Archives for January 2017

Barnsley Vs Wolves Preview?

Is there really a match tonight?

After Saturday’s legal high and the mouthwatering prospect of Chelsea’s visit to Molineux in the next round, can there be a more stark contrast?

But regroup we must as there’s still a considerable amount of work to be done in the league.

I find it very difficult, given how Wolves are playing and the feel good factor, to envisage us slipping down into relegation strife.

But even so, everyone will feel better when there’s a bit more distance and a few more places between ourselves and the bottom three.

This is a really tough fixture against a team who continue to succeed against the odds.

Barnsley

It must be so frustrating for Paul Heckingbottom to see his best players continually getting picked off.

Defender James Bree and captain Conor Hourihane were the latest to leave with Aston Villa recognising the talent both possess.

They follow Wolves academy graduate Sam Winnall out the Oakwell exit door after he departed for Sheffield Wednesday earlier in the month.

Reinforcements have arrived in the shape of Leicester midfielder Matty James and Leeds’ highly rated youngster Alex Mowatt.

But it’s a big ask for a team with so much upheaval to continually regroup and consistently win matches as the Tykes have been doing this season.

They’ve won 7 out of their last 10 matches in fact and come into the game just a point outside the play-offs. The 23 goals they’ve conceded at home is the highest of any team in the league.

Wolves

Signing a genuine superstar like Helder Costa for £13 million seems unfathomable when you consider we’ve dined out on budget recruitment, free transfers and loans for so long.

If we can fend off summer interest, he’ll be a key addition next season, particularly if the goal is still promotion from the Championship.

In the here and now I can’t see the Portuguese man getting a rest tonight. I’d have Bodvarsson and Mason down as definite starters and probably Price too.

But it will be fascinating to see if Paul Lambert rewards any of Saturday’s heroes who haven’t been in the team a chance to stake a more regular claim. I’m thinking about Hause, Evans and Saville in particular.

The injury to Ivan Cavaleiro is a blow because despite inconsistent performances, he’s still a threat down that left flank. Andi Weimann’s performance at Anfield proves he’s a more than able deputy though.

Paul Lambert

Predictions

We’re in a great place right now. The performances are improving, the manager has stacks of options and the whole club is bouncing.

I thought yesterday’s announcement about season tickets was also fantastic. Not only is it great value, it also shows an intent to get Molineux full again.

Despite the fact Barnsley are seventh and we’re down at the bottom, I’ll back us to get the win and hopefully avenge the 4-0 tonking they handed out at Molineux.

2-1.

Up The Wolves!

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Liverpool 1 Wolves 2

The last great FA Cup away day for me was back in 1998 when Don Goodman scored the only goal at Elland Road in an unforgettable quarter final victory.

You can probably imagine how poignant it felt then bumping into the man himself after soaking up this monumental success.

Accompanied by a certain Mr. Bull, Don was only happy to pose for selfies and offer a few thoughts on the game in the Cabbage Hall Pub just a five minute stroll from Anfield.

His general assessment that Klopp’s team selection left Liverpool exposed for what was to come is more or less how I saw it too.

Once it transpired that only a few of the first team regulars would start, alongside reserves and academy graduates, I felt confident of a tightly contested game.

Paul Lambert’s team selection was more predictable with our big game players all selected along with a few of the heroes from the previous round.

The big call was giving Harry Burgoyne the shirt but I sense the young goalkeeper has the temperament to handle such occasions and so it proved.

Astonishingly, it took the home side an hour to force him into any sort of save by which time Wolves were in the driving seat.

Much of that owes to a tremendous midfield effort from Edwards, Saville and Evans who never once allowed Liverpool’s creative talents the space to pick their way through.

I’ve long felt that all of those players get the rough end of stick as they’re judged exclusively on their proficiency with the ball at their feet.

But in a properly balanced team with better technicians further up the pitch, their ability to close down space, regain possession and set counter attacks in motion was the key difference yesterday.

If Richard Stearman’s opener was just a great ball and a well timed header, Andreas Weimann’s strike was a textbook example of punishing the opposition on the break.

There probably aren’t many better ball carriers than Helder Costa and seeing him glide across the Anfield pitch was breathtaking.

Had it not been for well timed toe end tackle from a recovering defender he would have scored the goal of the season with his box to box run.

But he’ll have to be content with two assists after delivering the peach of a ball for Stearman’s goal and then slicing through Liverpool again with a run and pass to Weimann.

If the rumours circulating about his loan becoming permanent prove accurate that’s welcome news, but I’ll be astonished if he’s still around next season.

On the evidence of this performance you’d think Derby might be loathe to dispense of Weimann at the end of the season.

His running (in and out of possession) was exceptional and on several occasions he displayed a turn of pace I wasn’t aware he possessed.

I felt Nouha Dicko struggled to make the sort of impact he’s capable of but still put in a big effort to occasionally win the ball in advanced areas and get his team on the front foot.

But as soon as Liverpool pushed Lucas into defence I was crying out for Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and he certainly didn’t disappoint.

The big Icelander is the football dictionary definition of ‘a handful’ and the ideal lone striker.

Not only did he twice come close to scoring (the second chance made for himself with an unfathomable twisting run), he continually held the ball up and eased the building pressure, particularly after Liverpool had reduced the deficit.

Our back four really had to earn their crust in those final minutes when it seemed for all the world that the Kop would suck the ball into the net for a late heartbreaker.

That would have been so harsh on all of them after flawless individual and collective performances.

Stearman was incredible, with his goal the icing on the cake. You’d never question his commitment to the cause but he found another level yesterday and his reading of the game, particularly in cutting out dangerous threaded passes was top drawer.

Hause was more low profile, simply heading and kicking everything that came his way. He never got flustered and was wise enough to make the foul on the one occasion he was beaten for pace.

Matt Doherty couldn’t get forward but still played a crucial creative role in setting Helder Costa free in the build up to Weimann’s strike. He defended superbly and was always well positioned to cut off crosses.

The result probably meant more to Conor Coady than anyone else and he can feel very pleased about his efforts, never putting a foot wrong and staying strong in the tackle throughout.

Paul Lambert was keen to ensure it was the players who received the adulation as he acknowledged the fans at full time but it’s he whose masterminded the turnaround we’ve seen in recent months, culminating in this once in a lifetime victory.

The journey may end in the next round and we’re still far from being safe in the league, but nothing can ever tarnish this wonderful memory.

As I’ve said so many times before, it’s moments that make football worthwhile and this feels like one of the best.

Highlights

Analysis

Paul Lambert

Richard Stearman

Liverpool Vs Wolves Preview

There’s been a fair old kerfuffle over tickets for this one with those who missed out understandably disappointed.

The club have taken some pelters because some feel the loyalty points system is being manipulated, which it definitely is. But in their defence, I’m not sure there’s a system that wouldn’t be similarly gamed.

It’s a shame for those supporters, but now it’s done I prefer to focus on the tremendous backing the team will get when they walk out onto that famous pitch come Saturday lunchtime.

Plenty of fans will have been to Anfield before, but never flanked by 8,500 old gold and black comrades. It promises to be a unique experience.

With such vociferous backing the team will hopefully raise their game as they did at Stoke and push one of the Premier League’s best all the way.

Liverpool

I’ve come to the conclusion that Jurgen Klopp is the perfect modern football manager – intelligent and charismatic with a clear style of play and that magic ability to extract every last drop from his players.

I think much of what Paul Lambert is trying to do at Wolves takes inspiration from what Klopp was able to achieve at Dortmund, a club he of course knows very well himself, and what he’s building at Liverpool.

The German’s team have been fantastic this season but are still 10 points off the pace (owing to Chelsea’s ridiculous run). I hope they can carry on playing well and still be in contention come May.

Not having to contend with European football has been helpful to them, as I don’t think their fairly thin squad could cope with those extra fixtures.

Speaking of congestion, much of how this game will pan out probably comes down to the team Klopp sends out.

They’ve got Southampton in the League Cup semi-final tonight and a crunch game against Chelsea next Tuesday, so it doesn’t seem likely we’ll face their best eleven.

Equally though, I don’t think Klopp would risk sending out the kids against Championship opposition, so I’d expect a sprinkling of big names to make an appearance.

Anfield has been formidable this season with Swansea’s shock victory last weekend the only serious blemish in their 10 home Premier League fixtures. They’ve won seven and drew the other two.

Wolves

Much like his opposite number, Paul Lambert also has the option to ring the changes for the cup. He did just that at the Brittania in the previous round and was handsomely rewarded.

One definite change is between the sticks after Carl Ikeme’s ban was reduced but not expunged. For what it’s worth I’d give Harry Burgoyne the shirt. Investing in that experience for him would be worth the risk.

I really hope Conor Coady gets the nod against his boyhood club. It would be a special kind of cruelty to leave him out, particularly having played so well at right-back.

Hause might get a start but as we already know Williamson is out. I think one or both of Evans and Saville will also get a game, but I’ve got dreamy visions of a thumping Dave Edwards header in front of the Kop so would like to see him feature at some point.

I think Weimann will play (I don’t think he’s cup-tied despite being an unused sub in Derby’s third round win at the Hawthorns). He scored for Villa at Anfield and with Cavaleiro stalling I’d be surprised if Lambert didn’t opt for the Austrian’s tenacity.

Mason, Enobokhare, Bodvarsson or Dicko could all play and I wouldn’t be disappointed with any combination.

There’s been paper talk this week about a deal to sign Costa permanently this month. However that unfolds I can’t see him playing in the Championship next season. It’s unfathomable.

Much like every game, we’ll be hoping for a moment of inspiration from the Portuguese man and if we get a penalty, I’ll feel confident with him standing over the ball.

Paul Lambert

Conor Coady

Predictions

It’s nigh-on impossible to predict how this one will go down. If Klopp really takes the Michael with his team selection I can see us causing them some real grief.

But I don’t think he’ll do that, even with three games to contend with inside a week, so expecting a very tough examination.

This will be a test of Lambert’s ‘play on the front foot mentality’. We came out of the blocks quickly against Stoke though, so no reason to expect this will be any different.

If the conditions are as I expect them to be, I’ll back us to get a replay, just as Plymouth were able to do in the previous round.

2-2.

Up The Wolves!

Norwich City 3 Wolves 1

This wasn’t the first Carrow Road disaster for Carl Ikeme.

Those with decent recall will remember a 5-2 defeat in 2008 when our number one (then number two) dropped the ball into his own net and suffered a torrid evening as Wolves slumped to a rare defeat on their way to winning the title.

The key difference is that yesterday our goalie wasn’t to blame. Wes Hoolahan dived, plain and simple.

You only have to see it back once to observe he was halfway to the ground before making any sort of contact with Ikeme.

And whatever Paul Lambert wants to say about slow starts that was the pivotal moment that took this game away from us.

Yes, Wolves were sluggish and Norwich could have scored two or three before Helder Costa drew us level from the spot.

But with 15 minutes left, they hadn’t taken those chances, Wolves had woken up and were arguably the more likely to make the telling breakthrough.

None of this is to say on the overall balance of play Norwich didn’t merit the three points, just that the key decision went against us and that shouldn’t have been the case.

With all three substitutions used up by the 75 minute mark (quite unusual) Matt Doherty performed manfully between the sticks.

And he in particular was unfortunate to be on the losing side having defended well all afternoon and dragged his team back into the game with a wonderful run for a more obvious spot kick award.

The Portuguese contingent certainly know how to take a penalty. All three have been buried in the side netting or top corner. Long may that continue.

Sadly, in open play our better attacking players didn’t really fire. Mason, Costa, Bodvarsson and Cavaleiro in particular were all well below their usual standard.

Similarly Dicko and Enobakhare found it a struggle to get into the game after coming off the bench. Andreas Weimann did marginally better in a lively second half debut.

So an under par performance that could so easily have merited an unlikely result ahead of next weekend’s trip to Anfield.

Instead, we make the journey to Liverpool (pending appeal) without the man who played the biggest role in getting us there.

And that is most disappointing aspect of all.

Norwich City Vs Wolves Preview

If any Norwich fans are reading this, it’s definitely the worst time of the season to be playing Wolves.

Confidence is high, tails are wagging and Paul Lambert has all sorts of options up his sleeve for his return to Carrow Road.

I don’t think we’re world beaters just yet, even by Championship standards, but after months of struggle, a team is beginning to emerge.

Keeping the momentum going for as long as possible and getting into the top half must be the primary short term objective.

Norwich

Admittedly I didn’t see Norwich’s collapse coming. I occasionally do a podcast where I chat with fans from other clubs and we all thought they’d finish in the top two.

Now it looks like they’ll be lucky to even get anywhere near the top six after a disastrous run of results.

Precisely why they’ve been on the receiving end so many times of late is difficult to pinpoint from the outside looking in.

39 goals conceded probably has quite a lot to do with it, giving them one of the weakest defences in the league.

They’ve scored plenty which is unsurprising with players like Hoolahan, Jerome and Naismith knocking about.

But I suppose if I look down their squad I’m just wondering if many of those players have seen their best days come and go?

Whatever the reason, Alex Neil is well and truly under the cosh for the first time in his short managerial career.

Wolves

Hard to imagine there will be a significant number of changes to the team that saw off Villa.

But I would start with Bodvarsson up front. I think he’s offering a bit more in his all round game than Nouha Dicko.

It will be intriguing to see how Lambert uses Andreas Weimann. Most Villa fans seem to think he should be playing through the middle, even though most of his games have been out wide.

But he’s an energetic, hardworking player, which are both traits of the current team. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can add.

Derby supporters weren’t pleased he’s been allowed to leave suggesting he might have a bit to offer. Lets hope so.

Paul Lambert

Predictions

I really fancy us this weekend, which probably means definite defeat. We don’t get many wins at Carrow Road but this feels like a good opportunity.

Four cleansheets in a row is probably adventurous, particularly against a team who score plenty of goals, but I think we’ll do some damage.

Going all in lads, so don’t let me down – 2-1 to the boys in old gold (or electric green tomorrow).

Up The Wolves!

Wolves 1 Aston Villa 0

Graham Taylor’s only full season in charge at Wolves was also my first as a season ticket holder.

I look back on that 94/95 campaign with great fondness, despite the fact it ended with crushing disappointment.

We won 15 of our 23 homes games that year and were only beaten on three occasions. Molineux was a fortress.

This victory under the same floodlights was eerily reminiscent of those happy times and as such it felt like a fitting tribute to the great man.

Villa fans might disagree of course but I thought their team contributed to what was a fast paced and open game of football.

Wolves were good value for the win, always looking the more incisive with their attacking play and always the more capable of creating chances.

The visitors enjoyed more of the ball but didn’t manage anything like a meaningful effort on target all evening.

Once Ross McCormack sent a header sailing over Carl Ikeme’s crossbar following a superb run from Jordan Amavi, Steve Bruce’s men failed to threaten.

They were already a goal down at that point after Joe Mason profited from Nouha Dicko’s forceful run and cross, which was just reward for a good spell of intricate football.

I suppose the only frustrating aspect from Paul Lambert’s perspective was that his team didn’t then go on to kill the game off with the opposition there for the taking.

Instead Villa got a foothold and started to exert a measure of control, but without the powerful Kodija or the tricky Ayew – both away on African Cup of Nations duty – they lacked the pace or guile to break through.

Even the introduction of Jack Grealish (a somewhat surprising omission from the starting lineup) couldn’t alter the pattern of play as Wolves coped with a degree of comfort.

Helder Costa was once again instrumental and opened up the their defence several times in another impressive outing.

Had Nouha Dicko had the presence of mind to offer a return pass when racing clear in the second half, the Portuguese winger would have had the tap in he so richly deserved.

Richard Stearman also enjoyed his finest performance in a long while with the specters of Mike Williamson and Kortney Hause no doubt at the forefront of his mind.

His aggression, desire and hunger to be first to every ball was characteristic of the whole team, which is testament to the job Paul Lambert is doing.

He said afterwards it was the hardest decision of his career leaving out Williamson, Lee Evans and a few other of the heroes from last weekend’s cup victory at Stoke.

I’m sure this precious triumph over his former club (played down unconvincingly in his post match summary) felt like more than adequate compensation.