repeatedly cleared out the opposition as Forest looked for a way back into the game. We’ve got to keep him fit for the remainder of the season.

Bodvarsson is the only one of my recommended quintet who has fallen down the pecking order, but his role of impact substitute may help him come back refreshed in the new year.

But another game without a goal for our strikers surely won’t have slipped under the radar? Reinforcements are needed, even with young Bright Enobakhare looking well…bright in his second start under Lambert.

Thankfully Ivan Cavaleiro is discovering a healthy appetite for finishing and probably squeezes out Bodvarsson in my revised magic five.

I’m certain many disagree. So in the spirit of healthy debate – who makes it into yours?

Nottingham Forest Vs Wolves Preview

Prior to last weekend our excuse has been conceding early and conceding first.

 

But despite getting ahead in the opening minutes against both Fulham and Cardiff, we’ve only mustered a one point return.

They say good teams find a way to win, but at the moment the opposite seems true for Wolves.

It’s worrying times for Paul Lambert and he’ll already know there are some crippling deficiencies in this team that must be addressed in January.

In the meantime, this is another fixture against a team in and around us in the table. Another defeat would be difficult to swallow.

Forest

The good news for Wolves is that it looks like Forest’s two most dangerous players will be ruled out.

Both Henri Lansbury and Britt Assombalonga – who’ve both netted against Wolves in recent encounters – have got hamstring injuries.

Still, they’re among the league’s top scorers so will likely possess a threat from others like former Blues and Arsenal forward Nicklas Bendtner.

Despite a thumping at Derby and a draw at home to Preston their recent form hasn’t been too shabby. Three wins preceded those matches.

Off the field they’re trying to push through a takeover and from the outside looking in it seems like they need that fresh impetus.

Wolves

Where does Paul Lambert go from here? Given that our midfield has been almost non-existent, perhaps going two up top again wouldn’t be a bad call?

Neither Bodvarsson or Dicko are thriving as the lone striker so playing a more direct game might suit the players we’ve got.

I’d still be taking Iorfa out of the firing line, who I think has seriously struggled in recent months.

It seems likely Helder Costa will miss out so perhaps playing Teixeira or someone else slightly tucked in down the right could be an option?

Predictions

Call me an optimist but I think we might win this one. Not because I’m seeing the shoots of recovery or anything, more I just think Forest are there for the taking.

With the exception of Cardiff, many of the away performances haven’t been too awful even though results haven’t really gone our way.

I foresee another topsy-turvy encounter tomorrow, but hopefully we’ll come out on the right side of the scoreline.

2-1.

Up The Wolves!

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